In the book Friday Night Lights by Harry Gerard Bissinger, head coach Gary Gaines asks of his players, “Can you be perfect?”.
A resurgent England have upset Six Nations champions Ireland, handing Joe Schmidt a first ever home defeat in the championship with a resounding 32-20 victory that blew the tournament wide open at the first weekend.
Ireland coach Schmidt had predicted the clash between the holders and England, champions in 2016 and 2017, would be decided in the last quarter on Saturday but it was over far sooner than that as the four-try visitors ran away from his uncharacteristically sloppy side.
England made a sensational start and never really looked back, stunning the hosts with a try after just 90 seconds.
After a clever lineout handed Manu Tuilagi a typically thumping reintroduction to Six Nations action, England went through a couple of fast phases to draw Keith Earls out of the Ireland defensive line and hand Jonny May a clear two-on-one.
The try was the visitors’ first in Dublin in eight years and while Ireland, as they so often do under Schmidt, appeared to compose themselves, they were being forced into a raft of errors that would come back to haunt them throughout the game.
England’s targeting of Robbie Henshaw in his first start at fullback for Ireland since his debut six years ago was also reaping early dividends.
First though, the hosts briefly grabbed the lead back with a Johnny Sexton penalty and – after looking like they had spurned Tom Curry’s 10 minutes in the sin bin – barrelled over for a Cian Healy try upon the England flanker’s return to the fray.
But they gifted the advantage back five minutes later when Jacob Stockdale tried to field an Elliot Daly dink through under pressure only to juggle it over the line where the ball fell back at the feet of a grateful Daly.
Despite making fewer metres and fewer carries, England’s power and pinpoint kicking suffocated the hosts who were very lucky another unforced error only resulted in an Owen Farrell penalty and not a third England try on the stroke of a halftime.
Playing a side who had turned 18 of their past 19 halftime test leads into victory, it was exactly the kind of first 40 minutes England needed and it only got better in the second period.
While a Sexton penalty cut the deficit back to four points, the mistakes kept coming for Ireland and their more ruthless opponents went for the jugular 14 minutes from time as May broke down the left wing and placed a perfectly weighted kick through for Henry Slade to touch down.
Slade intercepted a Sexton pass for his second try to end Irish dreams of back-to-back grand slams at the first hurdle with a thud that a John Cooney consolation try at the death did little to dampen.