Wounds from Cardiff will sting, but Ireland have no time for soul-searching
It was meant to be a Grand Slam showdown, but now it's just a coronation. From prospective champions, Ireland now have to play the role of spoilsports.
Friday night's defeat to Wales in Cardiff left the ball in England's court. All they had to do was edge past a dangerous Scotland at Twickenham and they'd retain their title, moving within one more game of a second successive slam.
The hope lasted about three minutes, with Jonathan Joseph scoring the first of his hattrick, and the first of England's 7 tries. Needing only to fall over the line, England sprinted over it and were barely out of breath, winning 61-21.
They'll arrive in Dublin on this weekend looking to become the first team since France in 1998 to win back to back Six Nations Grand Slams. If denying them that honour wasn't incentive enough for Joe Schmidt's side, England could also set a new record with their 19th win in a row.
The desire to win will be overwhelming, just as it was in 2011 when Ireland played the role of Slambusters to perfection, blitzing England 24-8 in Dublin.
But for history to repeat itself next week, Ireland simply can't leave as many chances on the pitch as they did against Wales on Friday.
When pressed after the game, Joe Schmidt was quick to stress that Ireland's attack is far from predictable, and in terms of pure statistics there's some truth to it. Ireland made 8 clean linebreaks compared to 10 for Wales, with the Irish players beating 24 defenders compared to Wales's total of 17.
But that brings us to an argument of quality over quantity. Ireland brought wide players into the game and varied their attack when seeking to get into the 22, but once they got close to the tryline that variety seemed to disappear. Rather than trying to stretch the Welsh defence, Ireland kept it safe and tight, the predictability of which made defending much easier for the Welsh.
Joe Schmidt will also be fuming at the needless penalty which cancelled out Rory Best's try, Robbie Henshaw joining the maul from an offside position just before Best touched down. Some people thought it was harsh, and too "letter-of-the-law" from Wayne Barnes, but it was a brave and most importantly correct decision from the English referee. Ireland can have no complaints.
The performance of Ireland's lineout in each of their defeats to Wales and Scotland is also something that has to be addressed. On Friday they lost three on their own throw, with two lost throws against the Scots. Many are calling for Peter O'Mahony to be brought in to the team to provide an extra option, especially in defensive lineouts, but choosing who to drop between Stander, O'Brien and Heaslip is easier said than done.
There's little time for soul-searching though, with the game against England coming on Saturday. You'd expect a backlash, something Ireland often do after disappointing defeats, a trait which makes each of those defeats even more disappointing.
A backlash will only get them so far. England were emphatic against Scotland at Twickenham, saving their best performance so far for the game that required it. One frightening aspect of their title defence is that they've done it with a game to spare, and without number 8 Billy Vunipola for all but 28 minutes.
And with a core of the current squad - Dylan Hartley, Dan Cole, Tom Wood and Ben Youngs - all involved that day Ireland ambushed their slam hopes in 2011, you can be certain the English class of 2017 will be clued in and fired up for kickoff on Saturday.