Tuesday 16 January 2018

Winners and losers from Ireland's underwhelming display in defeat to England

5 September 2015; Dave Kearney, Ireland, is tackled by Ben Morgan and Chris Robshaw, England. Rugby World Cup Warm-Up Match, England v Ireland. Twickenham Stadium, London, England. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
5 September 2015; Dave Kearney, Ireland, is tackled by Ben Morgan and Chris Robshaw, England. Rugby World Cup Warm-Up Match, England v Ireland. Twickenham Stadium, London, England. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Will Slattery

Will Slattery

Ireland closed their World Cup warm-up schedule with their second straight defeat, going down 21-13 to England at Twickenham. The overall performance was poor, but here are a few players who stood out.

Winners

Sean O'Brien

The Irish attack was stagnant for long periods and even gaining a handful of yards in contact seemed beyond most of the players. But not Sean O'Brien.

The Carlow Cannonball was reliably powerful with the ball in hand and routinely used his big bear claw to swat away the first tackler and rumble over the gain-line. He did knock on sloppily in the shadow of the posts right on half time but besides that he was Ireland's best source of go-forward ball.

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5 September 2015; George Ford, England, gets to the ball ahead of Sean O'Brien, Ireland. Rugby World Cup Warm-Up Match, England v Ireland. Twickenham Stadium, London, England. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Dave Kearney

He might not have the pace of Keith Earls or the footwork of Luke Fitzgerald, but the younger Kearney makes up for it with tigerish tackling and an ability to track play superbly.

The Leinster wing seemed an outside bet to even make the squad a few weeks ago but he continued to play his way into the starting test team this afternoon with another bright performance.

Kearney further solidified the notion that he is the strongest defender among the back three contingent when he flew out of the line like a torpedo and busted George Ford and moments later he was racing up the field to claim an excellent high ball. Kearney is doing the basics exceptionally well at the moment and that could be enough to get him in the team to face Canada in two weeks time.

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5 September 2015; Dave Kearney, Ireland, goes on the attack against England. Rugby World Cup Warm-Up Match, England v Ireland. Twickenham Stadium, London, England. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Losers

Tommy Bowe

From the first few minutes, Tommy Bowe didn't look like he belonged out there. Maybe it was because he was marking one of rugby's fastest men in Jonny May, but Bowe looked like he was running in quicksand in comparison as he tried to defend his line from the English flyer's forays.

May skipped by him after a few minutes and a few phases later he came back for seconds, this time bouncing the Ulsterman en route to the try-line.

Bowe's usually safe spot on the right wing is under serious threat now and it would be no surprise if Joe Schmidt chooses a different option for the World Cup opener. It is worrying for Ireland that Bowe's form has fallen at precisely the wrong time while his provincial team-mate, Andrew Trimble, is consigned to the Pro12.

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5 September 2015; Tommy Bowe, Ireland, is tackled by Jamie George, left, and Dan Cole, England. Rugby World Cup Warm-Up Match, England v Ireland. Twickenham Stadium, London, England. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Simon Zebo

Schmidt took the option of taking just one out-and-out fullback to the World Cup, with Rob Kearney expected to wear the 15 jersey for the majority of the tournament (Jared Payne appears to have been selected as just a centre).

Simon Zebo is being brought as the back-up at the position but he had a mixed outing this afternoon. He was badly exposed under the high ball for England's second try as Anthony Watson soared over him majestically to pluck the ball from the sky.

His defensive covering was also suspect on occasions, with Zebo failing to lay a finger on Watson during one of the wing's runs down the right touchline. Zebo has generally impressed during the warm-up games but he will want to work on a few aspects of his game that might be called upon if he gets moved into fullback at the World Cup.

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5 September 2015; Simon Zebo, Ireland, is tackled by Jonathan Joseph, England. Rugby World Cup Warm-Up Match, England v Ireland. Twickenham Stadium, London, England. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Devin Toner

Toner wasn't particularly poor, besides a few missed tackles in the first half, but he needed a big shift to quieten the calls for Iain Henderson's inclusion in the starting team.

Did he do enough? There is no question that Toner is a key cog in Ireland's lineout and their rampant maul, but does that justify his place in the team ahead of one of Ireland's most dynamic ball carriers?

The decision will say a lot about how Schmidt wants Ireland to play at the World Cup. With France looking even beefier that usual during the warm-ups, it might help to have Henderson alongside Paul O'Connell in a phenomenally ferocious one-two punch.

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5 September 2015; Geoff Parling, England, competes for possession against Devin Toner, Ireland. Rugby World Cup Warm-Up Match, England v Ireland. Twickenham Stadium, London, England. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

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