Rugby Column Number 144: The Kildare Nationalist – February 5 2019


Moloney plays his part in thrilling U20 win but it’s disappointment at the Aviva for Schmidt’s seniors

By Daire Walsh

IRELAND were brought down to earth at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday afternoon, after they fell to a 32-20 defeat at the hands of Eddie Jones’ England in the opening round of the 2019 Six Nations Championship.

As a result of their contrasting fortunes in last year’s tournament – Ireland defeated all and sundry on their way to a Grand Slam triumph, while the English finished second-last – Joe Schmidt’s hosts were firm favourites to prevail.

However, spurred on by their defeats to the same side in the past two campaigns, the Red Rose threw off the shackles to claim a morale-boosting victory. With a Slam and Triple Crown now out of their reach, Ireland will seek to get their title challenge back on track against Scotland in Murrayfield this coming weekend.

Despite his scintillating form alongside Conor Murray in the Munster back-line, Athy’s Joey Carbery was held in reserve for the visit of England to Lansdowne Road. 2018 World Player of the Year Jonathan Sexton was making first appearance of the year, having missed out on several games with Leinster through injury.

Regular full-back Rob Kearney is also making his way back to full fitness, meaning Robbie Henshaw took on the number 15 mantle. This ensured that the centre partnership of Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose – which became an effective combination for much of last season – remained intact.

Unfortunately, a difficult start to the contest set the tone for a forgettable afternoon at the office for Ireland. An incisive move inside the opening two minutes saw Elliot Daly releasing Jonny May for a try in the left-corner.

Ireland appeared to get to grips with their challenge when a Sexton penalty was followed by a Cian Healy five-pointer. Yet, just shy of the half-hour mark, a Jacob Stockdale fumble beyond the whitewash allowed Daly to touch down.

This gave England a 14-10 lead at the break – and they maintained this slender lead when Owen Farrell and Sexton traded penalties on the restart. A contentious Henry Slade try created extra daylight between the teams, though, and the bustling centre then sealed an England win with an intercept score.

Carbery was introduced for Ringrose on 73 minutes, before being followed by John Cooney four minutes later. The Ulster scrum-half capped his Six Nations debut with a late try, but it wasn’t enough to spoil the England party.

It was also a disappointing weekend for the Ireland women’s side, who suffered a comprehensive 51-7 defeat to England at Energia Park (Donnybrook) on Friday night. A 61st-minute penalty try was the sole score accumulated by Adam Griggs’ charges as Katy Daley-Mclean inspired the visitors to a ruthlessly efficient triumph.

There was better news for the Ireland U20s on the same evening, however. Athy man Martin Moloney featured as the team, coached by Noel McNamara (a former teacher and rugby supremo at Clongowes Wood College in Clane), came through a pulsating affair at Musgrave Park in Cork with eight points to spare – 35-27.

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