Irish scrum suffers again as England play to their strengths
Irish Wolfhounds 10 English Saxons 14:Defeats at A level are not the end of the world but any defeat to the auld enemy hurts, not least after leading 10-0 at the break. More unnerving still however, on the eve of the Six Nations, was the damage wreaked upon the Irish scrum.
The most meaningful part of last night’s exercise from an Irish viewpoint, especially with next Saturday’s opener away to Wales in mind, was the performance of the props, given two had to be brought back up to the senior squad. As somewhat feared, the tight-head side of the Irish scrum was repeatedly in dire trouble on a night which, despite surviving on his debut off the bench against South Africa, did nothing to dispel the continuing doubts about Michael Bent’s abilities to lock a scrum, especially at Test level.
Drove him back
The experienced Gloucester 30-year-old Nick Wood did f a number on him, frequently twisting the Irish tight-head inside, or stood him up, and drove him back repeatedly.
Tom Court did earn a penalty after his half-time introduction for David Kilcoyne, which was clearly pre-ordained and suggests there’s a battle to back-up Cian Healy, but Bent remained in trouble until eventually replaced after 69 minutes by Declan Fitzpatrick. The Ulster tight-head has played scarcely 100 minutes of rugby this season, and Wood had also been replaced by Matt Mullan at that stage, yet with almost Fitzpatrick’s first action Mullan was penalised for going down under pressure on an English put-in.
With Stephen Archer still injured the cupboard is bare, and whether Fitzpatrick is deemed fit enough for a place on the full Irish bench remains to be seen. But the hope must remain that Mike Ross stays healthy.
Local hero Robbie Henshaw’s display was rapturously applauded by the boisterous home crowd. There was continuing evidence too of Tommy O’Donnell’s upward graph, with another all-action display of carrying, ferreting and tackling, as there was with Luke Fitzgerald’s well-being.
Despite the Irish scrum twice being in trouble, and Paddy Jackson missing his opening kick from 40 metres, a lively Irish start was rewarded by an attacking lineout drive from which Kevin McLaughlin burrowed over; Jackson converting.
The English hooker Joe Gray was spotted putting a late forearm into Paul Marshall, and the distance of the scrum-half’s box kick from inside his own 22 thus enabled Jackson to extend the lead to ten points with the resultant 40-metre penalty.
Despite the scrum’s problems, Ireland preserved their ten-point lead until the break.
Front foot fringe defending by McLaughlin and co repelled the Saxons on the resumption, but Wood did another number on Bent and George Ford opened the visitors’ account.
Ford tagged on another penalty before Ireland, refreshed off the bench, put together the game’s best spell of rugby; Jackson pulling the strings, Darren Cave making a line break and Ian Madigan, on at full-back, offloaded superbly to release Iain Henderson for a gallop for the line. Alas he was penalised for a double movement.
Instead, the Irish wilted in a bout of aerial tennis, Joe Simpson linking with Wasps team-mate Elliot Daly to find a hole in the advancing green line and Will Fraser scored in the corner. After another scrum penalty Ford made it 14-10 to conclude the scoring.
IRELAND WOLFHOUNDS: R Henshaw (Connacht); A Trimble (Ulster), D Cave (Ulster), D McSharry (Connacht), L Fitzgerald (Leinster); P Jackson (Ulster), P Marshall (Ulster); D Kilcoyne (Munster), M Sherry (Munster), M Bent (Leinster), L Stevenson (Ulster), D Toner (Leinster), K McLaughlin (Leinster), J Coughlan (Munster), T O’Donnell (Munster). Replacements: I Madigan (Leinster) for McSharry (69), I Boss (Leinster) for Marshall (51), T Court (Ulster) for Kilcoyne (40), D Varley (Munster) for Sherry (62), D Fitzpatrick (Ulster) for Bent (69), R Ruddock (Leinster) for Stevenson (67), I Henderson (Ulster) for McLaughlin (62).
ENGLAND SAXONS: E Daly; C Wade, J Tomkins, J Turner-Hall, T Biggs; G Ford, R Wigglesworth, P Wood, J Gray, P Doran-Jones, G Kitchener, G Robson, G Kruis, W Fraser, K Crane. Replacements: G Lowe for Turner-Hall (67), K Eastmond for Biggs (71), J Simpson for Wigglesworth (59), M Mullan for Wood (62), R Buchanan for Gray (59), E Slater for Kruis (59). Referee: I Davies (WRFU).