Super Saturday decider not so super for Ireland

Defeat to impressive Wales places old-enemy England in driving seat for Six Nations title

Gerry Thornley and Liam Toland provide a full time analysis from the Millennium Stadium, as Ireland are beaten 23-16. Video: Daniel O'Connor

 

The television companies, the sponsors and the organisers are happy. The 2015 RBS Six Nations will go down to the last day in a three-way shoot-out for the title in which the three protagonists on six points will kick-off after each other with barely a pause for breath over six hours.

Hmm, a veritable feast. Somehow though, Super Saturday did not seem so super from an Irish viewpoint.

Defeat to Wales by 23-16, and the ensuing 14-point swing, opened the door for England to take leadership with a points’ difference of +37, with Ireland now on +33 and Wales on +12.

Wales have the disadvantage of kicking off first in the Stadio Olimpico, albeit against an Italian team who will only have a six-day turnaround after their 29-0 loss at home to France yesterday.

Title rivals

Next up are Ireland, who may or may not have been set a target by Wales, but in any event will have to win by more than four points in Murrayfield against Scotland – and probably a good deal more than that – and so, in turn, set England a target.

England have the advantage of kicking off last, at home against a French team that will only have had a six-day turnaround. Twickenham spooks France at the best of times, and these are not the best of times for les bleus. They have lost there on their last three visits, by margins of 10, eight and 24 points. In any case, if all three contenders win, for Ireland to claim the title, their winning margin needs to be four points more than England’s winning margin, and within 20 points of Wales’ winning margin.

Second Captains

After twice missing out on points’ difference, it looks like England’s title to lose now, despite leaving several tries behind at Twickenham on Saturday. Accordingly, Paddy Power has made England 8/11 favourites, with Ireland now 6/4 to retain their crown for the first time since 1949 and Wales outsiders at 9/1.

The Welsh scrum will also be undermined by the absence of Samson Lee and the hamstrung Gethin Jenkins.

Ireland emerged relatively unscathed physically from a particularly bruising affair. The ball was in play for 41 minutes of an encounter which throbbed and ebbed, if not always flowed. Yet this will make the sense of disappointment after missing out on a record 11th successive win and a shot at the Grand Slam all the more acute.

Joe Schmidt echoed Paul O’Connell in maintaining the players will lift themselves, albeit after “a fair bit of hurt” on Saturday night.

‘Turn the page quickly’

The Irish coach willingly clutched at the notion that losing might somehow be a blessing in disguise. “I’d love it if that’s the case, if it is a blessing in disguise. It’s a pretty miserable one at the moment, but if we can get some sort of silver lining out of it, without extending and mixing metaphors, I think that’s part of the challenge for the coaching team.”

“At the same time, I think what we don’t want to do is suddenly lose our confidence. We didn’t beat some really good teams because we were no good at what we doing. So we’ve just got to make sure we take the best parts out of that, maybe rub a little bit out and add a little bit here and there, and try to construct something that works in Murrayfield.” Asked specifically how they could have turned those pivotal third-quarter drives through 32 and 20 phases into tries, Schmidt admitted: “We didn’t quite get our rhythm. It’s often harder to load an attack than it is to load off a tackle defensively because you’re getting off the line and aiming at someone whereas they’ve got to transfer a small oval shape amongst themselves to try and create a space and make sure they don’t get knocked backwards.

“I felt we did a lot of that right and not enough of it right to convert it into points.”

Pace to beat players

Luke FitzgeraldKeith Earls

Felix Jones remained unused, but Schmidt offered a robust defence of this selection. “Felix has been incredibly good for us and has offered a really good change-up for us. We haven’t seen a lot of him attacking; he has been coming into games where he has mostly been defending because we haven’t had an attacking last quarter so far.”

One ventures that Fitzgerald is now a more possible alternative on the wing for Simon Zebo, who had an undistinguished game. Iain Henderson must also be putting pressure on Devin Toner, and Seán Cronin also gave Ireland’s running game more ballast, but Schmidt noted Henderson hasn’t had a huge amount of rugby lately. Changes in personnel, no less than the approach, are likely to be minimal.

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