Henshaw puts hand up as scrum woes haunt Wolfhounds
ENGLAND SAXONS 14
Ireland's Wolfhounds hunted with skill and commitment to impress against England in an eventful contest at the Sportsground.
They showed total commitment and a rare spirit of adventure as they made most of the running and were unfortunate to lose an entertaining game that highlighted the best and worst of Ireland's talent pool.
The result swung, disastrously for Ireland, in a tense two-minute spell in the closing quarter.
Ireland were denied a try when Iain Henderson touched down in the 64th minute only to be penalised for a double movement, and England struck back to snatch a try in the corner and edge a lucky win.
It was rough justice on Ireland. Only in the scrums were England superior as Ireland played with fire and determination, brilliantly led by a number of outstanding individuals.
Captain James Coughlan added further to his growing reputation with a great performance, while winger Luke Fitzgerald and, especially, teenage full-back Robbie Henshaw put their hands up for recognition in the Six Nations squad.
The young full-back was assured under the high ball and selected clever angles when joining the line.
Ireland coach Declan Kidney indicated earlier this week that it is perhaps too soon in Henshaw's development to be called up to the Six Nations squad. His performance last night belies that assertion. 'If you're good enough, you're old enough' is a phrase that sprang to mind.
Henshaw's outing was in stark contrast to that of a number of his peers, not least out-half Paddy Jackson, whose troubles from the kicking-tee were again highlighted.
When Jackson shanked his first kick barely a minute into the contest, it was a reminder that while he can direct his players around the pitch with an array of accurate kicks from the hand, his lack of accuracy from tee is continuing to hold him back.
Indeed, when Ireland opted to go to the corner instead of taking the three points after eight minutes, you wondered whether this was done out of ambition or because of a lack of confidence in the kicker.
In the end the point was moot as Ireland opened their account directly from that line-out. Hooker Mike Sherry found his man and when Devin Toner took the ball back to earth he off-loaded for Coughlan, who was coming around the corner.
The captain went to ground and when the ball was recycled cleverly for Kevin McLoughlin, the Leinster man burrowed through and just made the line as Ireland surged from 10 metres out.
This was clearly a move transplanted from the training ground to the battle-field.
Jackson added the extras for a 7-0 lead, and when he kicked another three points before the interval, the raucous Galway crowd really began to crow.
Their joy was short-lived, however, as the on-going problems Ireland had at scrum-time meant they were regularly on the back foot.
Sometimes your stock rises when you are not involved and that was very much the case for Mike Ross last night as his designated back-up Michael Bent was regularly savaged at scrum-time, with England's Nick Wood continually turning him inside out.
As a consequence, Ireland's set-piece was in trouble from the off and only for the combined excellence of their back-row trio would have handed the impetus to England.
When Bent was parachuted into the Ireland squad for the November internationals it was done in the belief that the New Zealand-born tighthead could lock out a scrum. That Ireland actually won the last scrum of the first half did little to alleviate the doubts that remain about the former Taranaki prop.
And on the basis of last night's performance the rosary beads will again be in regular use during the Six Nations, with the nation praying for the continued well-being of Ross.
The gains the England pack were enjoying at the scrum gave them momentum and as Ireland's discipline started to wane their penalty count went up, with England's George Ford taking full advantage as he cut the deficit to four points with an hour gone.
Ireland were still very much in contention even at this juncture but mistakes were beginning to creep into their game.
And when they lost their line-out advantage following Sherry's departure soon after England's second penalty, one began to fear the worst.
In the end, England took advantage of Ireland's disjointed second half, with flanker Will Fraser barrelling over in the corner after 66 minutes to give the Saxons an 11-10 lead.
Ireland battled to restore their advantage, but Ford had the final say with a long-range penalty to put the result beyond doubt.
Ireland could consider themselves unlucky, but they paid a heavy penalty for being out-scrummaged and their ongoing difficulties in this element of play once again highlighted an obvious flaw in the development of the game here.
It was a shame to see some enterprising play come to nothing because of that one fatal weakness in their game.
They played with confidence and ambition in open play, but what chance had they when their primary set-piece was so lacking?
It is something that Kidney will hope won't be a fatal flaw when the real action begins next weekend.
Ireland Wolfhounds – R Henshaw (I Madigan 58); A Trimble, D Cave, D McSharry (I Keatley 69), L Fitzgerald; P Jackson, P Marshall (I Boss 52), D Kilcoyne (T Court h-t) , M Sherry (D Varley 63), M Bent (D Fitzpatrick 70); L Stevenson (R Ruddock 68), D Toner; K McLaughlin (I Henderson 63), T O'Donnell, J Coughlan.
England Saxons – E Daly; C Wade, J Tomkins, J Turner-Hall (G Lowe 68), T Biggs (K Eastmond); G Ford, R Wigglesworth (J Simpson 60), N Wood (M Mullan 63), J Gray (R Buchanan 60), P Doran-Jones (K Brook 72); G Kitchener, G Robson; G Kruis (E Slater 60), W Fraser, J Crane.
Ref – I Davies (Wales).