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History beckons England as Ireland lie in wait

March 17, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Eddie Jones’s England head to Dublin for their final match of the 2017 Six Nations just eight 80 minutes away from rewriting the record books.

England

Victory for England, already crowned Six Nations champions, over Ireland at Lansdowne Road on Saturday would see them set a new record of 19 consecutive Test wins by a leading rugby union nation.

It would also mean they become the first side in the Six Nations era to complete back-to-back Grand Slams and just the sixth in the long history of the Championship.

Yet England were some away short of top form in the opening rounds of this Six Nations although, like many good sides, they kept winning when below their best.

So when former Ireland centre Gordon D’Arcy, in an Irish Times column, published between the third and fourth rounds, said “England look a team under ever-increasing strain,” it was not a fanciful notion.

But the shackles were thrown off in spectacular style during last week’s 61-21, seven-try rout of Scotland at Twickenham featuring a hat-trick from Jonathan Joseph.

That win came just a day after Ireland’s title hopes were dealt a hammer blow by a 22-9 loss to Wales in Cardiff where they couldn’t even manage one try, let alone seven.

In politics, many an Englishman has been stumped by the ‘Irish question’ but in rugbyterms it’s the hosts who face plenty of pre-match problems this week.

For all the criticism of Scotland’s defence, some of England’s attacking play was sublime. Now the question being asked of Jones’ men is did they hit peak form one week too early?

“Most teams in the Six Nations have one big performance, so we are anticipating them to be at their best on Saturday,” the England coach said when asked Thursday about Ireland.

But Jones insisted England’s “big performance” had not come and gone. “When I said ‘most teams’ we are not ‘most teams’,” he explained.

That might sound like typical English ‘arrogance’ coming from an Australian were it not for the fact England have won 18 Tests in a row.

Jones, benefitting from England’s large playing base and years of good youth development, has created a bench of replacements or “finishers” as he calls them who would start in many another side.

Such is England’s strength in depth that experienced scrum-half Danny Care finds himself playing second fiddle to Ben Youngs and impressive hooker Jamie George must wait his turn behind England captain Dylan Hartley.

“You look around the changing room and there are a lot of world-class players in a lot of positions,” said Care.

“George Ford (fly-half) and Owen Farrell (inside centre) as a combination seems to be working brilliantly.

“And you look at (flanker) Maro Itoje — he’s still only 22 but plays like he’s a 100-cap veteran.”

Powerhouse No 8 Billy Vunipola and wing Anthony Watson, who both scored tries off the bench last week, are now in the starting side, with left wing Elliot Daly cleared to play following a suspected concussion.

Ireland, who ended the All Blacks’ 18-match winning run with a 40-29 success in Chicago in November, suffered a setback when scrum-half Conor Murray was ruled out Thursday with a shoulder injury sustained against Wales.

The Irish will certainly need their forwards and a defence coached by Andy Farrell — Owen’s father — to front up if they are to win this weekend.

But Ireland coach Joe Schmidt took exception to Jones’s labelling his team’s play as “kick and clap”, with high ‘bombs’ from fly-half Jonathan Sexton their main weapon.

“I think last year he might have said that we kicked 60 percent of the ball that we had,” the New Zealander said. “And when it was mentioned to him that England kicked the ball more than we did it probably wasn’t convenient at the time.

“So we’ll do what we try to do best, and I know Eddie will have England really well-prepared to do what they do best, which is apply a heck of a lot of pressure.”

North double ends Ireland’s Six Nations hopes

March 11, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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George North silenced his critics with a brace of tries that saw Wales run out 22-9 winners over Ireland in Cardiff on Friday to end the visitors’ hopes of a tilt at the Six Nations title.

North

The result means England will be crowned Six Nations champions should they beat Scotland on Saturday.

North scored a try in each half and Jamie Roberts a late five-pointer, Leigh Halfpenny kicking two conversions and a penalty. Ireland, who had Jonny Sexton sin-binned, had just three penalties to show for their efforts through the Leinster fly-half (2) and Paddy Jackson.

“We knew we were one performance away from winning a game, they have been down to fine margins every week,” man-of-the-match and scrum-half Rhys Webb told BBC.

“We showed glimpses of what we can do and there is more to come from us. You don’t become a bad team overnight.”

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones added: “We owed that to the Welsh people and to ourselves. We haven’t done ourselves justice in the last two games.”

Irish skipper Rory Best admitted that his team, who bounced back from an opening defeat by Scotland with wins over Italy and France, were “very disappointed”.

“We came here hoping and expecting to win and keep everything alive. Credit to Wales but we are frustrated with the errors we made.”

It was a brutal match, the ferocity of some of the early bone-jarring hits reverberating around a packed, expectant Principality Stadium in full song: Ireland made 81 tackles in the first half alone.

Recent encounters between the Celtic cousins have been closely-fought affairs, and this attritional ding-dong was no different, although the winning margin was Wales’ best since 1983.

Ireland dominated a frantic opening period, monopolising both possession and territory. The pressure eventually paid off after Webb was penalised for a high tackle, Sexton making no mistake with the long-range kick at the posts.

Wales, who opened their Six Nations campaign with victory over Italy before losing to England the Scots, came battering back, but the Irish defence held firm.

Breaks from South African-born flanker CJ Stander and winger Simon Zebo kept Wales pinned back, but the visitors suffered a blow when a groggy Sexton, who caught a Jonathan Davies knee to his head, was replaced by Paddy Jackson in the 19th minute.

No sooner had the replacement come on then Wales sprang from a line-out.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt had predicted before the match that players can bounce back from a poor display with a much-improved one, and so it proved to be for North, heavily criticised in Wales’ capitulation to Scotland.

Webb broke into midfield and found Halfpenny with a long pass, the Toulon full-back fed North who stepped inside Keith Earls and rode Zebo’s tackle for a fine try.

Halfpenny missed the conversion and Jackson restored Ireland’s lead with a penalty.

Wales ended an entertaining half in the ascendancy, however, a Webb chip to the corner gathered by Liam Williams who fed inside only for Davies to be held up.

English referee Wayne Barnes had no choice but to yellow card Sexton for killing the ball on the line, Halfpenny making no mistake with the resulting penalty.

Wales made their numerical supremacy pay immediately into the second period, Halfpenny doing well to follow up a Webb chip and bundle the covering, obviously injured Connor Murray into touch.

Alun Wyn Jones rose to pluck the ball in the resulting line-out, the maul trundled forwards and Webb found North unmarked on his wing for a simple try, his 30th on the international stage. Halfpenny knocking over the extras.

The returned Sexton orchestrated an Irish fightback, Wales withstanding a remarkable 26-phase of attack before Dan Biggar was harshly penalised for a high tackle, Sexton pulling back three points.

Biggar saw a drop-goal go off the post as a raft of replacements came on in what was turning into a war of attrition.

And then Robbie Henshaw arguably cost Ireland a pushover try when he joined a driving maul illegally.

Sexton conjured up a couple of pinpoint cross-kicks that threatened the Welsh line late on, but the home side had the last word when Roberts barrelled over from close quarters, Halfpenny booting the conversion to leave coach Rob Howley and his coaching staff breathing a massive sigh of relief after two weeks of intense scrutiny over their selection policy.

Ireland seek Wales stepping stone for Six Nations England showdown

March 9, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Ireland will attempt to set up an audacious bid for Six Nations glory over frontrunners England when they face Wales on Friday.

Ireland

A victory for Joe Schmidt’s team, allied with an English win over the ever-improving Scotland side on Saturday, would make for a mouth-watering Six Nations title decider in Dublin on March 18.

But Ireland’s games with Wales are notoriously close, and it would be a brave person to rule out a Welsh team, albeit misfiring, playing at home with pressure on to assure a top-eight World Rugby ranking for the draw for the 2019 World Cup and also to shine in a bid to help guarantee spots on the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand in the summer.

The Irish kicked off their Six Nations campaign with a surprise defeat by Scotland before bouncing back to beat Italy and France.

Wales overcame the Italians before slumping to defeats by England and Scotland, and find themselves contemplating a third consecutive Six Nations loss for the first time since 2007.

Both teams are unchanged for the Friday night fixture at the Principality Stadium, Rob Howley’s decision not to blood some younger Welsh players in place of more experienced but underperforming stars raising eyebrows.

“As coaches, we discussed giving the opportunity to the side to redeem themselves for the second-half performance against Scotland,” Howley said.

“Obviously, I know things have been said in the week about some players’ performance. But as a coaching team, we have talked about the opportunity just to go out again.

“There is an opportunity to go out at home in front of our own supporters and deliver a performance which the players are proud of and for the supporters to support that. It will be a huge game.”

Wales winger George North experienced perhaps his worst game for his country against Scotland, when the Welsh shipped 20 unanswered points in a woeful second-half showing.

But Ireland coach Schmidt insisted his team would not be targeting the giant Northampton flyer.

“What could be a bad day one day for a player can quickly become a good one next time out,” the New Zealander said.

“I think he will have a big one this time, unfortunately.

“And I’m sure he’s highly motivated to have a really good game, as are the rest of the Welsh XV.

“They are so used to competing on the last day of the championship to win or lose the championship.

“So for them not to be in that position will certainly provide extra motivation for them.”

Wales have won just four of their last 12 matches – a run stretching back to last year’s Six Nations and including a defeat to Waikato Chiefs: the victories came over Italy, Japan, a season-weary Argentina and a disintegrating South Africa.

“In sport, sometimes fine margins make a huge difference and we need to get on the positive side of them. We expect a reaction on Friday night,” said Howley, in interim charge in the absence of the Lions-seconded Warren Gatland.

“The challenge for us is to make sure we deliver a performance this week.

“Every player has a point to prove when you pull the national jersey on. That’s the challenge of international rugby. It’s about handling the pressure from one minute to 80 minutes. That’s the challenge for all of us.”

Schmidt desperate for Ireland to ‘stay alive’ against France

February 24, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Ireland coach Joe Schmidt hopes to end France’s title challenge and keep his own side’s dreams of Six Nations glory alive when the sides meet at Dublin’s Lansdowne Road on Saturday.

Schmidt

Both Ireland, bidding for a third Championship in four years, and France have won one and lost one of their opening two matches, with Schmidt accepting defeat on Saturday would effectively end their title challenge.

“We’re desperately keen to stay alive,” said the New Zealander, who guided Ireland to successive Six Nations titles in 2014 and 2015.

“England have taken a flier (the defending champions have won both their opening games and face whipping boys Italy on Sunday).

“Mathematically there is no other way of looking at it. By Saturday evening there will be two teams hanging in there (the winners of Scotland-Wales being the other) and two who will be scrambling for the minor placings.”

Schmidt, who guided the Irish to a historic series of Test wins over the southern hemisphere ‘big three’ of the All Blacks, Australia and South Africa last year, is looking to standout fly-half Johnny Sexton to provide the spark for an Irish win and avenge a controversial 10-9 loss to France last year.

“I think he’s a great orchestrator of play,” said Schmidt.

“I think he navigates us around the pitch really well and I think he sees things very much earlier and that allows other players to get into good positions.

“He brings other players into the game well because his experience is such that his option-taking is often very good and he varies play well for us.”

However, Schmidt has called on Sexton — one of three changes to the starting XV that thrashed Italy 63-10 a fortnight ago — with the increasingly fragile 31-year-old not having played for five weeks because of a calf injury.

Schmidt, though, says Sexton’s ability to slot straight back in again, as he did two years ago in kicking five penalties in an 18-11 win over the French after being out for three months, led to his recall instead of Paddy Jackson, who did little wrong in the first two games.

“You base it on the past and if they have come back and played well then they are more likely to replicate it in the future,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt conceded that with the weather unpredictable Sexton was best suited to adapt.

“If Doris (the storm that battered Britain and Ireland on Thursday) has done her best and blown through then we’ll be able to play our normal game, if not we will adapt,” he said.

His France counterpart Guy Noves — who Schmidt knows well from his time as assistant coach at Clermont when Noves was in charge of Toulouse — made three changes to the team that narrowly beat Scotland 22-16 last time out.

Noves said he had brought in Rabah Slimani instead of Uini Antonio at prop in order for the French to try to dominate the scrum from the off.

“The set play scrum where Slimani excels is one of Ireland’s strong points,” Noves explained.

“We need a super-strong scrum to start the match off on the right note,” added the France boss, who suggested Ireland had “temporarily fallen asleep” in losing 27-22 to Scotland in thei tournament opener.

Schmidt has been impressed by what he has seen of France, only edged out 19-16 by England in the first round, and hopes they don’t click against his side.

“Guy seems to have the right mix and the right players,” said Schmidt. “He is putting the foundations in place and I hope they don’t come to fruition on Saturday.”

Injured Irish trio expected to face France

February 21, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Ireland stars Johnny Sexton, Rob Kearney and Conor Murray are expected to prove their fitness for Saturday’s Six Nations showdown with France by taking part in a full training session on Tuesday.

Ireland

Sexton has been sidelined for Ireland’s first two Six Nations matches against Scotland and Italy due to a calf injury.

Kearney has struggled with a biceps problem and Murray sat out training on Friday with an adductor issue.

But team manager Paul Dean tipped the British and Irish Lions fly-half Sexton to use Tuesday’s training session to show he can face the French in Dublin.

“Everybody looks good to fully train tomorrow,” Dean said on Monday.

“Johnny Sexton will play a part in training today, but will fully train tomorrow. Hopefully when he comes through that, he’ll be fine for the weekend.

“Rob Kearney continues to make progress. He’ll do some contact work today and he’ll fully train tomorrow.

“If you talk to Johnny and Rob they’ll both say that they’re 100 per cent fit and ready to go, so we just need the medics to pass them and they need to prove to us that they are.

“Conor Murray’s workload was managed in Monaghan last week. It was a difficult week for the players last week, but I’m happy to report that the outlook is positive.”

Ireland, who also expect flanker Peter O’Mahony to return after hamstring concerns, narrowly lost their Six Nations opener against Scotland and then thrashed Italy in Rome.

Italy’s Parisse wary of wounded Ireland in Six Nations clash

February 10, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Italy captain Sergio Parisse has warned against “surprise plays” and Ireland’s intention to “do damage” when they clash in a potential Six Nations bruiser in Rome on Saturday.

Parisse

A week after succumbing 33-7 to Wales, Italy host Joe Schmidt’s men hoping a more disciplined performance at the Stadio Olimpico keeps them in contention throughout the second half.

But facing the 2015 champions less a week after a 27-22 upset to Scotland dented Ireland’s victory plans for the tournament, says Parisse, is not ideal.

“They’re coming off a defeat they probably haven’t digested yet,” Parisse told media as he ran the rule over Saturday’s opponents on Friday.

Parisse also believes Ireland have the game skills to adapt to Italy’s traditionally defensive game.

“Compared to the other teams in the Six Nations, Ireland are able to adapt their game depending on which team they are playing. They’re also adept at scoring tries off the scrum and the line-out,” he added.

“We have to be wary of surprises because Ireland will have studied and prepared well. Their coach is astute, they have very strong players, and they’ll want to go out and do some damage.”

Despite an historic 20-18 victory over South Africa last November, Italy’s hopes of following suit last week were undone by a disastrous second half.

Having led 7-3 at half-time, the hosts gifted a rash of penalties to Wales who, after prop Andrea Lovotti was sent to the sinbin on the hour, then ran in three late tries to seal the win.

O’Shea made 35 appearances as a full-back for Ireland but as he prepares to face his country for the first time as an opponent, the former Harlequins handler has left no stone unturned.

“After last week’s disappointment, the coach reiterated to us this morning, in no uncertain terms, how important this game is,” added Parisse.

“It’s a crucial game for us but it’s going to be more complicated than last week, because we can’t make errors like we did, especially in the second half.”

It will be Parisse’s 123rd Italy appearance and his 75th as captain, but — despite a liking for ageing rockers the Rolling Stones — it doesn’t mean he’s any closer to retiring from the international game.

Parisse was rumoured to be set to quit international rugby following Jacques Brunel’s spell in charge, before O’Shea’s arrival at the helm.

“I’m a little old but until my body tells me otherwise, I will be available for this squad,” added Parisse, who admitted the music blasting from his earphones pitchside was “the Rolling Stones”.

“One year, two, I can’t say when my body will tell me it’s time to stop. Obviously it’s a pleasure playing for Italy under O’Shea.

“We talk a lot about what we needs to be done for Italy and Italian rugby.”

All Blacks’ Irish revenge on hold for Italy test

November 11, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Thoughts of avenging a first defeat to Ireland in over a century will take a back seat, for 80 minutes at least, when the All Blacks face new-look Italy on Saturday.

Ireland

New Zealand’s impressive streak of 18 consecutive Test victories was ended last week when they lost to Ireland for the first time in 111 years.

On Saturday, when former Harlequins coach Conor O’Shea leads out a largely youthful and untested Italy at the Stadio Olimpico, an All Black rout may well ensue.

But coach Steve Hansen believes New Zealand, whose 40-29 collapse to Ireland in Chicago was put down to “mental fatigue” and their “predictable” game, will have to step up their performance if they’re to avoid another upset.

“It will be a tough game,” Hansen said. “We have got to improve our performance from last week.”

Anyone thinking New Zealand didn’t already have one eye on a highly-anticipated revenge match in Dublin on November 19 has been given food for thought.

Hansen has made 12 changes for the Italy game, suggesting a fully fired-up All Blacks will grace the Aviva Stadium.

Former Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris says they will arrive “a bit like a wounded animal”, adding: “The whole of Irish rugby was on a high over the weekend but the boys will be aware that the All Blacks can score from anywhere at any stage of the game.”

Hansen defended his selection strategy in midweek, but said a win and a return to their usual, world-beating standards would be more than welcome.

“We always had the plan to pick this side,” Hansen said after announcing his starting XV.

“This is the team we thought would be right for Italy and nothing that happened in Chicago has changed that.

“Whilst it is not the same people playing, it is the same jersey and the same expectation, so this group has got to go out and get back to the type of rugby we want to play and to the standard we want to play at.”

New Zealand will notably see flanker Sam Cane skipper the side for the second time while hooker Liam Coltman and teenage wing Rieko Ioane will be hoping to make international debuts from the bench after being named in the match-day 23.

Italy captain Sergio Parisse, meanwhile, is set to overtake fellow veteran Martin Castrogiovanni, who is not selected, to earn a record 120th cap.

O’Shea, who has injected a fair bit of renewed belief, if not yet results, into Italy’s squad, is mostly gambling on a youthful line-up sprinkled with a few old heads.

Notably, the Irishman has handed Treviso’s Giorgio Bronzini an international debut at scrum-half in an untested half-back partnership with Carlo Canna, who has only 12 caps to his name.

“A few months ago I was playing the Eccellenza league, now I’m about to line up against the world champions wearing the Italy jersey. It’s like a dream,” said Bronzini.

O’Shea’s back three of fullback Edoardo Padovani and wings Giulio Bisegni and Angelo Esposito have just 12 international appearances between them.

The second row combination of South African-born Andries Van Schalkyk and Marco Fuser is untried and flanker Maxime Mbanda will be making his first appearance on Italian soil after winning his first two caps against the USA and Canada.

More familiar heads include Australian-born Luke Mclean, who, along with veteran hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini, wins his 82nd cap, at inside centre.

“O’Shea is building a great squad here, it’s a mix of really experienced guys and younger athletes with interesting potential,” said Ghiraldini.

“Conor is ambitious, and so we have to be even more so. There’s nothing better than playing at home, we’re fired up ready to give it everything.”

Whether that is enough for an upset remains to be seen as the All Blacks have never lost to the Italians.

Ireland stun New Zealand to claim first win over All Blacks

November 6, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Ireland ended a century-long losing streak to claim a historic first-ever win over New Zealand here Saturday, sending the All Blacks spinning to a 40-29 defeat with a scintillating display.

Ireland

Just days after the Windy City erupted in celebration after the Chicago Cubs landed their first World Series baseball crown in 108 years, Ireland booted their own 111-year rugby hoodoo firmly into touch.

Roared on by army of green-clad fans in a 62,300 crowd at Soldier Field, the Irish outscored the All Blacks by five tries to four to seal their first win over the Kiwis in the 29th instalment of a rivalry dating to 1905.

“It has been a long time coming and history (has been) made. We’re absolutely ecstatic,” Ireland skipper Rory Best said after leading his team on a raucous lap of honor at the famed NFL venue.

“We knew they are a great side. You can see how good a side they are and how much it means to our boys to have won that.”

Ireland were forced to cling on in the closing stages after a ferocious New Zealand fightback, which saw the All Blacks recover from a 30-8 deficit to go within four points at 33-29 with around 15 minutes to go.

But with the crowd roaring them home, Ireland scored a fifth and final try through outstanding center Robbie Henshaw, converted by replacement fly-half Joey Carbery, to clinch a famous victory.

It was New Zealand’s first defeat since their loss to Australia in August 2015.

Only last month, the All Blacks had set a world record for consecutive victories with their 18th win in a row.

New Zealand’s preparations for the Test had been thrown into disarray by the absence through injury of first choice locks Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock.

The further absence of second row Luke Romano following a family bereavement had forced them into starting a makeshift pairing of Jerome Kaino and Patrick Tuipulotu.

But New Zealand coach Steve Hansen refused to blame the injury crisis for the loss.

“The right side won,” Hansen said. “The Irish side played very well and congratulations to them.

“We don’t want to use (the injuries) as an excuse. We trained well enough, we prepared well enough, we thought. We’re not going to make any excuses about not having the right people.”

The moments before the match had seen Ireland pay an emotional tribute to beloved former international Anthony Foley, who died suddenly last month at the age of 42.

As New Zealand lined up to perform their traditional haka, Ireland’s players stood before them in a figure of eight — a reference to Foley’s position.

“We felt it was the right thing to do,” Best said. “There was a lot of emotion.”

Once the game got under way, Ireland wasted no time in exploiting New Zealand’s weakness at second row.

Johnny Sexton kicked Ireland ahead with a penalty after only four minutes when French referee Mathieu Raynal whistled the All Blacks for not rolling away at the breakdown.

But New Zealand hit back immediately with the opening try of the game, George Moala finishing off after Waisake Naholo’s electrifying break.

Fly-half Beauden Barrett scuffed his conversion attempt to leave New Zealand’s lead at 5-3.

Ireland were then handed a crucial advantage after All Black prop Joe Moody was sin-binned for a clear tip tackle on Henshaw.

The ensuing 10-minute period saw Ireland score 12 unanswered point through tries from Jordi Murphy and C.J. Stander to make it 15-5.

Barrett closed the gap to seven points with a penalty after Ireland were offside but Sexton restored Ireland’s 10-point lead with a further three-pointer.

Ireland were forced to make a change in the 26th minute when Murphy was stretchered off with what looked like a knee injury, replaced by Josh van der Flier.

But the disruption was fleeting, with scrum-half Conor Murray dummying Aaron Smith to scamper over for Ireland’s third try. Sexton converted to make it 25-8 at half-time.

The second half began with New Zealand looking sharper and faster, but it was Ireland who scored next, Sexton feeding Simon Zebo for 30-8.

Yet New Zealand roared back through tries from replacement scrum-half T.J Perenara and Ben Smith to take the score to 30-22.

A Murray penalty put Ireland 33-22 ahead but a 64th minute try by All Black debutant lock Scott Barrett, took New Zealand back to 33-27.

Brother Beauden added the conversion and New Zealand were suddenly within four.

Ireland’s defenders resisted furious late pressure, though, and Henshaw crashed over with four minutes to go to complete a magnificent win.

Fearless Irish ready for All Blacks

November 5, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Ireland captain Rory Best says his team will not fear New Zealand as they chase an elusive first ever victory over the world champions in Chicago Saturday.

Ireland

The veteran hooker, who earns his 98th cap at Soldier Field, said the Irish would take a positive mindset into their latest attempt to end a 111-year losing streak.

“We’ve got to respect them but we can’t go out and fear them,” Best told a press conference.

“We’ve got to go out and have our gameplan, stick to it rigidly and ultimately beat the All Blacks.”

New Zealand, who clinched back-to-back World Cup crowns in 2015, arrive in Chicago on the back of a record winning streak.

The New Zealanders have compiled 18 consecutive victories and are favorites to record a 19th against Ireland, who have never beaten the Kiwis in 28 meetings since 1905.

If Ireland are to stand any chance of an upset, Best believes his men will have to play a near-flawless game.

“From what I’ve seen over the Rugby Championship you’ve got to minimise the amount of unforced errors you have,” Best said.

“They’re going to create chances. You can’t then gift them chances on top of that.”

Former New Zealand captain Sean Fitzpatrick recently described the current All Blacks team as the greatest ever, an assessment that Best was reluctant to contradict.

“It’s kind hard when you’re comparing back through generations. But there’s no doubt that this All Black team is an extremely talented team that know how to win games of rugby, and know how to win well.

“And if Sean Fitzpatrick is saying they’re the best team then they would have to be close to it.”

Best was a member of the Ireland starting line-up on the last occasion the two teams met, in Dublin in 2013, when the host nation suffered a 24-22 defeat with the final kick of the match.

Best was forced out of that contest after 15 minutes with a broken arm. At 34, Best knows that time is running out if he is to be part of a victorious Ireland team against New Zealand.

The fact Ireland have been unable to break their All Blacks hoodoo vexes him.

“Having played in a lot of very good Irish teams it seems strange that Ireland have never beaten the All Blacks,” he said.

“We’ve come close a few times. We see ourselves as a top tier nation and we’ve shown it. It’s almost like we’ve shown it against everyone except the All Blacks.

“That side of things is disappointing.”

Nevertheless, Best said Ireland are determined not to let the millstone of history weigh heavily.

“History is history. We can’t affect that,” Best said.

“All that we can affect is what happens on Saturday. It’s disappointing that we’ve never beaten New Zealand but we have a chance now to change that.”

For Best though, the All Blacks retain an aura which he first encountered as a boy when watching the New Zealanders on their 1989 end-of-season tour, when they won all 14 matches.

That included the famous Test against Ireland at Lansdowne Road, when Irish skipper Willie Anderson marched his team into the middle of the All Blacks’ pre-match Haka.

“It always was special when the All Blacks came to town,” Best said.

“I remember the Willie Anderson one where they charged the Haka. It was all about blood and thunder for as long as they could hold out.”

The advances of the professional era have leveled the playing field since then, Best said.

“Physically we’re more than able to do it,” he said. “It’s just mentally if we can stay in the game.”

Griezmann double sends hosts France into last eight

June 27, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Hosts France came from behind to beat 10-man Ireland 2-1 and reach the Euro 2016 quarter-finals after a tactical switch freed forward Antoine Griezmann to score two second-half goals at Parc OL on Sunday.

Football Soccer - France v Republic of Ireland - EURO 2016 - Round of 16 - Stade de Lyon, Lyon, France - 26/6/16 France's Antoine Griezmann misses a chance to score REUTERS/Jason Cairnduff Livepic

The masterstroke from coach Didier Deschamps at the break unshackled France’s attackers, who had struggled to get a hold on the game early on after a Robbie Brady penalty in the second minute, the fastest goal so far at this year’s tournament.

Griezmann struck either side of the hour mark to the relief of the nervous home fans before Ireland had defender Shane Duffy sent off after 66 minutes for bringing down the flying forward.

France, who have scored 11 of their 12 goals at European Championship finals after halftime, will next play England or Iceland, who meet on Monday, at the Stade de France next Sunday.

“We have difficulties getting into games, we saw that again today, and that’s something we have to work on,” said Griezmann.

“Finding ourselves trailing made it difficult but we showed we’ve got heart. Things were said in the dressing room at halftime and in the second half it was a different France team.”

It was the worst possible start for France when serial offender Paul Pogba, responsible for conceding two of his country’s last four penalties, clumsily barged over Shane Long in the area and allowed Brady to put Ireland into an early lead.

Finding themselves behind for the first time at the tournament, the hosts seemed to lack the urgency to gain control in a stop-start first half.

Their best chance fell to Griezmann who headed over the bar from close range, while a late strike by Dimitri Payet whacked into the Irish defenders who bravely guarded their goal.

With the home side’s spirit sapping, Ireland sensed an upset and retribution for the last time the sides met in 2009, a World Cup qualifier which France won controversially after a handball from striker Thierry Henry helped set up the decisive goal.

But for all their hard work in defence, the Irish did not really look like consolidating their lead.

On one rare foray, France keeper Hugo Lloris — captaining his country for a record 55th time — was called into action to push a bouncing shot from striker Daryl Murphy wide.

Deschamps changed things after the break, pushing Griezmann into a more central role behind strike partner Olivier Giroud and replacing holding midfielder N’Golo Kante with pacey winger Kingsley Coman, which allowed playmaker Pogba to take the reins in the middle of the pitch.

The strategy paid dividends immediately as France stretched a tiring Ireland. Griezmann equalised in the 58th minute from a Bacary Sagna cross and fired his team in front three minutes later when Giroud nodded the ball down into his path.

“With Griezmann closer to Giroud up front and Kingsley (Coman)’s presence, we made them suffer,” said Deschamps.

“It’s not easy for any team here and it was not easy for us. We did not have the right not to qualify and that made it complicated for us but we’re through.”

Another surging run from Griezmann saw him chopped down on the edge of the area by Duffy, earning the defender a red card as the game started to look beyond the Irish.

The packed home support — who booed their team as they trudged off at halftime — broke into a deafening ‘Marseillaise’ and cheered France all the way to their first knockout stage win at a Euro finals since winning the trophy in 2000.

On a sour note, though, Kante and defender Adil Rami picked up yellow cards and will be suspended for the quarter-final.

“We really have to start our next match better. We must not underestimate anybody,” said defender Patrice Evra.

“We’ll be without Adil and N’Golo Kante but we’re a group of 23, we’ll be all right.”

Brady’s late goal fires Ireland into last 16

June 23, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Robbie Brady scored a glorious late winner for Ireland to put them through to the knockout stages of the European Championship for the first time with a 1-0 win over Group E winners Italy.

Football Soccer - Italy v Republic of Ireland - EURO 2016 - Group E - Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille, France - 22/6/16 Republic of Ireland's Robbie Brady celebrates with Shane Long and James McClean after scoring their first goal REUTERS/Carl Recine Livepic

Brady scored his 85th minute headed goal from a pinpoint cross by his Norwich City club mate Wes Hoolahan, who had just spurned a golden opportunity to seal the well-deserved victory himself.

It delivered Irish football one of its most famous nights against a second-string Italy side, with the three points securing third place in the group and setting up a last-16 tie against hosts France in Lyon on Sunday.

“It’s what dreams are made of. I grew up dreaming about this stage and to go and do it in front of my family is the best feeling in the world,” said Brady, who reckoned that scoring the goal felt like “an out of body” experience.

“All applause is for Wes Hoolahan. He put the ball right on my head. I would have done well to miss it. We rode our luck a couple of times, but we got the result in the end.

“If we stick together like we did tonight, we can take on anyone.”

With his team already guaranteed to top the group, Antonio Conte made eight changes, with only Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Alessandro Florenzi surviving fron the side that started against Sweden.

The Irish began like a team on a mission, full back Seamus Coleman thundering into a tackle in the opening seconds to lay down a marker, and plenty of tough challenges from both sides followed.

Ireland almost took an early lead when Jeff Hendrick jinked to create some space at the edge of the box and hit a left-footed piledriver that flew just wide of the top corner.

In the 21st minute, Daryl Murphy met Brady’s outswinging corner with a powerful header, forcing Salvatore Sirigu to make a flying save and tip the ball over the bar for another corner.

Italy had to wait until just before halftime for their first decent chance, Ciro Immobile dragging his shot just wide after a well-worked short free kick.

Moments later the Irish were denied what looked a clear penalty when James McClean was pushed in the back by Federico Bernardeschi, but referee Ovidiu Hategan turned down their appeals, leaving coach Martin O’Neill incandescent with rage.

Simone Zaza almost broke the deadlock on a rare Italian foray forward with a fizzing shot after the break, but then Ireland dominated almost the entire second half.

With Italy content to soak up the considerable pressure, the Irish mixed up their play, alternating between long balls and short passes, and set pieces continued to be a potent weapon.

The Italians were not content to simply concede, and Lorenzo Insigne came on in the 75th minute to make his first appearance at the Euros. Within two minutes, he had curled an exquisite shot past Darren Randolph only to see it come back off the post.

With 13 minutes left and the Irish tiring, O’Neill threw on playmaker Hoolahan, who netted the goal in Ireland’s 1-1 draw with Sweden, in a last-gasp effort to finally unlock the Italian defense.

He missed a glorious chance to put his side ahead minutes later, shooting straight at Sirigu when he got through one-on-one and it looked as if Ireland were heading for elimination.

Yet he made amends soon after, crossing for Brady to head Ireland into the lead and send the Irish fans into raptures.

When Hategan sounded the final whistle, there were wild celebrations from players, coaching staff and fans alike with Ireland’s Euro dream still very much alive.

“We stuck at it and put in a great performance,” Brady said. “In the end we got the result we deserved. Roll on France!”

Resilience, substitutes won it for Boks – Coetzee

June 19, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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New South Africa coach Allister Coetzee hailed the resilience of his team and the impact of the replacements after a dramatic 32-26 second Test triumph over Ireland Saturday.

Boks

Trailing by 16 points with 16 minutes left, the Springboks scored three unanswered tries to level the series at one win each and set up a winners-take-all final Test in Port Elizabeth next Saturday.

Ireland were superior for most the international at Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg before fading with Coetzee admitting the 1,750-metre (5,750 feet) altitude was a factor.

“One of our core values is resilience and that showed tonight. We were in a very deep hole and had to dig our way out.

“We will become a good team. Tonight was a building block,” stressed the former Western Stormers Super Rugby coach who made his Springbok debut in a shock 26-20 loss to Ireland last weekend.

“The squad has been together for only 20 days and this comeback showed how much we can achieve. The potential is there.

“The impact from the bench was massive — the replacements turned it round for us. This team is not about 15 players, but rather all 23.”

Two of the four second-half Springbok tries were scored by substitutes with winger Ruan Combrinck getting the first and loose forward Warren Whiteley the second.

Coetzee blamed ill discipline and over eagerness for the concession of a string of first-half penalties with Ireland fly-half Paddy Jackson slotting four in a row to help create a 19-3 half-time lead.

“Not only did we concede points through a lack of discipline — being penalised repeatedly broke our rhythm.

“Ireland have a vastly experienced team, especially the backline. We lacked that experience and developing combinations takes time.

“While we are delighted with the result today the series still has to be won so we start from scratch on Monday.”

Appointed in April as the second black coach after Peter de Villiers of the once all-white Springboks, 53-year-old Coetzee also praised new skipper Adriaan Strauss.

“His leadership during the difficult moments of the match proved crucial and I am pleased in many ways that we are starting to think on the same wavelength.”

Strauss said he never believed the Test was a lost cause, even when Jackson converted a try by No.8 Jamie Heaslip to give the Irish a 26-10 advantage.

“We kept believing in the process and taking it one step at a time. We realised we had to play much better in the second half and we did.”

Ireland can build on draw after Sweden disappoint

June 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Ireland can take encouragement from a 1-1 draw in their Euro 2016 Group E opener on Monday but the result was a cause of great concern for Sweden whose mediocrity contrasted starkly with their opponents’ desire.

Football Soccer - Republic of Ireland v Sweden - EURO 2016 - Group E - Stade de France, Saint-Denis near Paris, France - 13/6/16 Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic in action with Republic of Ireland's Ciaran Clark REUTERS/John Sibley

Ireland were the better team and Sweden were fortunate to grab an equaliser when Irish defender Ciaran Clark headed a cross into his own goal after Wes Hoolahan had opened the scoring with a splendid strike early in the second half.

It was another misfortune for Ireland at the Stade de France, where they were playing for the first time since Thierry Henry’s infamous handball for France led to a goal that crushed the 2010 World Cup qualifying dreams of the Irish in a playoff.

Monday’s match was probably the one the Irish and Swedes had targeted for a win in a section that also features traditional European force Italy and a talented Belgium side.

Martin O’Neill’s Boys in Green, however, can be more optimistic than Erik Hamren’s Blue-Yellows, who did not manage a single shot on target despite the efforts of talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was kept fairly quiet by Ireland’s defence.

“We have two very, very tough matches coming against two sides that are very classy,” said O’Neill.

“But if I can take anything from the performance today, it was that the players looked accomplished. We have the desire but the players are growing into international football.”

Both teams were backed by hordes of fans and the yellow and green armies brought a festive touch to the Stade de France, in sharp contrast with the violence that has marred the tournament.

O’Neill’s side showed a real desire to win, making two attacking substitutions after Sweden’s equaliser, while the Scandinavians looked slow and toothless until Ireland took a deserved lead three minutes after the break.

Hoolahan struck a superb half-volley into the net from Seamus Coleman’s perfect cross into the area triggering a roar rarely heard in the usually subdued Stade de France.

That acted as a wake-up call for Sweden, who were relying on their enigmatic 34-year-old captain Ibrahimovic.

“I came like a king, left like a legend,” Ibrahimovic quipped as he left Paris St Germain at the end of last season after helping them win a second straight domestic treble.

He was certainly neither when he returned to Paris on Monday.

In the first half, Ibrahimovic looked lost on a pitch where which he won two French Cup and two League Cup trophies and, while he produced the cross that led to Ireland’s own goal, the striker failed to convert a chance in the closing stages.

In the 71st minute, Ibrahimovic made a rare break down the left flank into the area and his cross was headed into his own goal by the unfortunate Clark.

Twelve minutes later, however, Ibrahimovic just failed to connect as Martin Olsson’s cross whizzed in front of him, missing the chance to score an almost certain winner albeit undeserved.

“The feeling right now is disappointment rather than coming back for a draw,” said Hamren.

“For the first 50 minutes Ireland were better. Credit to Ireland. Our attack was really bad in the first half. They were able to close us down.

“We didn’t lose but I’m disappointed because we didn’t play the way we should have done.”

Ibrahimovic added: “I tried but I can do much better,”

New era dawns for Springboks against Ireland

June 11, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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A new era dawns for the South African Springboks Saturday when they tackle weakened Ireland in Cape Town in the first of three Tests.

Springboks

The country that won the World Cup twice will have a new coach, a new captain, a new scrum-half, a new racial outlook and probably a new playing style.

Allister Coetzee, the second black coach after Peter de Villiers to coach the green and gold, was chosen two months ago to succeed Heyneke Meyer.

A disastrous final season of his four-year contract sealed the fate of Meyer with five losses including a sensational 2015 World Cup beating by minnows Japan.

He stubbornly refused to accept racial transformation either after decades of white-dominated teams, consistently starting with no more than three black players.

Ninety percent of South Africans are black and the government and the national rugbybody agree that half the 2019 Springboks World Cup side must be black.

The exit of Meyer leaves former Western Stormers Super Rugby coach Coetzee with two major tasks — restore a winning culture and give black stars a chance.

He chose five black starters, including veteran loosehead prop Tendai ‘The Beast’ Mtawarira to face Johnny Sexton-less Ireland at Newlands stadium.

Another four black players, among them uncapped hooker Bongi Mbonambi, are among the eight replacements.

“We are starting afresh and I have rewarded Super Rugby form,” stressed Coetzee after his first team announcement.

The composition was predictable with scrum-half Faf de Klerk rewarded for a string of outstanding displays with the Golden Lions.

“I do not want Faf to just be seen as a link, I want him to play his game and ask questions of the Irish defence,” said Coetzee.

“When you look at a scrum-half, one of the key things is that he does the basics well.

“Faf has good kicking and passing games. But you also look for other skills.

“The breakdown area could be a mess, and you need a scrum-half who can get the ball out quickly. Faf can do that.”

Another Lion, centre Lionel Mapoe, partners Damian de Allende at centre after his superb Super Rugby form last season was mysteriously ignored by Meyer.

Hooker Adriaan Strauss succeeds retired centre Jean de Villiers as skipper and has warned his team-mates not to underestimate injury-hit Ireland.

“Every player in world rugby who gets the opportunity to represent his country lifts his game. The Irish are a very proud nation and they will lift their game.”

While Coetzee has understandably kept his game plan under wraps, it is likely to be more expansive than the outdated, boring kick-and-chase style of Meyer.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt is plotting a road to recovery after a 2015 World Cup quarter-finals exit and only two wins in five Six Nations games this year.

Although the absence of injured fly-half Sexton is a massive blow, he has talked up replacement playmaker Paddy Jackson.

“Johnny has been the conductor of the orchestra and we are confident that Paddy can step up and do a similar job,” said the New Zealand-born coach.

“I think he has got big boots to fill, but I think his feet will slot in quite nicely.”

Ireland have beaten the Springboks five times in 22 Tests since they first met in 1906, but lost all seven in South Africa.

Ireland left with negative Six Nations feeling

March 20, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Ireland ended their Six Nations campaign on a winning note against Scotland, but skipper Rory Best admitted they will view this year’s tournament in a negative light.

Ireland

Defending champions Ireland were looking to create history by becoming the first team to win three titles in a row.

However, a draw against Wales in the opening game put paid to hopes of a Grand Slam, and the title was surrendered following narrow defeats to France and England, despite holding second half leads in both games.

Ireland ended the tournament with convincing victories — 58-15 over hapless Italy and 35-25 against Scotland on Saturday, but it was too little, too late as far as Best was concerned.

“It’s been good to finish with two wins, two good results, but for us we expect to win every game — that’s the standard that’s been set,” Best said.

“So we’ll look back and be disappointed. The most disappointing part was the France game. We won the first half and then we let them off the hook and didn’t keep attacking them.

“We’ve increased how we trained each week. A lot of guys who’ve come in over the first three games, they realised you can prepare a bit during the week and play, but to win a game you have to minimise your mistakes.

“Sometimes it takes those few weeks (to learn), but we’ve a good pool of players now who know how to win after a few tests.”

Ireland impressed against Scotland on Saturday, backing up their nine-try showing against Italy, with four more tries, and Best was thrilled with how the team continued to create — and finish — chances.

“We did a lot of the stuff we’ve talked about, that were big things for us over the past two years,” he said.

“We kept the ball, took them through phases, made them make tackles. I know how it is when you’re on the back foot like that, it increases pressure on teams, and makes you concede penalties.

“We carried over the gain-line well, and won penalties, and put pressure on the referee too. We felt in control.”

Scotland head coach Vern Cotter was unhappy with the result, but was pleased with the progress he believes his team are making.

The Scots scored three tries for the third game in a row — a first since 1999 — but missed out on the chance of a third championship win in a row thanks to a slow start and ill-discipline that saw two players sin-binned.

“We’re not particularly happy, obviously, because we want to win games,” Cotter said.

“We controlled major parts of the game, but not to the end, and sustaining pressure to the end was one of the key things.

“In the Italy and France games I thought we did that. Today, I saw character from the group, even though we were behind on the scoreboard.

“We didn’t start well but the guys didn’t give up. These are good things to keep bringing to the fore, and there were clearly things we could improve on.

“It’s better than last year, but we’re still not completely satisfied. We want to get much better than that.

“I think this year is the highest number of points that Scotland have scored in the Six Nations. There are a few things that you could rattle off that are indicators that things are getting better. There is ambition within the group and we’ll keep developing that.”

Defiant Parisse defends Italy’s Six Nations place

March 13, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Sergio Parisse insists Italy still deserve a place in the Six Nations despite their nine-try 58-15 humiliation by Ireland in Dublin.

Italy

Joe Schmidt’s men failed to score more than a single try in their previous three games, but set a new Six Nations record with their tally at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.

Had Ireland rounded off the 80th minute assault on the Italian line with a 10th try, the overall score would have improved upon their record 60-13 victory achieved in Italy’s first tournament participation, way back in 2000.

Since then Italy have be left with the wooden spoon ten times (soon to be 11), while winning just 12 of 84 games, but there appears to be no desire to deny the Azzuri of their automatic qualification for the annual tournament.

“It is a question I think (that is asked) when you lose matches like that,” Parisse, the Italy captain, admitted.

“People will say if Italy deserve to play this tournament or not. But when you see what we have done in the past, even against Ireland a couple of years ago (when Italy won 22-15 at home in 2013), I think Italy really deserve to play this tournament.”

It was a blow to their hopes of being competitive, and gave Ireland the opportunity to release some of the frustration that had built up in their previous three games.

“I’ve been beaten enough times by (Jacques Brunel’s) Perpignan to know he’s an astute strategist, but it’s hard to exert your game on the opposition when you lose so many players early on,” Schmidt said.

“Losing those players early on allowed us time and space to play and we capitalised on it well.

“We had some good scores, we hadn’t much luck against France and England, when scores weren’t awarded, so to finally release the pressure is nice.”

“I know people question decisions I might make, or the way we might play, but I guarantee I question it more,” he claimed.

“I’m always trying to think how we might utilise the players we have, how we might exert pressure on the opposition.

“That’s the challenge, and also to keep things fresh with 30 odd guys in camp.”

“It’s really tough to consider what are reasonable returns, because we always want more than that,” said Schmidt.

“I know we haven’t met the expectations we have of ourselves, because it’s an Ireland team regardless of who has that shirt on.

“What we’ll hopefully profit from in the future is we’ve had guys emerge we’re excited about.

“If we can get into that third or fourth spot, in the context of where we are now, that would be a reasonable return.

“For us we’re always trying to plan ahead, we’re enthusiastic about what may come out of this championship and what may lie ahead.”

England down Ireland to stay on course for Grand Slam

February 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Two tries inside four second-half minutes from Anthony Watson and Mike Brown helped England to a 21-10 win over Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday as they kept alive their bid for a Grand Slam.

England

England, in Australian coach Eddie Jones’ first home game in charge, were 10-6 down before Watson and Brown struck.

Inside centre Owen Farrell kicked England’s remaining points in front of a crowd of more than 81,000 at a cold Twickenham.

Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray’s try early in the second half had previously helped overturn a 6-3 interval deficit, with the rest of their points kicked by fly-half Jonathan Sexton.

But this defeat left the defending Six Nations champions without a win from their first three games.

England had to play the final nine minutes a man down after replacement scrum-half Danny Care was yellow-carded in a ruck incident.

Ireland debutant Josh van der Flier was then held up over the line by replacement back Elliot Daly, also winning his first cap, and England then won a relieving penalty from the ensuing Irish scrum.

“I think our performances have stepped up,” Jones told the BBC.

“We were facing a better team today (after wins over Scotland and Italy) and we probably left 10 to 15 points out there, as we couldn’t always convert our attacking pressure.”

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, whose side drew with Wales before losing 10-9 to France, was disappointed by the way the visitors lost their four-point advantage.

“I felt we let them come back too easily at us,” he told reporters.

“There was probably a lot of fatigue from the first half where they put a lot of pressure on us.”

This was England’s first match at Twickenham since a 33-13 defeat by Australia in October saw them become the first host nation to be knocked out of the World Cup at the group stage.

Jones had riled Ireland by suggesting their favoured kicking game was not the way he wanted to play rugby and also by expressing concerns for the health of Sexton, who has had several concussions in his career.

But it was Sexton who kicked Ireland into a fifth-minute lead with a 40-metre penalty only for Farrell to draw England level before another long-range effort went wide.

- Vunipola break -

With neither side threatening a try, England No 8 Billy Vunipola, the man-of-the-match, almost found a way through with a blindside break off a ruck in the 23rd minute before being tackled into touch just short of the line by Murray and flanker CJ Stander.

From a penalty, England saw an attacking line-out move end with skipper Dylan Hartley held up under the posts.

Even worse for England, they were denied a five-metre scrum after the hooker was penalised for a double movement.

However, the hosts soon had an attacking scrum just 10 metres from the Irish line.

England’s series of close-range drives produced another scrum before Jonathan Joseph, a hat-trick hero against Italy, knocked-on carelessly.

The centre’s error was one of several England handling mistakes in the first half.

England did get some reward when Farrell kicked a long-range penalty to give them a narrow half-time lead.

But they were soon down to 14 men when openside flanker James Haskell was yellow-carded for a late and high tackle on Murray.

Again, Ireland spurned a kickable penalty chance but this time won the line-out and Murray dived over from a ruck.

Sexton landed the difficult conversion and Ireland led 10-6.

But Farrell’s third successful penalty from distance cut Ireland’s advantage to a point in a match where Steve Hansen, coach of world champions New Zealand, was among a 81,826 crowd.

In a change of tactics England, spreading the ball wide, saw wing Jack Nowell burst clear before he was hauled down by Keith Earls.

But when the ball came across field, a floated pass from former captain Chris Robshaw sent left wing Watson in at the opposite corner in the 58th minute.

Farrell missed the conversion but minutes later England had a second try when the ball was spun wide to full-back Brown.

This time Farrell converted and England led 21-10.

Ireland almost hit back when only Nowell’s desperate tackle on Robbie Henshaw prevented a try after a Sexton break.

Itoje starts for England, Daly on the bench

February 26, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Lock Maro Itoje will make his first England start on Saturday after being named in the side to play Ireland in the Six Nations at Twickenham.

Rugby Union - England Training - Pennyhill Park, Bagshot, Surrey - 25/2/16Maro Itoje of England during trainingAction Images via Reuters / Henry BrowneLivepicEDITORIAL USE ONLY.

Itoje, 21, who impressed off the bench on his debut in the victory in Rome two weeks ago, replaces Courtney Lawes who was named among the replacements on Thursday having been recalled to the squad on Wednesday when Joe Launchbury was ruled out with a hamstring strain.

Uncapped centre Elliot Daly was named among the replacements while the only other change to the starting team was the return of prop Joe Marler for Mako Vunipola who drops to the bench.

“Joe Marler made a big impact off the bench in Rome and will start at loose-head with Mako Vunipola finishing the game,” coach Eddie Jones said in a statement.

“Joe Launchbury is unlucky to miss out through injury; Maro Itoje is selected as a result and we’re pleased for him.

“Elliot Daly has worked hard this week and is now ready for a place in the 23. He can provide cover in several positions in the back line,” added Jones.

“Playing our first game at Twickenham after two away fixtures will be huge for us. We’re determined to put in a strong performance against a clever Irish side who are the benchmark of European rugby.”

England lost to Ireland in Dublin last season but have won five of their last six meetings including World Cup warm-ups.

Jones said his side will have no hesitation in targeting Ireland’s flyhalf Johnny Sexton, who suffered concussion during the defeat to France on Feb. 13.

“We target players all the time. That’s part of rugby, isn’t it?” he was quoted as saying by the BBC.

“It’s not illegal to target someone. I don’t want our players to do anything illegal in terms of the laws. We want to be physical, fair and brutal,” he added, pointing out that he instructed his Australia side to run at England’s Jonny Wilkinson’s injured right shoulder during the 2003 World Cup final.

England top the Six Nations after two wins while Ireland, seeking a third successive title, have one point from their opening two games.

England team: 1-Joe Marler, 2-Dylan Hartley (captain), 3-Dan

Cole, 4-Maro Itoje, 5-George Kruis, 6-Chris Robshaw, 7-James

Haskell, 8-Billy Vunipola; 9-Ben Youngs, 10-George Ford, 11-Jack

Nowell, 12-Owen Farrell, 13-Jonathan Joseph, 14-Anthony Watson,

15-Mike Brown

Replacements: 16-Jamie George, 17-Mako Vunipola, 18-Paul Hill, 19-Courtney Lawes, 20-Jack Clifford, 21-Danny Care, 22-Elliot Daly, 23-Alex Goode.

Lawes returns to England squad in place of Launchbury

February 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Lock Courtney Lawes has been recalled to the England squad to play Ireland in the Six Nations at Twickenham on Saturday after Joe Launchbury was ruled out by a hamstring strain, the Rugby Football Union said on Wednesday.

England's Courtney Lawes arrives at Queenstown airport September 14, 2011. REUTERS/STEFAN WERMUTH

Lawes was the only member of the squad who beat Italy last time out to be dropped, being replaced by centre Elliot Daly.

Coach Eddie Jones will name his starting team on Thursday, with Maro Itoje, who impressed off the bench on debut in Rome, possibly in line for his first international start in the second row alongside George Kruis.

Ireland’s O’Brien ruled out of England Six Nations game

February 16, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Ireland flanker Sean O’Brien will miss their next Six Nations match against England at Twickenham due to a hamstring injury, coach Joe Schmidt said on Monday.

Rugby Union - France v Ireland - RBS Six Nations Championship 2016 - Stade de France, St Denis, France - 13/2/16Ireland’s Sean O'Brien sustains an injuryAction Images via Reuters / Andrew BoyersLivepic

Winger Dave Kearney is also very doubtful for the game on Feb. 27 with a shoulder injury and lock Mike McCarthy (concussion) and centre Jared Payne (hamstring) are also struggling to be fit.

Flyhalf Johnny Sexton, however, should be available after recovering from a whiplash injury.

“He is feeling a lot better,” Schmidt told the Irish Rugby Football Union website (www.irishrugby.ie).

Ireland, Six Nations champions for the last two years, drew with Wales in their opener and lost 10-9 in France on Saturday.

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