Saturday, March 21, 2015


Italy 20-61 Wales
Scotland 10-40 Ireland
England 55-35 France

Ireland have won the 2015 Six Nations after one of the most dramatic final days in the history of the competition.
An afternoon of high drama ebbed and flowed across the three staggered kicks-offs, beginning in Rome and sweeping to Edinburgh before a gloriously chaotic climax at Twickenham.

Wales started the day with a 41 point victory over Italy and set the scene for the games to come. They were 21 points behind Ireland as the day began - 25 behind England - but they surged to a record win over the Italians in what was breathless stuff at Stadio Olimpico.

That put the challenge to Ireland, who knew that a big score was required against Scotland if they were to have a chance. And they came out fighting at Murrayfield. 
Captain Paul O'Connell set the tone with a try inside five minutes. Three more tries would follow - two for Sean O'Brien and another for Jared Payne.
The eventual 10-40 victory eliminated Welsh hopes of a title and gave England a daunting 26 point target to reach.

Yet the destination of the trophy was still in the balance right down to the final seconds at Twickenham. An evening of mayhem in London saw England and France trade 12 tries, seven of those for the home side.

As the clock ticked down, England frantically pushed for the score that would give them the title. A scrum penalty against France cranked up the tension to unbearable proportions, but a final drive was penalised inches short of the line and Ireland were champions.

Paul O’Connell’s team began the game at Murrayfield knowing they would need to win by 21 points to catch Wales, who had hammered Italy early in the afternoon, while they also had to set a target for England.

Few gave Ireland much chance of achieving the feat. They had scored only four tries scored in the preceding four championship matches, while Scotland had shown themselves to be obdurate opponents under Vern Cotter.

But tries from O’Connell, Sean O’Brien (2) Jared Payne powered Ireland to victory and at the end, it appeared that they had done enough to claim outright back-to-back titles for the first time since 1948/9.

As with last week against the Welsh, there were errors aplenty, particularly at kick-off time and when Ireland were attempting to exit their own territory. But there was a huge lift as well. Ireland had direction and attacking ambition behind the scrum, dominated the contact zone and backed their creativity at key moments.
They set about their task with relish, O’Connell himself crossing the line from a few yards after just four minutes to get the chase off to a dream start.

Jonathan Sexton’s conversion and a penalty soon put Ireland 10 clear and meant the gap to Wales was reduced to just 11.
But Scotland had turned up to play. Finn Russell punished Rory Best’s unwise turnover attempt with a successful penalty to remind all present that this would be a contest.
The Irish hooker would make up for his mistake with two key turnovers before the half was out, while Luke Fitzgerald set the benchmark in the backline, making a series of superb tackles and attacking with verve down the left wing.
In total contrast to Cardiff, Ireland were making the big plays and winning the key battles all over the field.

They also had a few trademark smart plays in the locker. Sean O’Brien was the first to benefit, the wing-forward galloping over after a clever piece of deception at the lineout saw Blair Cowan hoodwinked. Sexton again converted to make it 17-3.

O’Brien’s powerful burst through the middle of two Scottish tackles a few minutes later emphasised Ireland’s dominance in contact though in the end, it amounted to nothing.
Instead, Scotland came back into it with Finn Russell dotting down and converting his own try after Stuart Hogg’s break into Irish territory. That pair, and the impressive centre Mark Bennett, would prove a handful for the rest of the day.

The nerves were back, and the gap down to seven again.
Like Fitzgerald rewarded Joe Schmidt’s decision to give him the start. An all action spell either side of half-time saw him win a penalty, which Sexton kicked, boss the scrums and put a series of trademark defensive hits before his afternoon came to an end after a hugely effective 52 minutes.

Scotland began to tire and Ireland were able to skip clear.
Sexton added two more penalties before feeding Jared Payne on a superbly angled run through the heart of the Scottish defence and over the try line for Ireland’s third. Sexton converted and Ireland were 20 clear, just one shy of the benchmark set in Rome.
Peter O’Mahony became Scotland’s tormentor in chief for a key period, rampaging down the tramlines and taking the catch of the day and it seemed like Ireland were champions in waiting in all but name.

But there was more drama to come as Sexton missed two relatively simple kicks at goal while Tommy Bowe was stopped by a Scottish fingernail as he raced towards the tryline. When his desperate flipped pass infield fell into Scottish hands it looked as though Ireland might have stalled.
But Irish pressure yielded a third penalty for Sexton and this time he made no mistake. The out-half was replaced because of cramp soon after, but not before a smart chip and chase down the line ended a rare spell of good play from Scotland.

Ireland kicked on with O’Brien crossing again after another period of relentless Irish pressure near the Scottish line. The accuracy and composure of his finish, a step, bump and reach over the tryline, in stark contrast to the poor finishing that bedevilled Ireland in Cardiff. Ian Madigan, who had entered the fray in place of Sexton, knocked over the conversion to extend the gap out to 30.

There was more drama to come - as Scotland mounted a final assault and when Hogg crossed in the corner it looked like Ireland’s record-equalling margin of victory would be reduced. But replays showed that the full-back had knocked forward under pressure from Jamie Heaslip, and Ireland’s margin was preserved.

Madigan missed a final penalty chance, but the feeling at the final whistle, as all eyes turned anxiously toward London, was that Ireland had done enough and as it amazingly transpired, they had, just.
(c)RTE Sport

Sunday, March 15, 2015


Wales 23-16 Ireland

Ireland’s Grand Slam dream was shattered in Wales in a case of so near yet so very, very far.
Image result for PAUL O CONNELL
On this occasion, Wales did so in some style, making 228 tackles in an immense defensive effort and generally playing the more charismatic and inventive rugby when it counted.
Their seven-point margin victory consisted of just one try, Scott Williams crossing with some ease midway through the second half, combined with five Leigh Halfpenny penalties and a superbly struck Dan Biggar drop-goal at the end of the first.
In reply, Ireland mustered a converted penalty-try and three Jonathan Sexton penalties. But it is the number of opportunities that were squandered that will dominate the post-match discussion.
The moment when Jared Payne and Tommy Bowe, with the line at their mercy on the wing, were left waving their arms in desperation as those around the ball attempted to shove their way over will live long in the memory.
Ireland’s fall back to earth began inside the first minute, a handling error at kick-off giving Leigh Halfpenny the first of four early penalty chances, all of which were drilled over with authority by the diminutive Welsh full-back.
Wales were also dominating the kicking battle with Halfpenny taking the first of many high balls to set the tone and acrobatically diving to field Sexton’s early attempt at a raking touch-finder. It was the beginning of a frustrating, error-ridden day for the Irish out-half.
Wales also had the edge in the wide channels, Jonathan Davies dismissal via a hand-off of Sexton symbolising their dominance.
After conceding 12 points in 12 minutes there was finally some respite for Ireland. First, the unfortunate Samson Lee was forced off with a leg injury after a collapsed scrum, giving Ireland much-needed breathing space.
Wales made errors in the aftermath, though Sexton was unable to punish the first pushing an effort to the left and wide after a penalty for not rolling away. A high-tackle on Tommy Bowe gave him a second chance seconds later and he made no mistake on that occasion.
Ireland then had their first attack of substance, working through phase after phase and earning a penalty that Paul O’Connell opted to kick to touch from a wide position that was within Sexton’s range. On what would prove a dreadful day for the hitherto superb Irish lineout, the gamble would fail when Rory Best’s delivery was under-thrown to Man of the Match Sam Warburton.
Warburton was yellow-carded soon after as Wales played as close to the edge of referee Wayne Barnes’ tolerance as possible at the breakdown.
Sexton made it 12-6 from the resultant penalty but Wales had a final moment of excellence in them to round out the half, Biggar kicking superbly to make it a nine-point gap after 40 minutes.
The first half had been hugely interesting; the second was utterly compelling.
It began with a superb line-break from O’Connell, his second on a day when he was one of relatively few Irish players to perform to their ability.
An immense sequence followed, with Wales resisting through over 50 phases of incredible intensity that saw Bowe get closest to the line until, after Ireland opted to kick for the corner rather than take the points, Sexton was eventually penalised for going off his feet and Wales were able to escape the red zone.

Minutes later, they had a chance of their own and while Ireland were let off once when Biggar’s pass looped into touch, another line-out failure gave Wales a second bite of the cherry. Where Ireland had laboured close to the gain-line, Wales had the courage to stand their back line deeper and in the end, that meant Scott Williams had a simple enough job of racing over for the game’s first try.
Halfpenny missed with the conversion but Wales had gained a crucial advantage.
Could Ireland chase a game? Eoin Reddan came on at the head of a battalion of subs and set about trying to do just that.
It got Ireland within a yard of the line with men to spare but they chose to attempt to bludgeon their way over and, ultimately, coughed up the ball.
With the clock very much against them, Ireland finally got the seven-pointer they needed when the Welsh maul defence was overwhelmed out near the touchline.
Pushed deep into their own half and unable to gain territory, Irish errors always looked likely to end the comeback and in the end that proved the case when Cian Healy was penalised for holding on near halfway. Halfpenny knocked that kick over to make the gap seven points
There was still time for Ireland to scramble a draw and once again they were able to stretch Wales, before Davies was sin-binned for slapping the ball down to end a dangerous attack. But a final successful defence against the Irish lineout maul and a confusing scrum that Ireland appeared to have won but were eventually penalised over saw the clock run out.
Ireland may carp about aspects of the refereeing and will also wonder what might have been if their start had been even slightly better.
In the end though, as has so often been the case in this compelling rivalry, the underdog had thoroughly and convincingly shown the other side to have feet of clay.

Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, Liam Williams, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Gethin Jenkins, Scott Baldwin, Samson Lee, Luke Charteris, Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton (captain), Toby Faletau.
Replacements: Jarvis for Lee (12), Evans for Jenkins (40), Hibbard for Baldwin (56), Williams for Roberts (59), Phillips for Webb (68), Tipuric for Lydiate (68), Ball for Wyn Jones (71), Baldwin for Hibbard (78).
Sin bin: Warburton (27), Davies (77).
Ireland: Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne, Robbie Henshaw, Simon Zebo, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Jack McGrath, Rory Best, Mike Ross, Devin Toner, Paul O'Connell, Peter O'Mahony, Sean O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Healy for McGrath (56), Reddan for Murray (62), Cronin for Best (62), Moore for Ross (62), Henderson for Toner (62), Murphy for Heaslip (71), Madigan for Sexton (74).
(c)RTE Sport

Monday, March 2, 2015


Ireland march on towards a possible Grand Slam after inflicting a
thumping defeat on a misfiring England.

Four penalties from Jonathan Sexton and a second-half try from centre Robbie Henshaw opened up an unbridgeable gap which accurately reflected the one-sided nature of what was expected to be a tight contest.

England were outplayed in all departments, starting slowly, consistently second-best at the breakdown and all too fallible under the high ball until a late rally.

After all the optimism engendered from their unbeaten start to the Six Nations this will go down as one of the most chastening defeats of Stuart Lancaster's regime.

With trips to Wales and Scotland still to come, Ireland face a testing March if they are to win a second consecutive Six Nations title, let alone a second Grand Slam in six years.

But after this record-equalling 10th successive Test victory, Joe Schmidt's men will travel with optimism, their status as the northern hemisphere's most effective team underlined in some style.

Ireland had begun at pace, turning over a sleepy England at the first breakdown and winning two quick penalties to allow Sexton to kick them into an early six-point lead.

George Ford replied with a drop-goal on England's first foray into the Irish half but his side twice wasted fine territory through lost line-outs and, after Luther Burrell was overrun by green shirts on his own 22, Sexton's third simple penalty made it 9-3.

Ireland were dominating the breakdown, England twice penalised for offside as they struggled to cope with the ferocity of the Irish attacks.

Sexton was relishing his battle with the young apprentice Ford, smashing him backwards in the tackle and orchestrating a more expansive handling game for the hosts than in their victories over Italy and France.

The sole comfort for England at the break was to be just six points behind, having been starved of possession and conceded a remarkable 10 turnovers in that first period.

Keith Wood, former Ireland captain

"Is this game a benchmark for the World Cup if these two teams meet? I don't think so. England will be radically different in six months' time. It's when you lose that you have to change. Ireland aren't even thinking about the World Cup at this stage because they've won and they're thinking about winning the championship."

Against Wales in their opening match they had won from a bigger deficit by coming back out at pace, but this time it was Ireland who took further control through Sexton's fourth penalty after Dave Attwood strayed offside.

England were being pinned back by Sexton's probing kicking from hand, unable to exert the control they had hoped for at the set-piece and poor under the predictable hailstorm of garryowens.

And when the impressive Conor Murray's box kick into the corner was claimed by Henshaw above the backpedalling Alex Goode, a steep slope became a mountain.

Sexton's conversion from out wide made it 19-3 and seemed likely to trigger an avalanche.

Two penalties from Ford halted the advance before England's replacements made the contest - if not the scoreboard - a more even affair in the final 20 minutes.

But although Ireland tired as the match wore on, the damage had already been done, and the capacity crowd in Dublin celebrated a win that was never in doubt.