With the Championship already gone, Ireland need to re-establish their focus
By Phil Rice
Last weekend England thrashed a disappointing Scottish side to record their second successive Six Nations crown.
This Saturday they will be aiming to double up with a second Grand Slam win. They will start the game as strong favourites over Ireland after Rory Best’s men struggled vainly to get past a resolute Welsh defence in Cardiff last Friday evening.
So far in this year’s Championship Ireland have failed to reproduce the form of last November when they recorded victories over New Zealand and Australia. With two defeats to Wales and Scotland and two wins over France and Italy, Ireland could finish second in the table with a victory over England at the Aviva this Saturday.
It's FT at Twickenham and England have beaten Scotland to win the 2017 RBS 6 Nations pic.twitter.com/BElRBtBAf0
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) March 11, 2017
Just about everything that could go wrong went wrong for a bitterly disappointing Scottish side at Twickenham last Saturday. They had hooker Fraser Brown sin-binned in the second minute and lost their talisman full-back Stuart Hogg through injury shortly afterwards, quickly followed by replacement Mark Bennett.
The game was out of their reach before a quarter of the match had been played. It is hard to evaluate whether this was through England’s brilliance or Scotland’s ineptitude and bad luck, probably a combination.
England certainly put in their best performance of the campaign but Scotland were terrible and a pale shadow of the team that had disposed of Ireland and Wales earlier in the Championship.
For Ireland’s part the defeat in Cardiff was a sobering result after the recent performances against Italy and France had re-established them as serious contenders for the Championship.
Our old ‘friend’ referee Wayne Barnes significantly yellow carded Johnny Sexton during the first half, when it appeared that the Irish fly-half was trapped beneath Jonathan Davies and couldn’t release himself. Wales scored ten crucial points during the sin-binning.
Centre Robbie Henshaw, who had a fine game, unfortunately crossed in front of Rory Best just as Ireland’s captain dived to score. The English referee ruled that Henshaw had obstructed the Welsh defence although there is little doubt that Best would have scored without the centre’s intervention.
Wales immediately went to the other end of the field and scored to create a final scoreline that flattered the men from the valleys.
This week’s match at the Aviva has lost some of its significance given that England have already been crowned Champions and Ireland no longer have the potential for silverware. However Ireland will still be highly motivated to beat England as the visitors attempt to win a Grand Slam and extend their record sequence of international victories to nineteen.
Ireland have shown before, notably in Chicago, that an exceptional performance and result is well within their capability.
England’s ex-Coach, Sir Clive Woodward commented in his Daily Mail column “There is nothing Ireland love more than to act as party poopers, particularly against England.” He went on “I would have much preferred Ireland to have beaten Wales on Friday which would seen the Irish chasing the Championship themselves in front of their own fans” he added. “That would have brought its own pressure.”
“Now the Irish are free to make mischief and life as difficult as possible for England as Eddie Jones’ team look to make it a world record 19 Test wins on the trot.
“For the second time in five months the Irish can go against national stereotype and act as party poopers.”
“The Irish will have an ambush planned, they have 80 minutes to resurrect their season and I can guarantee you Eddie will not consider this a successful season unless they get the job done in Dublin. Great sides win big matches on the road.”
In a few weeks time Lions Coach Warren Garland will be selecting his party to tour New Zealand this summer. This week’s match at the Aviva will go a long way to determining the prospects of the competing players to join that party.
All Blacks Coach Steve Hansen commented at the weekend, “The Six Nations has been a great tournament and we have seen the depth of player quality in the tournament,” He added, “They will come with a lot of depth and it will be probably be one of the best ever Lions selected.
“People are very excited about the team that is coming. We don’t get many touring teams that come here any more.”
While the players involved this week will be prioritising the result, the potential to achieve the highest honour for a British or Irish rugby player, by being selected as part of a British and Irish Lions touring party, will certainly be at the back of their minds and will add an interesting extra ingredient to what is already an eagerly awaited occasion.
Meanwhile, the Irish Women’s rugby team are still on for the Grand Slam: