Two players have made all the difference to England

Manu Tulagi - Getty Images/Harry Murphy
Manu Tulagi - Getty Images/Harry Murphy

Sometimes you don't know what you are missing until a player comes back, and that was the case for England in Dublin with Manu Tuilagi. I think Ollie Lawrence has so much potential and Tuilagi's form has been up and down at Sale. He will need managing, of course.

He doesn't have many club matches left this season. But, with him being present on the field and what happens around him, clattering into things - without being the Manu of 2012 when he destroyed New Zealand - he showed that for all the out-the-back plays and offloading and dynamism, you need someone who can give you that power in midfield for the Rugby World Cup.

A couple of areas where England were instantly better: Tuilagi and Dave Ribbans. They gave England that extra bulk which allowed England to play a bit more. I would even go as far as to say that Ribbans made himself undroppable. They love Ollie Chessum, and so that puts pressure on Maro Itoje. The way England competed today and couldn't the previous week against France... you can reinvent the wheel in rugby, but you still need a second-row to be a high 18 stone player and hit things.

When Dan Sheehan scored his first try, Manu was flying in to try and stop him. The clash with Bundee Aki was fabulous to watch, both having a go at each other, everything you want to see in a game of rugby. Although the reality was it took about 50 minutes for the match to really get going. Ireland made errors and England were booting the ball.

When Sir Clive Woodward's teams were struggling to put a first foot on the ladder, the team talks were 'just stay in the game until 60 minutes, and then anything can happen'. You sort of felt that was the case for England today - give yourselves a chance and make Ireland twitchy.

Irish people were saying they were nervous before kick-off and, actually, England forced them to be nervous in that first half. They were physical with Jack Willis at the breakdown; they had a dig, competed with Ireland for long periods. There are longer-term worries for England like believing that a kicking game can win you Rugby World Cups - I think you need more than that. But even at 10-9 you felt England were in the contest, but with a limited game plan. Jose Mourinho would have loved it.

When you have come off a 53-10 result and everyone is saying that you are going to get beaten by 20 points and you are staring at a humbling against the best team in the world, everything for England was about slowing the game down, the pace of it, so that Ireland could not get their launch plays going from the lineout and that stopped them. Once Ireland did get that going, almost all of their tries came from that area. The team that looked composed, had self-belief, a long time of planning in the end were accurate in key moments and deserved to win it all.

I called an Irish Grand Slam at the start of the Six Nations and I felt they are the best team. France are getting better, but Ireland deserved to win it all. On the ropes here, with the crowd quiet, you wonder when half of Dublin is telling you how terrified they are whether that seeps onto the field through osmosis psychologically. But they overcame that and thoroughly deserved the Grand Slam.

Johnny Sexton (C) - Manu Tuilagi proves he can still provide the power England need - Getty Images/David Rogers
Johnny Sexton (C) - Manu Tuilagi proves he can still provide the power England need - Getty Images/David Rogers

I feel terribly sorry for Freddie Steward. There needs to be a look at this law. If you hit someone in a tackle like that then fine, but when it's a bouncing ball how is that not a mitigating circumstance. I overheard a number of Irish supporters at half-time saying 'at worst, a yellow'. However, you cannot blame the defeat on that.

The biggest thing defensively for Kevin Sinfield and England to work on is an issue that has been there since the 2019 Rugby World Cup and even before that - England are vulnerable defending down the short side. It is something that teams are looking at and going after England as a result in that area. They are conceding too many tries in that channel and it has hurt England for too many years.

To finish on Ireland, they will look back on that first half and say they were as bad as they have been in a long time, which is a credit to England. Their error count was unbelievable, knock-ons they just don't make - Johnny Sexton had a 50 pence piece on his foot, he couldn't kick.

When you get desperately close to something you want, winning a Grand Slam at home, the nerves set in. That is Ireland's biggest hurdle. They have been amazing, and I'm so impressed with how they can beat you in so many different ways. Their Everest now as the number one side in the world with a Grand Slam behind them, is it's time to go and do it on a world stage. Get past a World Cup quarter-final. They have all the capabilities and assets to do that. It's all in their head now.