Ireland boss Joe Schmidt not pushing the panic button
Coach confirms that Conor Murray’s will be fit to start World Cup after knock to head
England winger Jonny May celebrates scoring their first try during the World Cup warm-up at Twickenham. Photograph: Clive Rose/Getty Images
One of a few positives coming out of Twickenham is the scoreboard.
Only losing 21-13 to a rampant English team – with a powerful pack and dazzling wingers – is a straw worth grasping.
But there must be cause for concern as Joe Schmidt’s side loses two games in a row for the first time since November 2013.
“I don’t think there is too much panic from us,” said Schmidt. “But there is always an anxiety. Are we up to speed? Are we playing well enough? Do we have the fire power to foot it when the big teams come to play?
“Probably over the last two years we have done enough to demonstrate we can hang in there and get results. We’d like to think that we’ll keep working away and hopefully demonstrate that again.”
For better or worse, individual performances need highlighting. Dave Kearney was superb again in all aspects of wing play and now, surely, is certain to wear the 14 jersey against Canada on September 19th.
Tommy Bowe had his worst ever game for Ireland. He was run over by Jonny May for the first try. Couldn’t find touch with his right boot and made little impact in the aerial contests. The 31-year-old doesn’t look anything like the man who has run in 28 tries for his country.
Jared Payne was excellent in defence and with the crumbs of creativity. Johnny Sexton is going through the gears but left the field with cramp. Conor Murray (concussion), Jack McGrath, Robbie Henshaw and Simon Zebo were also forced off.
“Yeah, Conor’s good. He went through all the head injury assessment successfully but because he was knocked down it was pertinent to leave him off the pitch. So he sat out.
“We were probably looking to give him and Eoin Reddan 40 minutes each anyway. He’ll go through the return to play protocols which should see him fully fit for the start of the World Cup.”
By that Schmidt was alluding to Murray’s head making contact with Joe Marler’s boot in the 16th minute as the prop broke through Devin Toner’s attempted tackle.
It was Murray’s third recorded concussion in the last 12 months.
“It’s been a long time since he’s had one,” Schmidt countered. “I think the severity of it, don’t know if you saw him coming off the pitch but he was fine. He was removed from the pitch and stayed off the pitch. Going back 10 or 15 years he just would have played on.”
Less than that.
“Conor is an important player for us. Does a lot of work behind the line, his kicking game is first rate, the width of his pass, the velocity of his pass is top notch. We just didn’t want to lose a good player to be honest. He was perky coming off the pitch to try to encourage the doc to let him back on.”
Up front Ireland took a 50-minute pounding from Chris Robshaw’s pack and for the last 10 minutes. It was all set for a heavy, punishing defeat but Tom Youngs’s forward pass for what seemed May’s second try was disallowed when TMO Shaun Veldsman interceded to make referee Nigel Owens watch the replay.
That took the fizz out of the 80,138 crowd.
An abysmal first half at least forced Ireland to start playing. There was one moment early on when the pack formed a maul for no apparent reason before Eoin Reddan box kicked to Mike Brown. What made this was astonishing, depressing even, was Ireland were camped in England’s 22 at the time.
Finally, in the second half they rolled out some of their World Cup plans with a dummy lineout drive – shifting from their heretofore predictable nature – to have Heaslip then Paul O’Connell driving straight at the English line. O’Connell’s try and Sexton’s conversion made it 15-13.
Remarkable considering how dominant England had been.
“I think when you are playing England, and there are other teams that are equipped similarly, we wouldn’t be the biggest team, we have to dance around a bit to stay in the fight some times,” said Schmidt.
“We couldn’t get access to the ball in the first 25 minutes pretty much. We couldn’t get field position. We snuck into their half one time and managed to kick a goal but apart from that they really had us under the hammer.
“They went through really long periods of possession and I think it was our scrum that allowed us to hang in there for the first 25 minutes.
“We wasted opportunities. We lost a five metre lineout and turned a ball over (Seán O’Brien knock on) just before half-time about five or six metres out from the line.
“In the context of being 15-3 down at half-time and being 15-13 down with 15 minutes to go reflects on the spirit in the side. They fought their way back into contention. We had to make a few late changes that didn’t help.”
England were inaccurate when they again took control of possession and territory.
It was attritional, brutal, yet nothing like the power game France will bring to the Millennium Stadium next month.
Ireland finished the match with three tighthead props on the field.
McGrath limped off so Mike Ross – excellent in the scrums all day – was forced to return. Tadhg Furlong got one late scrum at loosehead with Nathan White at blindside and Chris Henry on the left wing of all places.
England, in stark contrast to the Six Nations encounter, dominated the skies. Brown was unbeatable, even up against the excellent Kearney, while May had a storming match.
This was a massive fill-up for Stuart Lancaster and English belief. It’s only the second time Schmidt’s Ireland has lost two in a row.
“We won’t be trigger happy about targeting someone who has made a few mistakes and saying that’s untenable and therefore we are going to move you on, said Schmidt. “ We try to work really hard with the personnel we got rather than ripping them apart. It’s served us pretty well these past two years. We’ll forge ahead in that manner.
“There has been some success in the last few years but it hasn’t been results driven, it has been about doing the bits and pieces really well. The result is a by-product of doing things well.
“There are things England did better than us today.”