Still in the Hunt

Bosh! Ireland’s Grand Slam ambitions came unstuck at the hands of the Awesome Power of England’s pack – but it was a close-run thing, and it bore plenty of lessons for the tasks ahead for Team Schmidt.

Our success against Scotland and, particularly, Wales was predicated on potent mauling and successful counter-rucking. Problem was, on Saturday, Ireland didn’t try mauling with any regularity until the second half, and England protected their own ball aggressively at the breakdown. The decline in prominence of Peter O’Mahony from Ireland’s signature player of the first two weeks of the Six Nations (aside: when it became clear the BBC producers hadn’t got the memo about POM’s anthem-singing gusto, perhaps the writing was on the wall) was a direct result of the breakdown work of the English.

The set pieces were a success for Ireland, but England managed to restrict the influence of the scrum and lineout enough to ensure they wouldn’t be a platform for dominance. Ireland tended to use the lineout to go wide, in contrast to previous games, and it didn’t really work.

As well as our backrow have been playing, it seemed inevitable that we would one day lament the absence of Sean O’Brien and Fez. Saturday was the day – we didn’t have anyone capable of bulldozing a path through the middle, and we also lacked pace and penetration out wide. Oh for a Luke Fitzgerald, Tommy Bowe or even a Simon Zebo. Fitzgerald should at least be in the reckoning for Italy, and Zebo should have enough matchtime to be considered as well (if a lack of gametime truly is the reason he isn’t being considered) – indeed having Zebo on the bench might have given Ireland, at the very least, an X-factor they lacked in Twickers.

In the first half against Scotland, Ireland kicked pretty loosely – while the trundling Scots couldn’t take advantage, Mike Brown certainly did when we repeated the trick in Twickers. He was the games, and the tournament to dates, most influential player and his break set up the game-winning score for Danny Care. Joe Schmidt values accuracy of execution above all else, and Ireland didn’t do too well – 20+ tackles were missed, the ball was hoofed or chipped away aimlessly at times, and even the saintly BOD was attempting Hollywood offloads that didn’t stick.

In terms of the bench, it didn’t have the impact we needed, and even in its role as injury cover, wasn’t utilized. When Johnny Sexton appeared to get a knock with half an hour to go, Wee PJ stayed kicking his heels. Sure, Sexton is a key player in the team, but he is also human, and Sexton’s decision-making went down a notch in the closing quarter.

Yet in spite of all that, Ireland were in with a shout of a draw by the end (the lack of penetration in the team had surely killed off the chances of a win) – Joubert somehow called an Irish scrum for a scrum penalty that looked Ireland’s lifeline. They hung in there against the English physicality and intensity and nearly got their rewards. Admittedly, the prime butchery of at least 3 tries (Jonny May dropping the ball early on and eschewing a dive for the line for a turn inside just after Bob’s try, and the failure to take advantage of a 3-on-0 when under the posts) played a part, but you can’t control that. And the English defence was excellent – its worth doffing the cap to the Awesome Power of Courtney Lawes, who seemed to be everywhere in the last ten minutes.

So lots to work on – but some positives too. Its incredibly difficult to come to Twickers and win, and Ireland put themselves in a position to do so after 50 minutes. In terms of clear thinking under pressure, they coped poorly with the English aggression at ruck time and in defence, but never folded. The Monday morning review session might last until Tuesday, but you sense Ireland will learn from this defeat.

And don’t forget – Ireland are still top of the table in the race to win the actual Championship – something we don’t do very often. Unlike in 2009, when the Grand Slam was everything after years of coming close, the Championship without a Grand Slam will be an excellent achievement. With a home game against the wooden spoon staring-Italians to come, Ireland’s points difference advantage should be unassailable by the time they head to Paris in three weeks, meaning a win will open the Schmidt era as champions. We’d have taken that in January, and still will – this is the most hapless French team in memory, and the apparent bull-headed desire to stick by PSA until RWC15 also bids well for our chances in Blighty that year. If there ever was a year to win in Paris, this is it. Optimism-bashing alert – Irish rugby players tend to stand in awe of the mighty French with their chiselled jaws and excellent hair in Paris, and end up getting thumped – we need this mental hangup to disappear.

The last weekend will probably begin with both Ireland and France staring at silverware, as will the victor in next week’s BishBashBoshBowl between England and Wales. Make no mistake, England will feel they were in a real game on Saturday, and will be delighted with what looks like a big step in their development – and the irony of Ireland winning in Paris will be that we can win the Championship by doing something that Lancaster’s men couldn’t.

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78 Comments

  1. CMcD

     /  February 24, 2014

    Probably the most down to earth and level headed response to the match I’ve read so far. I thought both teams were excellent and provided us with the best match of the tournament so far, just a shame that Ireland lacked a bit of that clinical edge (though as said that scrum penalty around 70 minutes could have been the game changer).

  2. I found it interesting in the match that for all the Leinstertainment wraparounds we were going through, there was very little thrust in attack except when BOD did his best ooooooooh-Tuilagi impression. You’d think that Luke Marshall (for all his “lack of understanding” with BOD) would have been the perfect player to line up and bosh through Twelvetrees or at least give the English some cause for concern. Or even giving Madigan a run out at 12 to play that 2nd 5/8. Otherwise our back play looked nice, but predictable (except when Joubert was getting himself between Murray and Sexton).

    I don’t necessarily agree with your assessment of the French lads. When it comes down to it (last year aside) they can really show their teeth. The players got them to RWC11 after they were unhappy with Lievremont, and I can fully imagine them sleep-walking/trudging into Maggotfield and ending up *having* to put in a performance or at least make changes for Ireland. A starting XV including Machenaud and Fickou is quite a scary prospect in my mind!

    On the bright side, Pape looked utterly clueless as captain against Wales, so if we can come out of the blocks we can hopefully do some real damage.

  3. I hate when George Hook is right (stopped clocks and all that), but he did say he didn’t think the scrum would decide the game because “[…tedious waffle redacted…] games tend to be decided by the back row and half backs.” Worse yet was Clive Woodward being right, (and on the same day, too!) pointing out at half time that Ireland could see plenty of space out wide but no gas in the centres to get the ball there.
    We could and should still win the championship, but what worries me is how spectacularly conservative Schmidt has become, and how quickly. He stuck with a pedestrian 3/4 line because they’d done ok in the previous games, whereas at Leinster he changed personnel and gameplan as the opposition required. His selection of Murray-clone Boss on the bench left us with no way to change up the game at scrumhalf, and worst of all his substitutions were Deccie-esque in their slowness to arrive. Leaving 2 of the front rows on so long was nuts, when the replacements were all equal or better ball carriers than the starters, and front row subs are do-overs anyway.
    I hope and expect that yesterday will jolt the coaching team back into Leinster mode, where the safe decision and the clever decision can be recognised as two different options, rather than one and the same.

  4. Mike

     /  February 24, 2014

    I was at the game and a few things stood out, but none more than the reaction of the fans. People were cheering like they had won the world cup and the team even went on a lap of honor.

    It feels that there has been a seismic shift in mentality – the provinces regularly touching up the English clubs has seeped into mainstream mentality. 10+ years ago, they expected to win. Now they were definitely very relieved and didn’t really expect to.

    • Hansie Macdermot

       /  February 24, 2014

      Yes, the English played with a fear driven intensity that, until Saturday, they had only deployed against BNZ and the Boks. Lancaster must really rate this Ireland team.
      I still think that we could have snatched a win despite being fortunate to only trail by 3 at half time. It was the “easiest” of the 2 away games for us.
      Our record in Paris is so awful that even if the French field their Z team, they will turn it
      on against us.
      Our complete lack of cutting edge in the centre is beyond repair untill D’arcy and BOD both
      retire.
      Gordon’s 2 immediate predecessors, Rob Henderson and Kevin Maggs, both had a higher
      try scoring ratio than him. .
      Even two of our current pack, Best and Heaslip, have also scored more tries.

      There is too much guff about his outstanding defence., in attack we are overly reliant
      on diagonal cross kicks – the mark of a junior side with recent Scottish sides type centres.

      Marshall at 12 for the next 2 and also tell Sexton that if he tries any more dinky chip kicks
      to restart then he will be nailed to the dressing room door by Paulie.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  February 25, 2014

        Darce had a cracking game, Drico was the one off the pace, he needs to be dropped, Marshall in at 13. Darce hasnt put a foot wrong, took it to the gainline and got over it, with our six utterly non existent, he was a massive source of midfield crash ball.

        • ruckinhell

           /  February 25, 2014

          Ha ha, you are some piece of work LL. Issues with our midfield penetration are the fault of our blindside flanker. Riiight. You’re either a top class troll who I’m foolishly engaging in or a guy who has never played the game and is doing some serious armchair punditry.

          By the way, POM was our top forward carrier and only made two less meters than D’Arcy in the match off two less carries. But don’t let the facts get in the way of another pathetic diatribe.

          • osheaf01

             /  February 25, 2014

            He thinks Toulouse are the best team in Europe. Take no notice of his dribblings…

          • Leinsterlion

             /  February 25, 2014

            @ruckinhell. POM was back to his usual level, utterly devoid of threat in the contact area tackling and carrying, I stand by my criticism of him. the game was crying out for someone to make big hits and carries. I’ll add that Heaslip was a disappointment on the carrying front too.
            Also LOL at questioning if I have ever played the game(I do), do you want to get into a dick measuring contest and then we’ll decide who has a better point based on the result?

            @osheaf01. Toulouse, prior to being castrated by injuries, were playing some awesome stuff, occasional abberations(Connacht etc) aside. I dont suppose you’d be watching much top 14 though.

          • ruckinhell

             /  February 25, 2014

            I’d be quietly confident in my playing career LL, even allowing for my ever decreasing pace and hairline. Still an internet pissing contest is the definition of futility. That being said, you must have been a great athlete, because your posting history certainly doesn’t show any great acumen in how the game is actually played.

          • @ruckinhell. I don’t see what the issue with LL is. His opinions are consistent and add diversity to the opinions below the comment line .Try and actually debate his point without calling him a troll or an arm chair pundit.

            Plus POM does have bags of ability with ball in hand but the point stands that he is filling a role that has recently been occupied by the monsters Fez/O’Brien. Without either of them I can’t help feel that our backrow lacks a bit of punch.

          • Toulouse were playing “awesome stuff”, aberrations aside, apparently… Here’s their form in the T14, which LL watches so assiduously and from which he is drawing his conclusions:

            August: W1, L2
            September: W3, L2
            October: W2
            November: W1, L2
            December: W1, L1
            January: W1, L1
            February: W1, L2

            So, W10, L10. Awesome. Of these results, it’s particularly notable that they’ve won a single away game, against the worst Biarritz side in living memory, in the T14 this season. This is in turn one of the worst Toulouse sides in living memory, and their form all season has been testament to that.

            On POM, if he was devoid of threat and made the most metres of our forwards, and the most metres per carry of our forwards who made a meaningful sample of carries, I shudder to think what you made of the rest of them. I imagine they’ve come in for prolonged and scathing abuse chez LL.

          • Leinsterlion

             /  February 25, 2014

            @Ruckinhell, do you think we played the right way tactically on Sat? Schmidt made a balls of it.
            How is the game supposed to be played? I know tackling and ball carrying from my backrow would be high on my list(fast wingers would also, but thats a problem we probably agree on, seeing as its Zebo who would seemingly slot in).

            @thoughtless, all away losses up until a short while back, shock horror, look at the table and the rest of the teams are posting similar stats, look how tight it is. Points on a log table give no indication of quality. Leinster got a BP last weekend playing utter garbage, on paper great result, but it means nothing as the performance was so bad. Im talking about performance, from what I have seen this season I have seen more Toulouse games where they were on fire then I have corresponding Leinster games.

            Yeah I though our forwards were garbage in open play on the weekend, POC was outshone by Toner(given my opinion plenty of times on him, says a lot), our only forward to play at his level or beyond it was Henry, really solid game. Set piece aside we were utterly devoid of anything from the pack, Healy bottled up, looked heavy and slow, Heaslip a few carries aside bottled up. I could go on….. Granted take the opposition into account, but this was a tactically limited England team, we could have beaten them, instead we just kicked stupidly and often.

          • Indeed, I looked at the table just there, they’re seventh (behind the titans of Grenoble), having scored the seventh-most points in the league, and conceded the fewest. The log table would indicate that they’re not playing scintillating stuff, but are instead relying on a solid defence to keep them in contention. And you can insist that you’ve seen them on fire more times than you have Leinster this season, but (a) at best that would indicate their form is better than Leinster’s (who aren’t top of their league either), not that they’re the best team in Europe, and (b) that’s anecdotal evidence based on the limited sample of games you’ve seen by comparison to all the games where they’ve evidently not been on fire, as borne out by their league position and scoring stats.

            As for the last paragraph, it’s good of you to mention the remainder of the pack’s deficiencies, but it’s a sad indication of how blinkered you are that you originally attempted to excuse D’Arcy’s lack of penetration by criticising Ireland’s best ball-carrier in the pack, O’Mahony, rather than any of those other players, solely because of your weird, long-standing vendetta against him. I can’t wait for both him and Earls to be in the team, I assume you’ll be on the verge of an aneurysm.

    • Paddy o

       /  February 24, 2014

      Similar thing stood out to me. I was minded of the ashes a few years ago (not sure of the year, but it was the breakthrough win for England, or at least the team representing England). I think it was Trent Bridge. Anyway, it was a great test and Australia fought a draw out of it. After the last ball the Aussies were giving it plenty. Michael Vaughn (in one of the best pieces of captaincy/management/psychology/whatever it is a cricket captain does which I have witnessed) quick as a flash got his team together and the cameras caught what he was saying….”look at them – they are celebrating a draw. This is supposed to be the great Australian cricket team. We have these boys now” or words to that effect.

      Obviously Saturday wasn’t a draw, but this an England team with a head start on development, that was at Twickenham, with all the car park stuff, with England having to win. Ireland didn’t play particularly well, didn’t win the tactical battle, didn’t win the gain line battle. Didn’t get full reward for scrum dominance which they might on another day, made plenty of individual, uncharacteristic errors in defence (missed tackles) and in attack (sexton had a poor game). I do think also that Ireland were hostages a bit to their success of the previous two games and possibly picked a team and a gameplan which Schmidt wasn’t originally planning to pick. There finished 3 points in it and England were having to hang in.

      It is clear for Ireland that they must improve their clear outs to create quick ball and must add an offload or two or indeed three into their attacking game. Sexton needs to be less obvious than what he was on Saturday too, the English defence read him too easily. I’d bet those improvements will happen. They might even happen by the time of the next game.

      England need to develop an attacking game almost from the ground up. Consistently hard as they are to beat, it is difficult to see them consistently beating the top sides playing as they are. Are those improvements going to happen? Maybe. Lancaster has done a great job with this team. Not that it matters, but i find myself liking them. Launchbury and particularly Chris “is that a maul please sir” (to the ref when it clearly is a maul) Robshaw stand out. They are a credit and the battle of manners at the bishbashboshbowl between Robshaw and the equally likeable Warburton should be something to behold. But Lancaster might have to shed the pragmatic for the expressive a bit in order to continue to develop this team. Is that his nature?

      Ireland deservedly lost this battle, but not the war and a great championship continues.

  5. A very fair assessment of Saturday’s proceedings, WoC. Sure, everything didn’t go to plan, but for Team Schmidt’s first game “on the road”, it wasn’t too bad either. I have no doubt, that we will put Italy to the sword and would hope that JS uses the opportunity to build further on his squad by allowing the likes of Henderson, Ruddock, Murphy, Zebo and PJ get in some serious Test time. I’d even start Marshall and bring BO’D off the bench, when the Italians are huffing and puffing and sure he might even score a try. If I had to choose an away match for us to win this year, it would be in Paris rather than London, by virtue of the positive knock-on effect it could have on the Toulon-Leinster Heino quarter-final.

    • Scrumdog

       /  February 26, 2014

      Ruddock ( a knock ’em back tackler and carrier)) or Henderson (six or at lock) should start a game at blindside. O’Mahony played well in the Scotland (7 tackles /2 missed)and Wales(8 tackles /1 missed) games and was ‘designated’ second man in to steal the ball, but still had his normal count of around 8, so what was he doing in those other games for Ireland? I think he’s definitely a ‘horses for courses’ player at this point or a bench player. Ireland need a solid,dominant,tackling ball carrier at six. I don’t agree with Schmidt on O’Mahony’s selection as a starter at the moment! Time to give someone else a start at six. Ireland is growing under Schmidt for sure and will be a great team by RWC time.

  6. @Completebore

     /  February 24, 2014

    I was a little surprised when Sexton was left on – he looked a little ‘dazed’ to me for a while after the above-mentioned knock. And his first kick after that down the line gained about 10 yards. I guess Joe isn’t quite ready for PJ to play when a big game is on the line. What that says about the other 10’s in the pipeline who he doesn’t even fancy for the bench I don’t know.

    I’m not too concerned about the loss, bits of the performance were good, some was bad. I imagine the defensive plan and tackle-counts will form a big part of the Monday/Tuesday review. Its still early in Joe’s reign and he has time to polish some of these.

    And after watching the game on Friday night if we’d have found a way past the English I’d have been telling the IRFU to book the Grand Slam open-top bus cos that French outfit look awful. It goes straight to awful national stereotypes, but it looks like they were still puffing tabs and eating baguettes 10 minutes befoer kickoff.

    • connachtexile

       /  February 24, 2014

      It irritated me that he didn’t take off Sexton. He clearly wasn’t 100% their and he still left him on. Why pick Paddy Jackson if you don’t trust him? Politics? Schmidt might as well have walked up to Jackson and flipped him off.

      As an aside what would people think of Downey coming in? I know he is limited in what he does and Darcy/Marshall hasn’t done anything wrong but with no one really able to smash a line through sheer grunt having him on the field for fifty mins might not be a bad idea.

      • Downey certainly impressed against the Ospreys, but I think Marshall can do it just as well (although he’s a little bit off form currently).

      • @Completebore

         /  February 24, 2014

        I’d doubt Joe cares too much about the politics, my guess is he just didn’t fancy Jackson to turn the game around. And if the word comes back from Sexton that he’s fine, it’d be a big call, but as I said he looked fuzzy to me. But I’m watching on telly with much less information. Joe seems to have lumped on Sexton for the moment with Jackson being annointed as the understudy (so I’d expect PJ to start against Italy).

        I wouldn’t go down as far as Downey, but I would expect to see some changes for Italy. Probably Jackson, Boss, Henderson, maybe O’Donnell and Bam-Bam with the originals being on the bench.

    • curates_egg

       /  February 25, 2014

      Equally bizarre was how he refused to replace Murray, when he was clearly beyond out on his feet. He put in a big shift defensively and couldn’t make it to rucks by the 60th minute. Boss may not offer much better or different but at least he would have had some energy. Reddan has to come back in now anyway.

  7. It definitely looked like there was an effort from the off to catch the English on the hop with a switch in tactics – going wide rather than opting for the maul. Unfortunately, it didn’t work because the personnel weren’t as well suited for the task, with no Fez or SOB to smash holes and drag in tacklers. As good as D’arcy was, and he was one of Ireland’s better players, this is one game where Marshall might have been the better bet. I suspect there’ll be some changes for the Italy game, but how comprehensive they turn out to be will tell a lot. Fingers crossed for a reaction worthy of the disappointment.

    As an Ulster fan, I’d also have to say that I thought Best had a great game. Ireland dominated the set pieces and he forced a couple of turnovers. He did miss a couple of tackles, but he was far from alone in that.

    • Five missed tackles is too much I’m afraid … as good as Besty was at ruck time, that’s simply unacceptable

      • That many? Fair enough – I hadn’t seen the detailed stats. That’s a definite black mark all right.

        • Bowe Gathers

           /  February 24, 2014

          Ah come on lads, that deliberate overthrow to O’Mahoney at the tail was so good it was worth many many missed tackles. As a coach mentioned to me in my youth, ‘Your line out is like your dick: you can never have enough length’…

  8. SportingBench

     /  February 24, 2014

    Long term a defeat will do us no harm as the recent past has many examples of Ireland extrapolating too much, too soon from a couple of good wins and for once I think the coach will learn.
    I think the conservatism in selection and tactics comes from the lack of time with the players. Joe seems to be consistent with the view that International Rugby is too difficult to throw a player into without a plan hence Zebo is sitting out games, preferring to select people who have been in camp. Over the next 18 months as more and more players become familiar with his methods and tactics I expect he will be more at ease with changing personnel and tactics.
    Sadly I think Saturday was a game too far finally for BOD. England ultimately won because they won the territory battle and this came from a poor kick chase. The first up tacklers, particularly Trimble closed down well but the vibrant English back 3 often managed to side-step away and there was no second in tackler to stop them. Therefore we were playing in the Irish half mainly. BOD has not regularly contributed to the kick chase for a while but used to act as a 4th back row at the breakdown so that didn’t matter as he added enough there to compensate. On Saturday he was slow to get to the breakdown so wasn’t contributing there either. Darcy doesn’t often join the chase either but he was contributing elsewhere as of times of old as he continued his fine Indian summer.
    On a different point, it was great to see the new scrum rules working well. While Ireland were on top in the scrum, England were able to scrummage backwards legally and therefore it did not descend into a penalty-fest which is good for the game. We just need to work a few back moves off a steady scrum now and we are good.

    • Gerome

       /  February 24, 2014

      Wouldn’t Trimble be better as an outside centre? He rucks well and would add some better, if not the best, pace to midfield. They could rest BOD and give this a try in the Italian game.

      • Surely that ship has sailed! He had a good few games at 13 deputising for the great once a while back. Was it 2008? He knocked out some brute of a Frenchman with a tackle – might have been Baby

        • SportingBench

           /  February 24, 2014

          Still think Tommy Bowe is an option at 13. Played there for Ospreys a lot and often moves in-field for Ulster (even taking first receiver when Ulster are going all barbarians).

          • Gerome

             /  February 24, 2014

            Now that is a better idea – but could we imagine Bowe and Payne as the centre partnership in the future?

          • Bueller

             /  February 25, 2014

            How about we just play a 13 who is, shockingly….a 13? There has been panic stations over the last 5 years to replace BOD….we will never replace BOD….why do we keep on trying to morph wingers and full backs into centres? We are taking Payne and Henshaw – 2 exceptional full-backs and trying to mould them into decent 13s….Bowe and Trimble are very good wingers but they would not be world class 13s simply because they are good rugby players. Why not look at the lads who play 13? I don’t think Darren Cave is the greatest player on earth but he is easily as good as Luther Burrell. Can we not have a ‘good’ 13 with some great wingers outside him? If Brendan Macken actually got some big game time for Leinster he might have become a good 13 at this stage also. At least Earls wanted to play 13 and Henshaw is young enough that changing his position is feasible. Our 13 doesn’t have to be the best player on the pitch if he can perform the basics of the position and preferably a little extra, not the other way around.

          • Paddy

             /  February 25, 2014

            I have to pull you up on Macken. He’s a good bit of game time but won’t get a whole lot more if he doesn’t tighen up his defense. Terribly inconsistent. I’m with you for the most part about the 13 who’s a 13 though

          • krustie92

             /  February 26, 2014

            Using phone so not sure if this will reply to right section. But it is directed at bueller and paddy. Rougerie started out at winger and he is a pretty solid 13, so it is not an undoable conversion. I dunno when he made that switch tho. So could of been pretty young.

          • Bueller

             /  February 26, 2014

            Fair point but the difference between the situations is that Rougerie was a winger with all the attributes of a centre and was moved there as a tactical manoeuvre by his club side….not a nation in frantic search of a stop-gap. It was noticed that he and the team could benefit from a move into the centres (coupled with the fact that he played there at under-age). The moving of centres and full-backs into 13 in Ireland smacks more of “someone….anyone!”. I have to disagree re Macken…I think he has done relatively well the majority of times I have seen him and reckon he could benefit from some ‘big game’ exposure. I know Stuart Olding is a 12 primarily but he could also be a long-term prospect at 13. BOD has obviously been the best player in Ireland, the NH and even the world for much of his career and he still deserves his place for the rest of this season, as I think he is still genuinely the best option we have at 13 but after that I think the options of actual 13s needs to be explored. Fully fledged IQ 13s are few and far between but by my calcs there are Cave and Macken as full 13s, Olding as a utility centre, McFadden, Earls and Fitzgerald as wingers who have at various times primarily concentrated on the centres, Bowe who has played there once or twice, Henshaw and Payne as full-backs being squeezed in to centres (although both are doing pretty well at it). I am not his biggest fan and have even criticised him here before but I genuinely think that Darren Cave is our best option going forward. There seems to be a deeper routed problem in Irish rugby….why have we only produced one international quality 13 in the past 14 years?

          • Henshaw played 13 all the way up through schools, has one season of playing full-back for Connacht. He’s not being squeezed into that position. It’s his preferred position.

          • Ciano

             /  February 28, 2014

            Bueller you’re spot on, the deeper problem in Irish rugby is that we pay far too much attention to reputation and caps. This thing of thinking we’re great because we have players with so many caps is seen as an indictment by many in other countries. I also agree re Macken and Cave, they are the rightful next generation of 13s but Macken needs a year or 2 being first choice at Leinster if he’s to become test quality.

    • Macken has had plenty of opportunity at Leinster but unfortunately (and frustratingly) has not upped his game enough. Defensively he is very suspect. Henshaw on the other hand has potential although he is a long way off International class as yet. Would love to see him take up the 13 role in the summer tours.

  9. Rava

     /  February 24, 2014

    The problem in our backs isn’t lack of pace out wide. Both Kearney jnr. and Trimble possess this in abundance as is witnessed each time they kick chase. The problem is the service they get (or don’t get) from the centres. Both centres were guilty of taking contact with no off loading and when the ball got out across the backline it was so slow and predictable the English defence were there in abundance. The pretty loops and fancy passes are only effective if the line gets broken. I can’t think of any attacking situation where any of the other wingers you mentioned would have succeeded where either Kearney of Trimble didn’t.

    • Bob

       /  February 24, 2014

      Dave Kearney got ankle tapped by Robshaw out wide, a bit of extra pace would have had him on a one on one with Brown. Trimble lacked pace to finish when he caught a kick out wide early on. That been said I thought they were both solid industrious wingers and they had a better all round game than their opposite numbers. Bowe, Earls, Fitz or even Zebo on the other hand are clinical rather than industrious. Its that x factor that makes something out of nothing.

      • I think that’s fair – for all Trimble and DK’s work, they aren’t greased lightning. I actually thought it was a second row (can’t remember which one) who tapped Kearney, could be wrong though

        • Aye, was Launchberry, who had a blinder of a game billed as Lawes vs POC. He probably got offended that people hadn’t given him a mention!

        • osheaf01

           /  February 24, 2014

          It was Launchbury, who’s a brilliant prospect.

          • Bob

             /  February 24, 2014

            Apologies for not spotting it was Launchberry, great tap tackle (even better now that realised it was made by a second row). I was too busy shouting and fuming around my kitchen at the time.

      • Commented on this below at much the same time, I’m almost certain it was Launchbury who completed the tackle. I wouldn’t blame Trimble for not finishing the cross-kick, Sexton’s radar was off with that as it was all day, he had to claim it from over the line while himself staying infield, which essentially killed his momentum. This stood out in stark contrast to some of the sublime cross-kicks Jackson has been putting in this season, but he’s very obviously not trusted to close out a game like that even when Sexton is having a ‘mare.

        • Yeah- that was really disappointing. I mean, Sexton is one of Ireland’s key players, but he was clearly struggling, and on the bench we have a young lad who has dealt with every challenge this year (and more).

          • Ciano

             /  February 27, 2014

            Yeah I’m surprised they left Jackson on the bench – what kind of message does that send? Oddly enough it seems that if we had a comfortable points cushion for the last 5/10 minutes he’d of been sure to put Jackson on!

            “You can only put him on to get game time and experience but not to try and rescue a game” – I’m as big a fan of Sexton as anyone but it’s because of what he does and not who he is and this messaging is just all wrong

    • Dave Kearney was tap tackled by a second row in the dying stages. It was Joe Launchbury, who’s an exceptionally quick and athletic second row, but there is no earthly way Launchbury would have caught any of Earls, Zebo, or Bowe.

  10. Yossarian

     /  February 24, 2014

    This was Ireland in Twickenham minus our best player SOB, and our best attacking wingers Bowe,Luke and Zebo. As good as Trimble and Kearney Jr have been i think if the other 3 had been on the end of those passes we may have been more incisive.
    The dominant back 5 forwards all wore white. Launchbury and Robshaw had monster games.Sadly our back 5 were off the physical stakes. Feared this was always a strong possibility but hoped POC and Heaslip would be able to impose themselves better.
    Encouragingly Toner looked grand yet again and is developing into a second row we don’t have to wince at. Our scrum was dominant(can’t remember that ever before in Twickenham) and our lineout had 100% return.

  11. Topsy Turvy

     /  February 24, 2014

    Fair and level assessment WOC, nicely done.
    Firstly, so as not to sound like I’m chewing sour grapes, I would have to say that England definitely deserved the win. They looked quite comfortable defending against us and we didn’t look quite so comfortable defending against them. So hats off to them.
    There were a couple of key decisions, and puzzling ones, that might have gone more in our favour though.
    Maybe someone can explain the law regarding a maul where no opposition players form part of it? I had seen this once before in a world cup game (2007 I think), so I assume Joubert was spot on in letting it go the way it did but from seeing players on both sides questioning it at the time I don’t feel embarrassed to ask.
    When we finally decided to contest that maul and got in on the ball before it collapsed we were then penalised for not rolling away. I thought if you have your hands on the ball when a maul goes down you’re not obliged to roll away?
    The scrum penalty towards the end was not to be given but I don’t think Joubert could have seen the English hand on the ball. Maybe it was a penalty regardless of this but I didn’t see any other reason. What really annoyed me there was Ben Morgans claims that Ireland used a hand in the scrum. IMO that’s lousy. If you try to cheat when the opposition are pushing you back, please don’t accuse them of doing what you did.
    Finally, I know people will always say take your points but I think we should have kicked for the corner instead of taking the 3 points to give us a 7 point lead. We had them completely rattled then with 100% success from lineouts. We could have put the game beyond 1 score.
    Good aggressive game overall. Lots to improve on.

    • SportingBench

       /  February 24, 2014

      The law on engaging with a maul in that situation was clarified a few years ago so Joubert was right in that situation Ireland can’t just not engage. I think the penalty was for not rolling away after a tackle to end the maul, you don’t have to roll off a collasped maul. Basically Joubert was saying that Ireland correctly defended the maul, resulting in a player going through the maul from behind to execute a tackle on the ball carrier. The maul is over then. It just so rarely happens these days as most mauls end in a collapse, that the players obviously forgot the difference.
      I do wonder if the Irish scrum had noticed the hand in there as surely POC would have asked for a TMO?

      • Topsy Turvy

         /  February 24, 2014

        I knew I could turn to the contributors of this page for explanation, SportingBench – thank you!

    • http://www.irblaws.com/index.php?law=17&language=EN
      it’s here under 17.4 (f) and (g)
      if you don’t engage it’s not a maul
      if you leave a maul it’s still a maul
      if a tree falls in the woods…

  12. Pablo

     /  February 24, 2014

    First time poster here (from New York). From my perspective, if Ireland win at home and in Paris, the team will rue the trip to Twickenham as a lost opportunity, a match they should have won. I don’t want to take anything away from England, since I think they played their best match of the tournament, and Ireland did not, but England won that match off the back of their defending and Irish mistakes between 50 and 55 minutes – questionable chip out of his own 22 by Sexton led to a penalty, terrible restart from Sexton and multiple missed tackles led to Care’s try. (Had Ireland just extended that bit of dominance after half-time another 5 minutes to get up 10 points, well, I’d easily see Ireland scoring a late try to put more gloss on the match. But that’s just a counterfactual, so whatever.) After that spell, the English were so composed, and did well to finish the game against Irish pressure without conceding a penalty. In the end, I wouldn’t rate England a better side than Ireland off that match.

    If you told me before the match that England would only score 13 points, well I would have expected Ireland to win. Ireland just couldn’t manufacture scoring opportunities from open play. They did not have the quick ball, they had the week before, so that’s one reason, but the English defensive line was up so fast. I thought Joubert was lax policing the off-side line at the rucks (on the passage of play that ended with O’Driscoll’s too cute offload to Sexton, I thought Brown had come into the ruck from a blatantly off-side position on the other side of the pitch), and I thought Murray picked and took a step before delivering to the backs too often.

    • @Completebore

       /  February 24, 2014

      If Ireland wins the remaining two games, the players will (probably) be too busy celebrating and the jurnos will be too busy pumping out 200-page tributes to BOD to care about the Grand Slam. Grand Slams are bloody hard to come by, especially in even years when Ireland travel to London and Paris. The realistic approach is to try and win one and lose the other by as small a margin as possible.

      And Murray did seem to have re-developed his annoying step, but I wonder if this is a function of the breakdown being so tough. Does he feel the need to clear the battle-ground before passing?

      • connachtexile

         /  February 24, 2014

        Murray took a serious knock to resulting in him needing medical attention twice so wouldn’t read to much into that it would have to had affected him.

  13. Sound Steve

     /  February 24, 2014

    There was no disgrace in losing to that team. Defensively, they are top notch. They shut down anything within 15-20m of the ruck with ruthless efficiency, often behind the gainline, denying the oppo quick ball. Sure they defend narrow but when you’re not giving away quick ball you can afford to do that. Their kick chase is excellent and their discipline is superb as soon as they are in their own half. It’s very hard to break down a team like that.

    As has been pointed out, it was that violent momentum shift from 50-55 mins that killed us. That was very disappointing.

    SOB would have made little or no difference to that game, They shut him down very effectively last year and there isn’t a lot of subtlety to his game.

    JS didn’t have his best game but it’s very hard for a 10 when you can’t get quick ball and you’re faced with such an aggressive press.

    Also, for all the credit Joe was getting prior to this game, it’s the Plumtree aspects of the game that are impressing; set pieces, mauls.

  14. Buzz the England Fan

     /  February 24, 2014

    Well I enjoyed the game more than I thought I would. Not because we won but more because it was a pretty entertaining match.

    Even allowing for the fact that we butchered a few gilt-edged chances I thought Ireland might have got a draw in the last few minutes which would probably have been a fair result.

    I applauded the Irish try until I noticed on the replay POC blocking and then tripping the man who would have tackled Kearney (Launchbury, I think). Not blatant enough to disallow the try perhaps but effective nontheless.

    As I thought in the prematch, a loss for England would have been far more damaging than a loss for Ireland. I thought the greater experience in your backline would have paid more dividends and I was surprised at the limited use of the rolling maul.

    The 6N is still wide open. In theory a trip to Paris in the Spring should hold no fears but anyone with half a rugby brain should know that you NEVER write off Les Bleus.

  15. Very impressive that Ireland didn’t lose a single scrum or line-out, and seriously disrupted England’s scrum on a few occasions. Dan Cole’s absence for England was probably a bigger loss than SOB for Ireland, though we definitely missed a big ball-carrier as mentioned above.

    Disappointed that Joubert didn’t card Lawes for such blatant holding on, well within the red-zone with about 10 minutes to go.

    On balance, though, I thought England deserved to win – their defence was excellent and their will to win was stronger when it mattered – maybe that last-gasp loss in Paris has toughened them mentally.

    France without Fofana will hopefully be even less intimidating in 3 weeks (not that Italy are a pushover, mind).

  16. Shelflife68

     /  February 24, 2014

    Overall it was a cracking contest and the better side won, there wasnt much at all in it and perhaps a draw would have been fair, but I wouldnt complain about eng nicking it.

    As was said earlier, my main concern was with the use of the bench, Sexton wasnt operating at 100% even before the blow and should have been taken off, Murray was not 100% and it was strange having an experienced player on the bench in Boss and not using him.

    As the front rows are effectively interchange able to a degree there was little to lose in bringing on fresh legs to the battle.

    Overall not the end of the world, still in the hunt and all to play for.

  17. Seymore

     /  February 25, 2014

    It always amazes me that Ireland kick as much in the opposition 22 as their own. We do great work in building pressure and territory and just when it’s time to squeeze, we kick the ball ! Up & under’s within 10 feet of the line, grubbers to no-one and cross field kicks to marked players. I swear to god, it’s like we are allergic to the ball near the opposition line.

    Ireland have from Kidney onwards worked on the basis of holding posession for 5 phases or less before a defining play is made, usually involving giving the ball to the other team on the back of a lotto play. We also apparently specialise in chipping the ball out of our 22 at a time when we are right in the game – giving the ball to the full back at full pace. O’Gara loved doing it away from home, Sexton does it, Jackson does it – just to torture ourselves. I will never understand why we insist on inviting the opposition onto us in the last 20 minutes…..how is that in the game plan.

    I actually thought our forwards were great again, counter-rucking was good, the options taken at ruck time were spot on (against much better opposition). We have not been that well coached in our forwards since Niall O’Donovan crafted one of the best forward packs in the world.

    Marty Moore will be starting for Ireland by the end of the season, his scrummaging is very solid, and his ruck work is brilliant. Great at clearing out ball (low and aggressive), pops up in every ruck going. the problem SOB has is he needs to be at every 2nd attacking ruck to clear it, having Moore and McGrath coming on with 30 to go would give him a lot of space to carry (re-watch Moore in the last 20 minutes of the Leinster Ospreys game in round 1 to know what Moore does at ruck time – he smooths out ruck ball like a front 5 should). McGrath is also developing in quick time, the sub props are making a big impact for us (thank god).

    All in all, the forwards could not have done better (aside from POM and Best slipping off a lot of tackles). Our backs of course need a bit of work. My old friend D’arcy…..oh brother. He is exceptional in what he does well but boy does he murder space. If BOD was playing outside Sonny Bill, or even his lions buddy throughout his career, he’d have re-written the book (not a sniff of a 6’2” slab with hands anywhere in the last 10 years). Our back play is getting old, literally. We are going into a World Cup year next year with a brand new centre combo to put together (and Marshall is not the answer, the same type of player as D’arcy). We need something completely different. JJ Hanrahan will be the boss at 12 soon, he has something different (and I know he’s a 10, but he’ll need to wait for Sexton to move on first).

    I’m pretty pleased overall that we have a great forwards coach who has swiped the safety blanket off a group of very good forwards, and now the Schmidt is there, the backs should soon play to something close to their potential. I think we’ll learn enough to win in Paris – that would be a great achievement.

    Can someone tweet Sexton and ask him for the love of god to stop kicking it in the wrong 22, cheers.

  18. Len

     /  February 25, 2014

    I think re France we have to hope and pray that Doussain remains injury free and starting 9 as this limits the impact of Machenaud. If Machenaud starts I think we’ll struggle as he seem far better suited to unlocking some Galic flare in the backs. The loss of Fofana is a big blow and seems to guarantee Mathew no trick poney Basteraud (or should that be donkey?) will continue to start.

  19. Leinsterlion

     /  February 25, 2014

    Marshall has to be tried at 13 against Italy, stick with Darce at twelve, we badly need some pace at 13

    • Len

       /  February 25, 2014

      I’d be tempted to give McFadden a go at 13 and BamBam at 12. Give Darcy a break and have Drico on the bench for his last home game.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  February 25, 2014

        I dont think McFadden has it at center, he can pull of outrageous breaks, but he can also go missing, It would be a good experiment, but I’d like to see Marshall there, he looks like he has more about him than McFadden. Darce has been our best back this 6 nations imo, an utter rock.

      • Mike

         /  February 26, 2014

        BoD on the bench in his last home international? Christ on a bike…

        There are 2 chances of that…

        • Leinsterlion

           /  February 26, 2014

          I know its not going to happen, i just think Marshall ought to be tried at 13, he could be our best option there, I dont see why not

    • D’ya reckon Drico will be dropped for his last international at the Aviva?!
      It’s more a question of when he is subbed off and how long the ovation is for. Marshall can play first centre.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  February 25, 2014

        No, but, it would be the right thing to do, given his current performance level, it hopefully wont decend to O’Gara levels, but some of those grubber through’s against England were woeful, plus seeing what Marshall can do at 13 is a dream of mine.

        • curates_egg

           /  February 26, 2014

          Ah come on, Drico was one of the better performers on Saturday. His current performance level is just fine.

          • Leinsterlion

             /  February 26, 2014

            Those stupid kicks though…. utter brain farts

          • And that dreadful no-look pass to Sexton on the loop. And the three missed tackles out of six attempts. He’s on the slide and has been for some time, no doubt about it, but he’s obviously starting, so let’s hope he can pull something out of the bag.

  20. Munstermicko

     /  February 25, 2014

    Key aspect missing from Saturdays game was that Pashun O Mahoney was not given the opportunity to do his usual Xfactor piece during the anthems.

    England were on the front foot by cunningly bringing in two ghouls to drawl out Irelands call and completely shut off Peters Pashun pump at source. Masterclass move by the RFU and as the Bowtied one behind the RTE panel would say would say, it was akin to Delileh cutting Sampsons hair.

    Looking forward to Italy all the same and but a bit worried about our points difference as I think the 2013 Lions will put a cricket score on the scots and beat the English. Italy Ireland matches haven’t exactly been point farms in recent years

  21. Watching Ireland this Six Nations has been like watching lesbian porn. Looks great, does the job seven times out of ten but when it comes down it the penetration is desperately lacking.

  22. Ciano

     /  February 27, 2014

    I know I’ve come on here saying stuff like this before but does no one think that for the penalty we were given for Lawes’ not rolling we should have taken a scrum or lineout? I’m reminded of the famous cheesy self-belief quote: “Playing it safe is sometimes the most dangerous thing you can do”

    • Topsy Turvy

       /  February 27, 2014

      I made a comment above to say the same thing Ciano. We had them rattled at that point and didnt lose one lineout all day, or scrum for that matter.

      • Ciano

         /  February 28, 2014

        You mentioned aggression too. I’m a big believer in the importance of ‘aggressive mindedness’. The kind of decision making that really puts teams under pressure. If you’re ALWAYS trying to score tries, you’ll score more tries than when you’re only sometimes trying to score tries. I know that sounds bleedin’ obvious but it ties in with all the sports psychology stuff. Remember Leinster needed a couple of bonus point wins in last years Europeans?

  23. L.P.O

     /  February 28, 2014

    If we were to win in Paris, where the English didn’t, how exactly would that be ironic? Ironically, even Alanis Morissette would twig that you’re wide of the mark on that one.

    And stop this Zebo ‘X-factor’ thing. Why does any term Smelly Thornley repeats ad nauseam become a fecking national catchphrase for anyone discussing rugby? Is Zebo a nippy winger who is willing to pop up anywhere in the back line to make a play come off? Yes. Is Louis Walsh beating down his door with offers?

    Well… probably yes. But likely for reasons other than pop music.

    Am I still in a bad mood about this loss?

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