“If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly…”
Macbeth, Act I, Scene VII.
Alacrity is a lovely word. And few better sum up the way England set about Ireland in the opening round of the 2019 Guinness Six Nations. Their speed of endeavour was unmistakable. Their interest in every square inch of the Aviva Stadium pitch was palpable. If you are willing to take on a task that size, a win against one of the world’s best sides, you must act with the sort of urgency and unity that gives opposition no time to think. Indeed, it should give you no time to think either. For in thought, there is doubt. Courage of this magnitude needs certainty. To plunge a dagger into a heart that had had such an incredible 2018, takes remarkable expedition and belief. Of all the plaudits heading Eddie Jones’ way, instilling that into this England side must be top of the list.
England’s plan was apparent from the very first minute. Jamie George found centre Manu Tuilagi at the lineout: a long, looping throw that sailed high over all of Ireland’s preconceived ideas. On the subsequently created blindside, Farrell found Daly with the sort of pass that would exploit the gap in any rib cage. Within moments, England were shaping the type of strokes that would colour the entire murderous affair.
Best also turn your victim. Time and again, English kicking had Ireland going backwards: retreating after awkward, bouncing ball. Youngs and Farrell poked tirelessly. The plan was effortlessly simple: turn a side so good at coming forward, and apply pressure. Daly’s touchdown was indebted to Nowell’s hastening chase as much as it was to the desperately clutching Stockdale.
And timing. When you strike, movements are best laced with synchronicity. Henry Slade’s first try owed everything to his ability to hold his run and momentarily fall back in line with May’s outstretched boot, before racing clear. His second, and England’s bonus point try, was borne out of oppressed fatigue and coordination. The Exeter man was simultaneously reading the play and executing the game plan. Sexton’s pass ended up in Slade’s grasp like a dying flail. A death throe, which England caught, flipped and used as their own fatal thrust. It was difficult not to feel sympathy for Ireland. Their overthrowing had been so ruthless, so cruel, so unforgiving.
Post-match Schmidt shook his head. Sexton and Murray had both done so camped in their own 22. As CJ Stander’s broken face left the field, he too cast his eyes to the floor, moving his head left and right. “It was a simmering physical intensity that made the pitch a suffocating place to be tonight,” uttered the Kiwi coach with an eloquence so absent in his team. So many emerald jewels had lost their sparkle, robbed of the vital light in which to shine. Peter O’Mahony’s only significant contribution was ugly and verbal; an expletive as blunt as it was revealing. England had indeed been c**tish. Brilliantly so.
And the countries watching on, those heading to Japan later this year, will have shuddered. Not just at the manner of the victory, but at the being it had created. An England as merciless as it was almighty. In Jones and Mitchell, they have men with unfinished business on the world stage; men with questions surrounding their ability to reach the highest peaks. Four years ago, England hosted their own party and suffered ignominy that both Jones and Mitchell can understand. It’s a coming together that suddenly makes a lot of sense. As painful as 2015 was, it may have bred its own terrifying antidote.
“As I said, these games have nothing to do with the World Cup,” said the England coach post-match, the briefest of smiles flashing across his Antipodean face. It is difficult not to be impressed. Lies and daggers are both hidden in that smile. The world has been warned.