Six Nations talking points: Where is Ireland’s intensity?
Plenty for Warren Gatland to ponder; Robbie Henshaw shines again in Murrayfield victory
Warren Gatland looks on during Ireland’s win over Scotland. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Sexton trumps Russell in Lions shootout
Warren Gatland was sitting in the stands in Murrayfield. The Lions coach had come to see some key players he will want to take on the summer tour against South Africa. Top of his list were probably outhalves Johnny Sexton and Finn Russell. The mercurial alchemist Russell, however, was forced off with a head injury while Sexton nailed a must-get penalty from near the touchline for Ireland to win. Gatland will like what he saw because it probably makes his decision easier. A sharp contrast between the two and after this round Sexton takes first call as things stand along with Owen Farrell.
Where has Ireland’s intensity gone?
Ireland play England on Saturday in the wrap-up match and the question after winning against France, the best game of the Championship in terms of the tempo and level the game was played, is when was the last time Andy Farrell’s side played that way? The answer is probably when they beat the All Blacks in Chicago in November 2016. There has been little evidence of that intensity over the last several weeks. The dynamic lines of running, the offloading, the fast urgent recycling, and occasional individual flashes of skill. England are not even where they expect to be but after Scotland’s game with Ireland, the chasm has widened.
Ireland hog the ball but for little reward
Ireland had 53 per cent possession and 54 per cent territory but spent less time in Scotland’s 22 than Scotland did in theirs. According to the official statistics, Ireland were in the Scottish 22 for three minutes 27 seconds and Scotland in the Irish 22 for three minutes 53 seconds. Ireland did though spend more match time in Scotland’s half. However, in the entire match the winning team had just two line breaks compared to five from Scotland. It goes to show that it doesn’t matter how much a team dominates territory, if it lacks the creative juices to break down a defence it will struggle to win the match.
James Lowe suspect in defence
Keith Earls, inching towards the 100 caps mark, had an impactful game against Scotland and it was James Lowe who got the call for Jordon Larmour to come into the match. Unfortunately for Lowe, it was his historical weakness that let him down and Scotland in for a try, when he slipped off a tackle. Afterwards Andy Farrell spoke of it at a tangent. “You can’t slip off tackles otherwise you’re seven points gone,” he said. Farrell didn’t mention any names, but Lowe’s was on everyone’s lips. It was an easy try that came directly from the Leinster winger’s poor effort. The question is whether he is an antidote for Anthony Watson and Jonny May.
Robbie Henshaw shines again
Tadhg Beirne might have won man of the match against Scotland but centre Robbie Henshaw is becoming one of Ireland’s standout performers with yet another fine individual performance and a try. There is nothing complicated about the way Henshaw plays but his follow up to beat Stuart Hogg to the touch down and try was excellent timing and support for support’s sake and it paid off. Henshaw can also shimmy through traffic and he has the grunt and willingness of a forward, which he uses well and often. He’s in line to be Ireland’s player of this series and Gatland was watching too.