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Player Ratings: England

OPINION: Having somehow fashioned an unlikely comeback win over Wales last Saturday despite playing abjectly for most of the evening, the ambition in Dublin was for Steve Borthwick’s team to live up to their head coach’s promise that they definitely were in the right direction towards Marseille and being pitch perfect for their World Cup opener versus Argentina.

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They miserably didn’t, delivering a performance that was a worrying step backwards. When it most mattered, they did limit the initially sluggish Irish to just two first-half tries but they bluntly failed to fire a shot in attack despite having a superior territory stat and possession parity at the interval.

It cost them dearly. They trudged off 3-12 down on the scoreboard and their race was run as soon as they encountered TMO red card trouble for the second successive Saturday. Last week’s Owen Farrell disciplinary is still rumbling on, and Billy Vunipola will now take up a share of that attention after his 53rd-minute yellow card for a headshot was upgraded to red.

Down a man, England gave up three further tries, their defense exposed out wide with Ireland going through the phases. A consolation in between from Kyle Sinckler did massage the margin of the one-try-to-five, 10-29 defeat but that rare cheer couldn’t mask the poverty of the general England play just 21 weeks after they lost 16-29 in Dublin at the end of the Guinness Six Nations.

Here are the England player ratings:

15. Freddie Steward – 5
Back at the scene of his rescinded red card from 21 weeks ago, he did plenty first-half running chasing after uncontestable kicks only for that honest work rate to get undone by being caught off balance by the stepping Garry Ringrose for the second Irish try. Stepped in the same way for the second half Mack Hansen score and was also seen grasping at air for the late try that produced the biggest cheer of the day from the home crowd, the excellent score for the fantastic Keith Earls on his 100th cap.

14. Anthony Watson – 5.5
A welcome selection on paper for his first August appearance given the generally dreadful lack of end-product firepower, the traffic was busy coming down his flank in the opening period and he didn’t shy away from the requisite tackles that were needed. Unable to leap high enough to snuff out the pass that went over his head for the second-half Lowe score. Gone on 69.

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13. Joe Marchant – 5
One of three players starting for the third successive Saturday (Steward and Will Stuart were the other ever presents), he shot up a few times in the defensive line which was a gamble. Missed tackles an issue, and it was his ineffective carry into contact near the try line that invited the penalty turnover and the end of English resistance at 3-17.

12. Manu Tuilagi – 6
As with Watson, this was his first run of the Nations Series, and much was expected of him in a 12/10 axis with George Ford that has never been used before. Had a couple of encouraging carries but the first-half takeaway was the wrong decision in going into contact rather than passing to the in-space Courtney Lawes on his shoulder. He will take heart from his ball carry stats but missed tackles blotted his report. Exited with 19 minutes remaining.

11. Elliot Daly – 5
Flashed some promise in last week’s first half and had some good moments early on here, including one meaty tackle and a long rangy pass. Display slacked off hugely from there, his lack of nimbleness evident when unable to elude Dan Sheehan when breaking near halfway. At fault them for the flunked touch finder off a penalty to the Irish 22, a momentum swing that culminated in the second home team try. Later missed a tackle on Lowe on the right in the move that ended with the Irish winger scoring on the left numerous phases later.

10. George Ford – 5.5
His first England start since March 2021 in Dublin, he began smartly and energetically but that early brio gave way to overcooked aerial kicks and there was also a scuffed shot at the uprights on 26 minutes that would have got England back to within a point. Carried the ball often but his kicking game was meat and drink to the much better-coached Irish.

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9. Ben Youngs – 5
Back in pole position at scrum-half after Jack van Poortvliet’s campaign-ending injury, he unleashed a neck-stiffening flurry of slow and deliberate box kicks. Trouble was, nothing came back on the English side and he was also given a hurry-up on occasion by the time-keeping referee. Hooked with 23 minutes to go.

1. Ellis Genge – 6.5
Yellow carded within minutes of his arrival as a sub last weekend, he carried hard and tacked hard but without team end product. Pulled on 57 minutes.

2. Jamie George – 6
A player England are most dependent on given the glaring lack of hooker depth, he began with an ambitious throw over the top to Tuilagi but he finished the opening half under pressure, complaining to the referee about Tadhh Furlong’s scrummaging and then seeing England penalised for Will Stuart standing up at the next scrum. Was pinged for standing up himself at an early second-half scrum. Exited on 67 with a busy tackle count but with his carrying stats down on last week.

3. Will Stuart – 5
Caught napping along with George for the gaping hole that Peter O’Mahony galloped through to set up Bunkee Aki for the game’s opening try, and there were other ropey first-half moments such as demoralizingly getting driven back on a carry near the Irish line and then giving up a scrum penalty. Exited five minutes into the second half.

4. Maro Itoje – 5.5
Rebuked by Clive Woodward for his “childish” celebrations against Wales, he had no opportunity to rub anything in Irish faces here. His only moral victory was helping to limit the effectiveness of the Irish line-out but he was worryingly off the pace at the breakdown where he was second best all day long.

5. David Ribbans – 6
Back in harness following his August 5 HIA setback, he finished the first half as his team’s busiest tackler and can take credit for the Irish line-out maul not firing. Exited early on 51.

6. Courtney Lawes – 5.5
Skipper in Owen Farrell’s absence, it was his penalty concession at a halfway ruck that pierced early England initiative, that momentum killer the prompt for Ireland to build towards a lead they never relinquished. Deserves kudos for his willingness to tip on possession and change the picture of the English carry but there were turnovers and not enough oomph to make a telling difference.

7. Ben Earl – 6
Man of the match versus the Welsh, his high tackle count tried to stem the growing Irish momentum but it was all in vain. Low ball-carrying stats didn’t help.

8. Billy Vunipola – 0
Having failed to sparkle seven days earlier, a huge step forward in performance was needed. It didn’t happen, his day ending with a red card via the TMO bunker. Borthwick claims Vunipola is as fit as he has ever seen him but that S&C didn’t emerge in this display where he looked leggy getting around despite being level with Genge at the short whistle on the pack ball-carrying metres. Two penalty concessions and a cheap knock-on that generated jeers from the home crowd highlight his first-half difficulties. Sent packing for his yellow-carded shot on Andrew Porter 13 minutes into the second half, an incident soon upgraded to red due to “high degree of danger, no wrap, no mitigation”.

Replacements:

16. Theo Dan – No rating
Left rooted to the bench unused last weekend, the rookie is crying out for experience and was given 13 consolation minutes here.

17. Joe Marler – 4.5
Played the closing 23 minutes without getting noticed.

18. Kyle Sinckler – 6
A 45th-minute sub, he fared better than in his cameo two weeks ago in Cardiff. Came up with the pick-and-jam England try.

19. Ollie Chessum – 6
Fabulous to see him back in the mix 21 weeks after his ankle dislocation. Given the last 29 minutes, he horsed straight into it to become a bright note on a disappointing England day.

20. Jack Willis – No rating
Given a token last five minutes in place of Lawes.

21. Danny Care – 5
Had 23 minutes to effect some change, he did add some tempo to the England play but it wasn’t tide-turning.

22. Marcus Smith – No rating
Just the 11 minutes as a replacement for Watson. Not long enough.

23. Ollie Lawrence – 5
Given the last 19 minutes in place of Tuilagi without much effect.

By Liam Heagney, @RugbyPass

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