Ireland made it three wins from three in the 2015 Six Nations with a ten point win over rivals England. Robbie Henshaw’s 52nd minute try was the crucial score of a brutally physical game. His acrobatic effort in scoring the game’s only try, following Conor Murray’s kick announced Henshaw to a world audience and propelled Ireland to the top of the Six Nations table.
The home side started the game the better with Simon Zebo seemingly everywhere in attack and defence. Zebo’s take from a Jonny Sexton restart particularly eye catching.
It was evident in the early minutes what kind of game plan Ireland were going to employ with Sexton and Murray peppering the England back three with Garryowen’s and box kicks.
This tactic was successful in parts but was also overdone and proved aimless at times with England coping better with the tactic as the game wore on. Alex Goode and Anthony Watson both looking dangerous on the counter attack.
Before the game the scrum was seen as a weakness for Ireland and as a massive positive for England. Jack McGrath was under extreme pressure for his place with Cian Healy’s return but he put in his best performance in a green shirt.
McGrath, Rory Best and Mike Ross more than coped at scrum time and until the last quarter of the game were on top in that area.
Once again the key for Ireland winning this game though was Jonny Sexton. Outside of the earlier mention of overusing the Garryowen, Sexton was sensational for the 50 minutes he was in the game.
His withdrawal due to a hamstring is an injury concern as Ireland are nowhere near as good without him in the team. From his razor sharp pass to his outstanding defensive intensity, Sexton is invaluable to this team.
Outside of Sexton it was Robbie Henshaw who stole the show. He was rewarded for his outstanding work throughout the game with the match winning try but everything the Athlone born man did in the 80 minutes showed how bright his future is.
At 21 years of age the world is his oyster and he looks to have the wherewithal to cope with what is ahead.
One of Joe Schmidt’s and the Irish squad’s biggest strengths is their squad. Munster’s Tommy O’Donnell is a prime example of this. He started against Italy and capped a solid performance with a superb try. He then found himself out of the 23 man squad for the French game and only returned thanks to Jamie Heaslip’s injury.
O’Donnell came on to the pitch after 25 minutes with Sean O’Brien having to leave the game injured. It is a measure of his performance after his introduction that O’Brien’s loss wasn’t noticed. O’Donnell was everywhere. He hit nearly every ruck, put in massive hits and carried the ball powerfully.
Paul O’Connell as usual led the way in defence for Ireland but was ably assisted by Jordi Murphy, Rory Best, Peter O’Mahony, Henshaw and O’Donnell. Henshaw led the way for Ireland defensively with 13 tackles. England threw everything they had at the Irish defence but could not make a dent in the wall.
England will be frustrated with 13 penalties conceded but that was mainly down to the intensity of Ireland’s work at the breakdown. No doubt Joe Schmidt will have identified many areas to improve on after the performance but he has even given himself the day off after this victory.
Ireland thoroughly deserved the win against England and can look forward to a well-deserved couple of days off before preparation for the trip to face Wales in the Millennium Stadium begins.
They will go there with confidence but will face an improving Welsh side in a game that could be the Six Nations decider.
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