Championship carrot dangles after epic battle
Bookies make England favourites after victory over Ireland
So the four-way tie between the contenders in a Six Nations that has long since been two-tiered has come to pass.
France beat England who beat Ireland who beat Wales who beat France – the common denominator being the home side emerged victorious.
The bookies have installed England as 6/4 favourites after their epic 13-10 win over Ireland on Saturday, on the premise they have Wales at home two weeks’ hence in a title eliminator before facing Italy in Rome, with Ireland second favourites at 17/10 given they host Italy before their Saturday night finale in Paris against the whacky French.
Highlights: England v Ireland
Ireland sit atop a four-way tie by dint of their superior points difference, +42 to England’s +21, with Wales on +6 and France +1. Yet in the immediate aftermath of such a tough defeat to take, with outright leadership and the last Grand Slam hopes no longer standing, this seemed like scant consolation after a throbbing occasion which ultimately left Irish players, management and fans alike utterly drained.
Hence a shot at only a second title in 29 years didn’t appear much of a carrot in the cold and darkening gloom of south west London on Saturday evening.
Quite good steps
“I guess it might become a carrot if we can take care of Italy,” reasoned Joe Schmidt. “We have to try to build piece by piece, especially when you trip up in a game. We’ve taken two quite good steps and to trip on this one means that you don’t want to then suddenly try to take a giant leap because you’re not in as strong a position. We’ve just got to make sure that the next step is firmly planted, secure and we’ll work toward that over the next two weeks.”
Ireland will be grateful for another two week respite after another bruiser, all the more so given the quality of cover is a little threadbare, especially in the backline. A battered and bruised Peter O’Mahony, Johnny Sexton, (who was spotted with a cast on his hand yesterday) and Brian O’Driscoll (whose calf cramped up) were all replaced. After the game, Schmidt expressed no great concern about them but there will be an updated medical bulletin today or tomorrow.
“A couple of things didn’t quite come off for Johnny with the boot but again we’re looking for quite fine margins there on those couple of kick-offs,” admitted Schmidt, although the non-percentage restart at 10-6 rather than kick long was a surprising ploy in the circumstances.
“Unfortunately he hasn’t had a lot of chance to practice them too much in the conditions that we’ve trained in recently,” added the coach and as with their Clonmel get-together the week before, Sexton will not be with the squad in Belfast on Wednesday and Thursday as Racing host French champions Castres next Saturday. “With Johnny going back to potentially play against Castres it’s just a little bit difficult to probably get as much accuracy as we’re looking for.”
Schmidt’s reign has already revitalised Irish rugby, and his and the coaching team’s impact at half-time at Twickenham was extraordinary, yet the reward could so easily have been an historic win over the All Blacks and Grand Slam hopes standing. Instead, as in November, Schmidt had to rationalise an agonising defeat, and amidst the gamut of emotions – decisions and moments that got away along with acute disappointment – there was also pride in a huge effort in a huge game.“You cannot come to Twickenham and roll your sleeves up like we did and not feel proud of the people who put 100 per cent into it. They feel frustrated. They feel disappointed.
The least I can do is feel proud of the effort and the endeavour and the blood, sweat and tears that they put in to it, and they’ll also understand that we’ll try to help ourselves along and have a pretty forensic look at it and be fairly brutal with each other about what we need to get right, and at the same time we’ll be pretty positive about that effort and endeavour about a number of things that we did pretty well.”
The immediate post-match stats – not especially trusted by coaches or video analysts – gave Ireland around 60 per cent of the possession and territory, and they evidently had the stronger scrum and more potent maul – twice stopping English attacking mauls dead in their tracks. Yet although the penalty count was 11-9 in Ireland’s favour, Schmidt clearly felt that the majority of marginal calls went to England.
“Yeah, there’s some disappointment there obviously, I think anybody could see the hand in the scrum. That would have given us the three points, a draw and I think we would have been good for that,” said Schmidt, but he then readily acknowledged: “At the same time, we have got to be good enough then to deliver the killer blow. We’re not going to get it handed to us and England did well to keep us out.”
The scrum.com website revealed that home teams have an 82 per cent winning ratio when Joubert referees Test matches, compared to 50 per cent under Alain Rolland’s watch.