Ireland
A Bitter-Sweet Triumph
By Gary Watton
March 20 2017

On the eleventh anniversary of a famous triple crown-clinching victory at Twickenham, the Oirish reverted to their tradition of ruining an England grand slam finale, thus emulating the heroics from 2001 and 2011. However, in spite of this thoroughly-deserved win against the champions of Europe, Irish rugby fans cannot but help feel short changed by a squad that raises its game against the All Blacks and John Bull, whilst failing to quite hit the same heights against Scotland and Wales. It's all very well priding themselves on being party poopers, but the men in green really ought to be competing for a grand slam themselves. 

To be fair to the visitors, they took their setback on the chin. Both Dylan Hartley and their brilliant coach Eddie Jones were very sporting in defeat, which is a credit to them. If only their insufferable media were as magnanimous, but unfortunately for the away team, they only have to slip up once and the English press are liable to give them a roasting. In all fairness, the back-to-back champions were very rusty against France and Wales, and surprisingly ropey against the punchbags of Italy. Only a scintillating performance in the Calcutta Cup proved a glorious exception to what was really a damp squib of a campaign for the tournament winners. Of course, they did keep finding a way of winning, but at the Aviva Stadium they ran up against a home team determined to do precisely that - to win without producing a fireworks display of attacking rugby. There again, the wet conditions did dictate the course of the bruising encounter, and it was the hosts who adapted slightly better.

The match was characterised by an impressive Irish blanket defence that enveloped every attempted English attack. The champions simply failed to punch any holes in the Irish defences, and with no momentum arising from their rare glimpses of possession, the away team failed to sustain any pressure and never remotely came close to scoring a try - all the more surprising after their mouthwatering demolition of the Scots seven days earlier.

Ireland for their part were more than solid in the scrums, whilst bossing the line outs, a reality that could scarcely be imagined when they dropped their line out specialist Devon Toner. In the event, Donnacha Ryan was immense at the front of the line out, with last minute call up Peter O'Mahony equally good at mopping up other line out throws from his captain. Such was O'Mahony's influence upon the proceedings that he was nominated as man of the match. It's rare for Jamie Heaslip to miss a Six Nations fixture, but on the evidence of this 'shock' win, maybe he needs to sit out a few more. The same can be said for Rob Kearney. Although his deputy Jared Payne was far from convincing under the high ball, he made amends with some decent attacks with ball in hand. Elsewhere Kieran Marmion deserves special mention for an efficient and high energy performance behind the pack, thereby earmarking him as an adequate understudy to the absent Murray.

This was another historic Irish performance, but frankly it would be good to see a high level of consistency against all opponents, rather than extra effort merely summoned for the big challenge of England or New Zealand. The trouble is that old habits die hard. Still, coming second in a disappointing Six Nations isn't the end of the world. One bragging right is that Ireland conceded less points in the tournament than anyone else. However, they need to work on their ability to score tries if they wish to be a superpower in world rugby.

 

FINAL TABLE

England nineteen points

IRELAND fourteen points

France fourteen points

Scotland fourteen points

Wales 10 points

Italy no points

 

 

IRELAND 13 England 9; in Dublin; Saturday the 18th of March 2017.

15 Payne

14 Earls

13 Ringrose

12 Henshaw

11 Zebo

10 Sexton [two penalties, conversion]

9 Marmion

8 Stander

7 O'Brien

6 O'Mahony

5 Henderson [TRY]

4 Ryan.D

3 Furlong

2 Best (captain)

1 McGrath

Used replacements: Conway, Healy, Toner, Leavy, McGrath.L, Scannell, Ryan.J, Scannell