Six Nations 2020: Ireland coach Andy Farrell should make changes - Stephen Ferris

By Stephen FerrisFormer Ireland and Lions flanker
Johnny Sexton
Ireland skipper Johnny Sexton missed straightforward penalty and conversion kicks

After beating Scotland and Wales, Ireland were brought back down to earth fairly quickly by a big, powerful England team who blew them out of the water in Sunday's Six Nations game.

A pretty good performance against the Welsh had everyone dreaming about potential Grand Slams and Championships, but the defeat at Twickenham should serve as a reality check that there is still a lot of work to be done.

There are players wearing the green jersey who aren't performing consistently, and let's face facts here, they haven't been consistent for quite some time. Ireland got hammered in a Rugby World Cup quarter-final by New Zealand and there we were watching the majority of that team get another beating at Twickenham.

Conor Murray is coming under massive pressure from John Cooney for the number nine jersey, and I think some changes must be made to freshen up this wounded team. Andy Farrell has to rattle a few cages, make players accountable for their mistakes, and not be afraid to drop an out-of-form player.

An Ireland shirt is never yours to keep. I think making a number of changes for the next two games might make a few people realise this once again.

Captain Sexton 'under pressure'

After the game Farrell took his share of the blame, basically saying 'I'm going to take a bit of the heat here', but some players have to stand up and be counted.

Johnny Sexton compounded one error with another. It's not like him and he now has the additional burden of captaincy. You have to ask how he is coping under pressure with so much responsibility? Sunday's game would indicate he is struggling.

When you are trying to get back into a game after conceding two bad tries you just can't afford to miss straightforward penalty attempts.

While Johnny will be disappointed, I don't think it would have had any bearing on the result if those kicks had sailed between the middle of the sticks. England were so dominant and the end scoreline flattered Ireland in many ways.

England get their kicks at Ireland's expense

I think a lot of people believed Ireland would give England a game, but I didn't think like that. My prediction was that Ireland would lose the match by 10 points and that was pretty close to how it ended up.

England won the kicking battle - they kicked the ball a lot more than people thought, 24 times to be exact. That's seven times more than Ireland did. England also managed to retain six of those, two of which led to tries.

Over the last four or five years, not many teams have won the kicking battle with Ireland, but England certainly did. Yes they physically out powered the away team, however don't underestimate how important an accurate kicking game is at Test match level.

A lot of fingers were pointed at individuals for mistakes and the bounce of a rugby ball can be cruel at times, but you have to give England a lot of credit for recognising the space that Ireland left in behind. Eddie Jones was always keeping the Ireland back three thinking.

England deserved to win. But did they deserve a bonus point win? Probably. However Ireland showed a bit of grit and determination in the second half and played their way back into it a bit. They didn't roll over.

Johnny Sexton and Jonathan Joseph
Johnny Sexton prepares to try and attempt to halt the progress of England wing Jonathan Joseph

Anyone watching the game might guess England had all of the ball. Looking at the stats, however, Ireland had 19.52 minutes of possession, to England's 14.52. Ireland also carried the 32 times more.

Ireland didn't get it that wrong tactically - they just didn't execute anything particularly well. Murray's box-kicks were invariably collected by England and they counter-attacked effectively.

Ireland conceded five penalties in their own 22 and that is unacceptable at international level.

You look at individual players too. Someone like Josh van der Flier, who missed a couple of tackles that allowed big line breaks. In the 60 minutes he was on the field, his contribution was only two carries and nine tackles made.

His opposite number Sam Underhill played 80 minutes but made 24 tackles and only missed three, and a lot of those were dominant tackles. He is a machine.

England were dominant in their line speed and didn't commit too many men to the ruck, kept a lot of people on their feet and chopped everyone down in front of them.

Ireland didn't get their attacking game in gear because England were flying off the line.

England lock George Kruis comes up against Ireland back row CJ Stander
CJ Stander's fine Six Nations campaign came to a halt against England

Underhill and Tom Curry were outstanding but the likes of CJ Stander, who was man-of-the-match in the two previous games, didn't really get going.

Iain Henderson was a big loss and when you compare what Devin Toner and Maro Itoje brought to the game, it was like night and day.

So many things just didn't click for Ireland. In my opinion the reason for this is because England wouldn't let Ireland settle. They were relentless at times.

Replacements make a positive impact

The comments made in the press conference after the game indicated Ireland felt they were chasing the game after 20 minutes and were unable to do what they wanted.

With the way the bounce of the ball went for Ireland, sometimes tactics go out the window - and you also can't afford your captain to miss easy kicks from in front of the posts when you are trying to get back into a game.

The boys who came off the bench were given a lot of responsibility and Farrell showed faith in them. He made a lot of changes and Ireland finished the game strongly.

That was the only positive to come out of the game really - how good the bench were and the impact they had.

Were England more up for it than us? - Farrell ponders what went wrong for Ireland

Championship still in their sights

Instead of rolling over and letting things get away from them as they did against England in the summer series, they showed a lot of character to dig their heels in. Having said that, they will go through their video review fully aware they came out second best.

It's not obvious there has been any massive change in the gameplan under Farrell as yet, but one thing you have to get right in international rugby is your attitude.

Why were England more emotionally and physically charged than Ireland? That's three games on the spin versus England that Ireland have been beaten up.

From a fan's perspective I'm still carrying a little bit of hope. If Ireland can rack up a five-pointer against Italy and then roll the dice against France.... well you just never know.

Stephen Ferris was speaking to BBC Sport's Richard Petrie.

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