Six Nations: 14-man Ireland’s goose is cooked in Cardiff
After losing half-time lead, last hope shattered as Billy Burns penalty misses touch
Ireland’s Robbie Henshaw consoles replacement outhalf Billy Burns after his penalty kick fails to make touch on the last kick of the Guinness Six Nations match against Wales at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on Sunday. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images
Another biennial retreat from Cardiff and, fans or no fans, another defeat. Wales’s 21-16 win on Sunday means Ireland have lost four Six Nations games in a row at the Principality Stadium and now face an in-form, potent French side – who ran in seven tries in Saturday’s 50-10 win over Italy in Rome – at an empty Aviva Stadium next Sunday.
On the first Sunday of the tournament, Ireland’s goose was effectively roasted by as early as 3.15pm when Peter O’Mahony became the fifth Irish player to be sent off in international rugby, following Willie Duggan, Jamie Heaslip, CJ Stander and Bundee Aki.
O’Mahony’s red card, for catching the Welsh prop Tomas Francis on the head with his shoulder in trying to effect a clear-out at a ruck, discoloured the remainder of the match.
Trailing 6-0 soon after, 14-man Ireland rallied to lead 13-6 at half-time, and, even after the concession of two tries to trail 21-13, Ireland threatened to complete an escape of Houdini-esque proportions. But all hope finally ended when replacement outhalf Billy Burns missed a penalty to touch with the last kick of the game.
“It could have been a very famous victory for us,” lamented captain Johnny Sexton afterwards. “To go down to 14 so early, and any time you play Wales in Cardiff it’s an incredibly tough game, and to do it with 14 men would have been incredibly special, but it wasn’t to be.”
Sexton, James Ryan and Robbie Henshaw all left the field with head injuries, only Henshaw returning, and although Sexton said he was “okay”, the squad returned to their biosecure bubble in the Carton House Hotel on Sunday night a little battered and bruised, as well as beaten.
“It was a casualty ward at one stage,” admitted head coach Andy Farrell.
Since 2000, only three times has a team lost on the opening weekend and ultimately claimed the title. For Ireland, overcoming a French side who beat them 35-27 in Paris last October is non-negotiable.
“I was saying to the lads that they’ll feel sorry for themselves for a couple of hours and [then] bring the best versions of themselves into work tomorrow because there’s a lot of us in the group know that a Six Nations is not won on the first day,” maintained Farrell.
“From here on in we have to be more clinical and give the performances of our lives to be in the battle to win the competition, it’s as simple as that. We have a very good French side coming over next week and coming over to the Aviva, and we’ll back ourselves against anyone there.”