Ireland left wounded as French earn Six Nations draw at Aviva
Eoin Reddan and Fergus McFadden ruled out of trip to Italy
Eoin Reddan will undergo surgery on a broken ankle and damaged ligaments today while Fergus McFadden has also been ruled out with fractured ribs, while Donnacha Ryan's bruised A/C joint is a source of concern. Luke Marshall and Brian O’Driscoll (possible concussion) have only a week to satisfactorily complete the return to play protocol, and even O’Driscoll’s remarkably high pain threshold will be further tested by a dead leg and a cut ear.
The presence of his wife Amy and four-week-old baby girl Sadie was possibly an indicator that this was his last home game, as was his insistence on coming back on with his head bandaged. Beyond brave to the end, though then again nothing new there.
Conor Murray (knee) and Peter O’Mahony (dead leg) should be okay, all of which prompted Declan Kidney to quip “everybody else is fine”.
This is just as well as in addition to Gordon D'Arcy, the midfield resources are further depleted by Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace and Dave McSharry also being hors de combat, while Isaac Boss has fitness issues too and Paul Marshall has had little game time with Ulster.
Back in contention
Of the ten players sidelined for last Saturday’s latest bruiser, Craig Gilroy should come back into contention as might Jonathan Sexton and Declan Fitzpatrick. In the circumstances, Ireland are unlikely to do much work today or tomorrow, and will delay their team announcement by 48 hours to Thursday.
Of some consolation is that Italy have a six-day turnaround after their 18-11 defeat at Twickenham yesterday, but the way the Azzurri were pushing hard for an improbable draw to derail England’s Grand Slam bid underlined the magnitude of Ireland’s task.
Martin Castrogiovanni went off early with a hamstring injury, but as with Alberto de Marchi replacing the other veteran prop, Andreo lo Cicero from the off, the arrival of Lorenzo Cittadini only revived the Italian scrum and the rest of their performance. They’ll be targeting a first championship win over Ireland in Saturday’s 72,000 sell-out, and with good reason.
Victory for Wales over England in the Millennium Stadium by eight points would see them take the title on points difference, though in all likelihood a seven-point winning margin would suffice as they have scored seven tries to England’s five.
For their part, Ireland can still finish anywhere from third to sixth, and although the Six Nations do not divulge the breakdown of their estimated ¤13.7million prize fund, third compared to sixth could equate to a difference of almost ¤2 million.
“That’s not where you want to be but there’s that much to play for,” said Kidney.
“If nothing else, it will be another chance to play for Ireland and there will be some fellas who will get the chance that might have not got a chance so far and that will be a huge day for them but I’m sure the Italians will be licking their lips to have us in Rome. If you think that Italy beat France, it’s going to be another huge challenge for us.”
Ireland having led by ten points and as the home side (although in the second-half especially you could have closed your eyes and imagined it was Paris) their sense of anti-climax was more acute.
The superior side over the 80 minutes, they were again denied by their inability to play out the 80 minutes, even if the casualty toll made that understandable this time.
Yet, Ireland have now managed just three points after the 45th minute in any of their four matches to date, and nothing at all beyond the 57th minute. As with the 17-all draw in Paris last season, when ahead 17-6 at the break, here again Ireland failed to add a point to their tally after half-time for the fourth time since that day.
All Ireland’s replacements were enforced save for the 62nd minute introduction of Reddan at scrumhalf, which raised eyebrows given how well Conor Murray was playing. “I felt Conor’s workload had been huge in the first hour,” explained Kidney.
“With somebody like Redser’s experience then too to put the ball in behind, as you could see there, he put in one what could have been a great ball but it hit the corner flag.”
“Little things like that can have a huge effect on the game and I knew that Eoin would be seeing that from the touchline as well whereas we had started to get a little bit lateral. The workload of the nines now is quite substantial and it’s just a case of using a wise head on the bench."
Ian Madigan became Ireland’s 31st player of the championship on Saturday and ninth new cap of the season. There will, Kidney believes, be “huge” benefits to be accrued from all this in the future.
"I've put together enough teams in my lifetime to know that every so often you have to go through something like this.
“It’s not something that you plan to go through, or that you want to go through but when we won the Slam we had a zero per cent injury rate. We’re working off something like a 40 per cent, and I think France were missing (Pascal) Papé, that was it."
“Sometimes you just have to ride the waves a little bit but then if somebody does fall out all of a sudden your bench is so much more experienced, and a rising tide brings everything through.”
It’s become fashionable to blame Kidney for anything these days – perhaps even the weather – but in truth Ireland looked a better coached and better prepared than France, whose scrum power and sheer weight of numbers helped them salvage their first point of a desultory campaign.
Their supporters, who out-sang their hosts by several decibels, deserved that more than their team.