Proud Farrell relieved as Ireland prevail in fraught endgame

Ryan a major concern for England clash having suffered another head injury

Scotland’s  Chris Harris, Ireland’s  Keith Earls and Scotland’s fullback Stuart Hogg  compete for the ball in the build-up to Ireland’s first try during the Six Nations clash at Murrayfield. Photograph:  Stu Forster/AFP/Getty

Scotland’s Chris Harris, Ireland’s Keith Earls and Scotland’s fullback Stuart Hogg compete for the ball in the build-up to Ireland’s first try during the Six Nations clash at Murrayfield. Photograph: Stu Forster/AFP/Getty

 

Seemingly in control for the most part, then dragged into a harum-scarum endgame and finally indebted to a 77th minute penalty by Johnny Sexton in a game they should have put away long before then, Andy Farrell heaved a sigh of relief before heading back to Ireland.

Coming up against England in round one had always seemed the most opportune time to face them and their rusty Saracens, whereas round five always looked like it could be the worst time. But at least Ireland’s six-day turnaround won’t begin on a bum note.

“I suppose my overriding feeling is one of pride really,” said Farrell afterwards, reliving how a 24-10 lead ebbed away despite a defiant last stand on the Irish line before Hamish Watson’s equalising try in the 75th minute. “It would take down a few teams mentally.”

Instead, as he said: “They stayed together, they refocused, they regrouped, great kick-off, good chase, good pressure and they stayed next-moment-focused. We got the turnover and big players, that’s what they do, they take responsibility. Johnny put over the points. We’ll pick it apart like we always do and there’s plenty to work on as always.”

That is for sure, and to begin with, most disconcertingly of all James Ryan departed in the 70th minute for an HIA without returning, having missed the defeat by France due to the concussion which forced him off in the opening game against Wales.

“James Ryan had a HIA check. We’ll see,” said Farrell. “I don’t know what the protocol has been like after the game but there was a check there. There was a few walking wounded. To be fair to Johnny, he was cramping in that last five or 10 minutes as well, to step up to the plate and kick a goal in that sort of state makes the three points even better.

Garry Ringrose was hanging on there with an ankle but they all seem in fine spirits anyway.”

In reality, Ireland should have won by more. So effective has the defensive Irish lineout been that the work of the lifters, James Ryan and the immense Iain Henderson, all but denied the Scots any kind of platform.

Rob Herring’s typically accurate darts, by comparison, were an unerring launching pad for Ireland until this was highlighted by the crooked throw by Ronan Kelleher which was, ultimately, a significant detail in the build-up to Scotland’s equalising try.

For the most part, the Scottish gamebreakers, Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg, were denied the kind of quick ball in which they flourish.

“We scored three tries and we only had two lineouts to play off,” noted Gregor Townsend in praising Ireland’s defensive lineout and work at the breakdown. “Ireland’s jackal threat was excellent today.”

Hard work

Although Townsend had doubts about the validity of the Tadhg Beirne try, awarded after Romain ‘Inspector’ Poite went ferreting into the ruck himself, the Scottish coach admitted: “We worked hard to get to 24-all but they deserved their win as they had led for most of the game.”

The Irish bench didn’t quite make the impact anticipated, although Ryan Baird certainly did when charging down Ali Price’s clearance and making the follow up tackle for Henderson to win the game’s match-winning penalty. And thankfully, Sexton was completing 80 minutes back-to-back.

But some of Ireland’s passing was shocking and scoring tries again looked like hard work, the two Ireland scored being through Sexton’s kicking game and the work of the excellent Robbie Henshaw and Keith Earls, and the pack’s close-range power game.

Ireland’s line speed deserted them for a spell in the second half and two of the three tries conceded were soft, none more so than when Huw Jones brushed through James Lowe’s attempted tackle.

“We’ll sit down with James and some others as well to keep educating regarding what international football is all about,” said Farrell when asked about that missed tackle.

“There are guys that are in there that are very young as far as their experience is concerned but to come up here and experience a win at Murrayfield is something they can be proud of when they’re looking back. As far as progressing James’s game, I suppose we’ll help him as we’ll help everyone else as well.”

Ireland’s endgame strategy wouldn’t have helped frayed nerves, revolving as it did around chasing Jamison Gibson-Park’s box kicks which, much like Ireland’s performance, had been decidedly mixed throughout the day.

He too completed 80 minutes as, like Billy Burns, Conor Murray remained on the bench.

Second place

“We had quite a few knocks and ifs-and-buts that were on the field,” said Farrell, explaining this.

“Two or three lads were hanging on in there and sometimes if you make a change to a fit player, then you can come unstuck. It’s the way it goes from time to time and it’s the same with Billy as well.”

So Ireland ended the day in second place but with the capacity to finish anywhere between there and fifth. Realistically, a win over England would probably earn third spot on the premise that France win their remaining two games at home to Wales and Scotland. Lose, and with Scotland sure to accumulate five match points against Italy, a fifth-place finish still beckons.

As for the title, it’s between Wales and France, who meet in the Stade de France next Saturday night. Wales will be going for the Grand Slam although a bonus-point defeat, while denying France a bonus point, would secure the title which now, remarkably, would feel like an anticlimax.

France will need to beat Wales and then Scotland in their rearranged game, which will probably take place in Paris on Friday week, with at least one if not two points to claim the title for the first time in a decade.

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