Rugby Column Number 177: The Kildare Nationalist – February 25 2020


No Triple Crown for Farrell’s Ireland after English spoil the party

By Daire Walsh

IRELAND’S Triple Crown dreams were dashed at Twickenham Stadium on Sunday as they fell to a disappointing 24-12 defeat against England in a Six Nations Championship round three encounter.

In truth, the final margin flattered Andy Farrell’s men who were second best for the duration of the contest. Robbie Henshaw and Andrew Porter tries did offer the visitors some form of solace, but they will need to pick things up for Italy’s visit to the Aviva Stadium on Sunday week (March 8).

When Farrell initially named his starting line-up for the game last Tuesday, it showed no changes from the one that recorded an impressive bonus point win over Wales in the previous round. It was subsequently altered on Friday when Ulster lock Iain Henderson withdrew after his wife had given birth.

In his place, Devin Toner was promoted to the second-row for his first international start since a World Cup warm-up against Italy last August. Ultan Dillane was promoted to the replacements bench where he was joined by the returning Caelan Doris.

With the Vunipola brothers – Billy and Mako – ruled out of contention, hopes were high that Ireland could avenge last year’s opening day reversal to Eddie Jones’ outfit in Dublin. However, the visitors endured the worst possible start to the proceedings.

While Andy Farrell was hoping to place the shackles on his son Owen, it was the offspring of a former Irish coach who broke the deadlock on eight minutes. Mike Ford spent four years under Eddie O’Sullivan as a defensive co-ordinator and his son George capitalised on Irish hesitancy to register a try.

Elliot Daly also crossed over on 25 minutes and with Owen Farrell contributing five points off the kicking tee, England held a convincing 17-0 interval cushion. Though a second period fightback appeared unlikely, Henshaw’s 50th-minute finish added fresh impetus to the Irish challenge.

Luke Cowan-Dickie put the outcome beyond doubt with another English five-pointer, before Porter grabbed his maiden international try deep into stoppage-time. Despite this set-back, victory over Italy should leave Ireland in the reckoning for a Six Nations title heading into a final round tussle with France.

It was also a frustrating day out for the Ireland women’s team, who fell to a comprehensive 27-0 loss at the hands of their English counterparts in Castle Park, Doncaster. While there were some encouraging attacking signs in the opening period, the clinical edge of the Red Roses left Adam Griggs’ charges 22 points adrift at the break.

Though they produced a strong defensive showing on the resumption, Sarah McKenna rounded off a comfortable win for the hosts with their fifth try on the hour mark.

Meanwhile, former Newbridge College student Cian Prendergast appeared off the bench in Northampton on Friday to help the Ireland U20s to secure a Triple Crown with a magnificent 39-21 victory over England. Prendergast replaced Alex Soroka in the back-row with 17 minutes remaining as Noel McNamara’s troops continued their quest for a second consecutive Grand Slam.

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