Tuesday 17 October 2017

Brendan Fanning: It’s hard to think of a better scrummaging performance from any Ireland pack

Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

If you happened to be on the side of a pitch earlier this morning, getting lashed out of it with showers varying their payload between hail and sleet, and wondering why you weren’t tucked up in bed, it might also have crossed your mind that the main event in the afternoon would be destroyed by what was coming from above.

And then in the hour before kick in Aviva Stadium off we got weather from a different season to give us hope of a decent game. Which is exactly what we got.

DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Robbie Henshaw (R) of Ireland is congratulated by teammates after scoring the opening try during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Robbie Henshaw (R) of Ireland is congratulated by teammates after scoring the opening try during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

In fact it was better than that: tight as a drum in the opening 40 despite Ireland having both possession and territory stats in the high 60 per cent range; but with enough offloading and clean breaks from both sides to keep you on the edge of your seat. And for the second course, not quite the same standard, but with pressure coming from England in the final quarter to make a successful comeback credible.

With the exit of some star performers the standard dipped. Or rather with Johnny Sexton going off hamstrung, Ireland lost some direction for Ian Madigan struggled badly to get accuracy.

England too will have issues with their bench – or in their case, Nick Easter. He made two big errors when they had a very tired looking Ireland on the rack: the first, literally a metre from the Ireland line when he picked and jammed into Billy Twelvetrees at the expense of a scrum, and then a minute later he dropped the ball in a tackle.

Interestingly from the scrum following Easter’s mistake, England were penalised for an early engagement which allowed Ireland escape. You couldn’t have put a price on that such was the exhaustion in the Irish ranks at that stage.

DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: The Ireland team huddle up prior to kickoff during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: The Ireland team huddle up prior to kickoff during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Ireland supporters raise their glasses ahead of the Six Nations international rugby union match between Ireland and England at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland on March 1, 2015. AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
Ireland's wing Simon Zebo is tackled by England's wing Anthony Watson (R) and England's centre Jonathan Joseph during the Six Nations international rugby union match between Ireland and England at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland on March 1, 2015. AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
Ireland's wing Simon Zebo (2nd L) is tackled during the Six Nations international rugby union match between Ireland and England at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland on March 1, 2015. AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: The England team line up for the national anthem prior to kickoff during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
A man reads a Sunday newspaper in the stands ahead of the Six Nations international rugby union match between Ireland and England at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland on March 1, 2015. AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: The England team line up for the national anthem prior to kickoff during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Luther Burrell of England is wrapped up by Paul O'Connell of Ireland and Rory Best of Ireland during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Dave Attwood of England wins lineout ball under presure from Peter O'Mahoney of Ireland during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Robbie Henshaw of Ireland receives treatment during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Jared Payne of Ireland is hauled down by Billy Vunipola of England during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Ireland's fly half Johnny Sexton kicks their second penalty during the Six Nations international rugby union match between Ireland and England at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland on March 1, 2015. AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: George Ford of England kickds drop goal past the onrushing Conor Murray of Ireland during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Conor Murray of Ireland passes the ball out from a ruck during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Luther Burrell of England is wrapped up by Paul O'Connell of Ireland and Rory Best of Ireland during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
England's lock Dave Attwood (C) wins line-out ball during the Six Nations international rugby union match between Ireland and England at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland on March 1, 2015. AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Ben Youngs of England is tackled by Jonathan Sexton, Rory Best and Sean O'Brien of Ireland during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Conor Murray of Ireland clears the ball upfield despite the attentions from George Kruis of England and James Haskell of England during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Joe Marler of England with the support of teammate Dave Attwood of England charge towards Robbie Henshaw of Ireland during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Chris Robshaw of England is challenged by Tommy O'Donnell of Ireland during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Robbie Henshaw of Ireland takes a high ball to score the opening try despite the efforts of Alex Goode of England during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Robbie Henshaw of Ireland touches down the ball to score the opening try despite the efforts of Alex Goode of England during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Tommy Bowe of Ireland is tackled by Billy Vunipola of England during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Rob Kearney of Ireland is hauled down by Jonathan Joseph of England during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Ireland's centre Robbie Henshaw (2nd R) celebrates scoring Ireland's first try during the Six Nations international rugby union match between Ireland and England at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland on March 1, 2015. AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Jonathan Sexton of Ireland kicks at goal during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Ireland's centre Robbie Henshaw (R) scores Ireland's first try during the Six Nations international rugby union match between Ireland and England at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland on March 1, 2015. AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Jack Nowell of England is brought down by Rob Kearney of Ireland during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Ireland's centre Robbie Henshaw (R) celebrates scoring Ireland's first try during the Six Nations international rugby union match between Ireland and England at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland on March 1, 2015. AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Robbie Henshaw (R) of Ireland is congratulated by teammate Jared Payne of Ireland after scoring the opening try during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Dejected England players look on after conceding the opening try during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Robbie Henshaw (R) of Ireland is congratulated by teammates after scoring the opening try during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Ben Youngs of England has his clearance kick charged down by Paul O'Connell of Ireland during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Jonathan Sexton of Ireland is tackled by Jonathan Joseph of England during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Jonathan Sexton of Ireland hands off Jonathan Joseph of England during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Dejected England players look on after conceding the opening try during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Dan Cole of England is closed down by Rory Best of Ireland and Peter O'Mahoney of Ireland during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Peter O'Mahoney of Ireland wins lineout ball under pressure from Chris Robshaw of England during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Cian Healy of Ireland brushes aside Ben Youngs of England during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
England players react after conceding their first try during the Six Nations international rugby union match between Ireland and England at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland on March 1, 2015. AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Luther Burrell of England looks on during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: (L-R) Dejected England players Richard Wigglesworth, George Kruis and Chris Robshaw react during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Jonathan Sexton of Ireland passes the ball during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: (L-R) Dejected England players Richard Wigglesworth, George Kruis and Chris Robshaw react during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Anthony Watson of England goes past Robbie Henshaw of Ireland during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Ben Youngs of England passes the ball during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Dan Cole of England is closed down by Rory Best of Ireland and Peter O'Mahoney of Ireland during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Jonathan Joseph of England is tackled by Peter O'Mahoney of Ireland during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Simon Zebo of Ireland takes a high ball ahead of George Ford of England and Anthony Watson of England during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: A ejected George Kruis of England reacts during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Simon Zebo of Ireland and Cian Healy of Ireland celebrate their team's 19-9 victory during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: A dejected Chris Robshaw walks off with his team following their 19-9 defeat during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
England's Billy Twelvetrees (2nd L) looks to pass as Ireland's Ian Madigan prepares to tackle during the Six Nations international rugby union match between Ireland and England at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland on March 1, 2015. Ireland won the game 19 - 9. AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
England's Billy Twelvetrees is tackled by Ireland's Ian Madigan during the Six Nations international rugby union match between Ireland and England at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland on March 1, 2015. Ireland won the game 19 - 9. AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: A dejected England captain Chris Robshaw during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Simon Zebo of Ireland and Felix Jones of Ireland celebrate their team's 19-9 victory during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: A dejected George Kruis of England reacts during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: A dejected Chris Robshaw of England leads off his team following their 19-9 defeat during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: A dejected Chris Robshaw walks off with his team following their 19-9 defeat during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
England's full back Alex Goode (2nd R) makes a break during the Six Nations international rugby union match between Ireland and England at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland on March 1, 2015. Ireland won the game 19 - 9. AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
Ireland's fly half Johnny Sexton kicks a penalty during the Six Nations international rugby union match between Ireland and England at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland on March 1, 2015. Ireland won the game 19 - 9. AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
England's Billy Twelvetrees passes the ball during the Six Nations international rugby union match between Ireland and England at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland on March 1, 2015. Ireland won the game 19 - 9. AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Dejected England players Jack Nowell and Billy Twelvetrees react as Ireland players celebrate their team's 19-9 victory during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Dejected England players Nick Easter, Richard Wigglesworth and Billy Twelvetrees of England walk off the pitch following their team's 19-9 victory during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
England's number 8 Billy Vunipola (C) makes a break during the Six Nations international rugby union match between Ireland and England at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland on March 1, 2015. Ireland won the game 19 - 9. AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
Ireland players celebrate at the final whistle in the Six Nations international rugby union match between Ireland and England at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland on March 1, 2015. Ireland won the game 19 - 9. AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images

It was England’s second such infringement, and both close to Ireland’s line. Makes you wonder if Ireland conceded a metre at exactly the right time and duped referee Craig Joubert, who had a very good game. “We’ll have to look at that,” was the diplomatic response from Stuart Lancaster when asked if they had been hoodwinked.

Aside from one scrum penalty when Marty Moore came on for Mike Ross, they were the only times Ireland’s eight went back all afternoon. It’s hard to think of a better scrummaging performance from any Ireland pack, especially one where they were expected to feel a lot of heat.

To add to England’s frustration they had to wait until the 56th minute before they got to put in to their own scrum – a phenomenal amount of time in any game. That lack of opportunity was compounded by a lineout that lost three of 13 throws – not horrendous, but given the lack of scrum opportunities it needed to be perfect.

Recent games between this pair are not exactly try fests, averaging one per encounter. And Ireland’s touch down probably secured the man of the match award for Robbie Henshaw. If a year ago, when England were grinding out a 13-10 win in this fixture in Twickenham, you’d suggested that Ireland would bounce back 12 months later with Henshaw, Jordi Murphy and Tommy O’Donnell at the centre of things then you’d have got funny looks.

Having two such inexperienced players in the back row for almost an hour, and to survive, is a huge plus if you’re looking at the tournament with one eye on the World Cup. Consider Jamie Heaslip and Sean O’Brien – concussed here along with Jared Payne – are to come back into the frame and it’s all valuable ground work for the autumn.

For the moment though, it’s all about parking a Grand Slam up behind last year’s Championship success. The accuracy of the kicking game especially was outstanding, and the discipline too was impressive – both key ingredients in chasing that goal. England for example conceded a game’s worth of penalties in 40 minutes, with eight – the figure Ireland finished on over 80.

Ireland players celebrate at the final whistle in the Six Nations international rugby union match between Ireland and England at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland on March 1, 2015. Ireland won the game 19 - 9. AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
Ireland players celebrate at the final whistle in the Six Nations international rugby union match between Ireland and England at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland on March 1, 2015. Ireland won the game 19 - 9. AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLISPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images

There were a host of very good invidual performances: Jack McGrath’s work rate, as it was against France, was top class, and Devin Toner too looked like the player who impressed us all so much against New Zealand in 2013. Add it all up and Ireland are in very good shape going to Cardiff in a fortnight.

DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Dejected England players Nick Easter, Richard Wigglesworth and Billy Twelvetrees of England walk off the pitch following their team's 19-9 victory during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 01: Dejected England players Nick Easter, Richard Wigglesworth and Billy Twelvetrees of England walk off the pitch following their team's 19-9 victory during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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