Ireland were game, but their game management was puzzling
If a week is a long time in politics and judging by the latest opinion polls, two years certainly have dimmed plenty of memories, then in the context of the Six Nations it is also an age. Such is the nature of this competition, momentum and form will often shift dramatically, and suddenly, and you can be sure there’ll be a few more unexpected twists yet.
Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy all experienced dramatic turnarounds in fortune over the course of the first two weekends. Ireland, battered and bruised, both physically and mentally, after Sunday’s defeat, now go to Edinburgh to face a Scottish side revived by their new coaching ticket and a first Six Nations win in almost two years
And what’s more, Ireland will be without at least Jonny Sexton and Simon Zebo, and possibly Cian Healy too. A tricky assignment has just become considerably trickier.
Like Ireland, Italy will be grateful for next weekend’s respite before facing a rejuvenated Wales, who will fancy their chances of staying in the title picture until hosting England on the final weekend.
France will be especially grateful not to be playing again next weekend, although less so as their over-worked players will be wheeled out for Top 14 games.
If ever there was a case of cockerels coming home to roost, it’s the current woes of Les Bleus. However, it is inconceivable France will just plod to five defeats. With those boos echoing in their collective subconscious they will surely front up in Twickenham a fortnight hence, perhaps with five or six changes to revive them as well, with changes at half-back and Wesley Fofana being brought back to his more natural and effective midfield slot.
If they lose again in Twickenham, one can only imagine how angry that will then make them when coming to Dublin.
The Ireland squad and management will also be feeling the heat from outside as well as within. Once again the effort was unquestionable, and there were many good aspects to the performance, such as the scrum, lineout maul and defence.
But management and players will have to examine whether they took too much of an edge off themselves by resting up too much, or if they had the correct mental pitch, given the apparent nervousness in their early work.
But leaving aside the surfeit of handling errors, some of Ireland’s game management and decision-making was puzzling. For example, it was surprising Sexton didn’t have a shot at goal in the eighth minute from about 45 metres out and 15 metres to the right of the posts, instead of pushing the ball just inside the English 22 for a lineout.
Owen Farrell’s second penalty in the 29th minute was from a virtually identical spot and cleared the bar comfortably. Similarly, the decision to run everything from inside the 22 with five minutes remaining looked ill-advised.