Tuesday 21 November 2017

Emerging players should take plenty from heroic performance

Ireland's Ultan Dillane charges upfield. Photo: Getty
Ireland's Ultan Dillane charges upfield. Photo: Getty

Conor O'Shea

Ireland were heroic at times in defeat but watching the game I just felt that the battering they took in the first half was too much for any team to take. I felt that they just couldn't cope and when England made their changes and upped the pace even more, I feared it would get ugly in the last 15 minutes.

But Ireland were having none of it, they may have been out on their feet but they kept on playing and Robbie Henshaw nearly got Ireland back into the game after a brilliant Johnny Sexton break but Jack Nowell's tackle was the equal of it.

Was it was to be our last chance of a wonderfully brave performance? No, Ireland just kept going and how there was no yellow card against Chris Robshaw when he tackled our maul as we went to the line will leave Ireland bemused.

Ireland just kept on coming, Ultan Dillane made an impact that will be remembered for a long time and Josh van der Flier nearly got over; this time it was England's heroic defence and it was to be the last real chance for Ireland.

It was a simply wonderful game of rugby. We missed chances but we created loads and it was a special match.

Ireland were pummelled in the first half, inaccurate on the few occasions we had the ball but defending our line with everything we had and at times sometimes unbelievably. You felt they couldn't hold on but they did and then in the second half we went for broke turning down penalties to level the game six-all and instead going for the corner and going to win.

The biggest player of that first half, and indeed the game, was England's Billy Vunipola who caused Ireland no end of problems with his sheer size and power it was always going to sap our energy. When you are away from home you need to fight and scrap and at times ride your luck and we were doing all of that with Dylan Hartley held up over the line and also England missing a great chance when Jack Nowell nearly got over.

The problem was the physical pounding Ireland were taking was too much to take for anyone, too much for most but not this Irish team whose heart and physical conditioning was astonishing.

Ireland cannot be faulted for their courage in battle yesterday but they could be faulted for their accuracy when in possession.

The second half started like the first as we kicked into the corner but missed the lineout but then came a huge turning point. If we needed energy and fuel in the legs James Haskell provided it with a high swinging arm on Conor Murray. On the back of that we went for the corner and Conor Murray scored - Murray was outstanding throughout.

The game ebbed and flowed but this Ireland side do not want to be known as plucky losers, they want more than that and they will go away and examine where they can and will tighten up.

We will have learnt a lot and we have some new players who will benefit from their exposure at this level, Stuart McCloskey was another who did really well, Dillane's cameo and Van der Flier were outstanding. Given our injuries this was a great performance from Ireland but ultimately it was a game lost, the days of plucky losers are gone for Ireland so ultimately it was heroic disappointment.

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