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Irish Rugby: Clouds And Silver Linings

rugby

Close but no cigar.

It was nothing short of heartbreak for the Irish rugby squad at Twickenham last Saturday. It was always going to be a bruising encounter but one felt that Ireland this year under the leadership of Joe Schmidt would just have too much for the young English pretenders. In hindsight, Ireland just didn’t show up, they seemed sluggish from the start and allowed England to dictate the game from the kick off. England however were guilty of leaving more scores out on the pitch than Ireland and going into the tunnel only three points down at half time must have been very encouraging to the Irish players.

Jonathan Sexton had a mediocre game, his kicking was not what it was in the Aviva against Wales but on the flip side of that, credit must be given to Stuart Lancaster and his coaches. They had their homework done as it was more the case that Sexton had little or no options when it came to kicking for field position. The English backs gave him nothing to aim at, both wingers hugged either line and the Racing Metro star was forced into little chips over their centres heads. This ploy failed as Mike Brown, who was in sensational form, continually made ground from loose kicks that ultimately just gave away possession. Ireland turned down chance after chance in the first half to use their most potent weapon, the maul. Maybe it was a tactical decision to suck in the English defence and go wide when they were almost certainly expecting Ireland to try and trundle down the middle. The decision in the second half to use it paid dividends as the English struggled to defend against it, maybe Ireland should have used it from the start.

Bill the butcher

Although they came away with a much needed win, the English management will be more than frustrated looking back at the match. They were guilty of butchering try scoring opportunities on at least three occasions. Jonny May was denied a certain five pointer by a last gasp Conor Murray tackle early in the first half. May will be questioning why his colleagues did not let the ball come to him in an earlier move where there was a three on one overlap available and a certain score. England were again guilty of this in the second half, deciding to allow their forwards to continually pick and go when their wingers were screaming for possession out wide. If England are indeed to compete for this years championship they will obviously have to beat Wales in two weeks time. They can ill afford to turn down scores and were in some ways lucky not to regret those missed opportunities. They have yet to develop that killer instinct that separates good teams from mediocre ones. The much anticipated clash between Brian O’Driscoll and Luther Burrell also failed to materialise, neither were a threat going forward.

Positives

The obvious positive that Ireland can take away from Twickenham is that the championship outcome sits firmly in their grasp. Ok, so the much wanted ‘Grand Slam’, hopes are dead and buried but ultimately, isn’t winning the championship what it’s all about? They also have a much needed two week break after a bruising encounter. Ireland’s first two games have given them a cushion with their score difference and with Italy to come to the Aviva next, they could potentially just need a win in Paris on March 15th. Easier said than done maybe? But France are in turmoil at the minute, they have Scotland and Ireland to finish this campaign but a demoralising defeat to Wales last Friday was a major setback. They were outplayed, out thought and looked very disinterested at times. Wales too will feel that they are still in contention after beating France, they may well rue not running up a serious score against Les Bleus, they had ample opportunity. Ireland can ask for no more than the position they are in at this stage of the championship, they have a +42 score difference to England’s +21, Wales’ +6 and the France’s +1. Win against Italy and they will have the ultimate prize on offer in Paris. Ireland can really count themselves unlucky not to still have the opportunity at a Slam.

Hometown decisions

Craig Joubert was not giving Ireland anything easy. It is always a pity to mention the referee after a game but unfortunately when it’s as tight as it was last Saturday, his decisions can ultimately decide the winner. Schmidt was clearly aggrieved after the game about a hand in the scrum, persistent side entries at ruck time and Dave Attwood being on the wrong side of an Irish maul that looked odds on to score. The non pinging in this instant resulted in Ireland being held up, turnover ball and releasing the pressure on a creaking English defence. Sexton should have been afforded a kick at goal for a hand in the scrum but it was ignored and these decisions cost Ireland. In a tight game, all decisions are important and maybe the non decisions even more so.

Full backs

It was the two full backs that managed to find space where the rest couldn’t. Rob Kearney’s try looked like it would set Ireland alight and was part of a much better second half performance for the men in green. Ireland will no doubt look back at the line break, that in the end settled the outcome of this match, with much regret. From a standing start, Mike Brown found enough space to break through a flailing Irish defence and set up Danny Care for the easiest of scores. Kearney should have scored another five pointer in the first half when Andrew Trimble decided to catch a beautifully weighted cross field kick from Sexton instead of batting it down to the oncoming Kearney. Brown also in the first half kept out another possible big score from Ireland when he dived to save a hacked on kick by O’Driscoll. His agility certainly was all that was between Ireland and the opening try.

The road ahead

So Ireland will host Italy on the 8th of March and will hope to get back to winning ways. They will also be hoping to put a score up on the team that are rooted to the bottom of the Six Nations table. A win here with a few points to spare will set up a Paddy’s weekend clash with the French in Paris. This championship is still Ireland’s for the taking, they can only lose it themselves from here bar England rack up a significant score against Wales, which doesn’t seem on the cards, from what has been seen so far. A break from action this weekend may well be just what the Irish squad needs before they set out on a two week, home and away assault to secure a championship that they have so often, narrowly missed out on. The Slam may be gone for this year but it’s far from doom and gloom, they must take a huge amount of positivity from the position that they are in. It’s all to play for.

Image courtesy of zimbio.com

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