Ireland must stand up to England’s bullies; Stephen Kenny can end year on a high

The Morning Sports Briefing: Keep ahead of the game with ‘The Irish Times’ sports team

Spain’s players celebrate their sixth goal scored by Mikel Oyarzabal during the Nations League win over Germany at La Cartuja stadium in Seville. Photo: Cristina Quicler/AFP via Getty Images

Spain’s players celebrate their sixth goal scored by Mikel Oyarzabal during the Nations League win over Germany at La Cartuja stadium in Seville. Photo: Cristina Quicler/AFP via Getty Images

It’s been coming down the line probably for quite a while now but the news that James Ryan will captain Ireland against England at Twickenham on Saturday may have come earlier in the player’s career than some had expected. However, if ever there was a natural born leader, Ryan fits the bill. “At St Michael’s, Ryan captained every side from their under-13s up, be it Minor Cup, Junior Cup or Senior Cup. He also captained the Leinster Schools, Leinster Under-19s, Ireland Schools, Ireland Under-19s, Leinster Under-20s and Irish Under-20s,” writes Gerry Thornley. Indeed the Leinster man probably couldn’t find a tougher first match to lead the team and this morning Gordon D’Arcy writes that Ireland must be smarter to stand up to England’s bullies. Even with new young players in the team a bad day or mistakes are allows but softness is not an option, he writes. One player who will certainly bring heavy physicality in the white jersey is Sam Underhill and this morning the new Sports Journalist of the Year (as awarded last night) Johnny Watterson looks at just what the England flanker brings to the game.

On to soccer and Stephen Kenny is looking to end a difficult 2020 on a high this evening as Ireland meet Bulgaria in the Nations League, needing to avoid defeat to ensure they are not relegated into League C. Kenny’s record so far reads on draw and six losses since taking over the job with a healthy dose of very bad luck along the way but, without even a goal in six games, the Dubliner will be desperate to get something out of tonight’s match, even with a depleted squad. The manager has been without 10 players on different occasions due to Covid-19 positive tests or close contacts of positive tests and the toll is taking its strain on the camp, as Conor Hourihane said yesterday. In last night’s Nations League action Spain stunned Germany with a 6-0 hammering in Seville which leaves the 2014 World Cup champions and manager Joachim Low reeling.

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