The Ireland team react at fulltime. Andrew Fosker/INPHO

Ireland left stretched by 6/2 split as Twickenham roars into life again

Andy Farrell’s side profited from the risky bench move against France and Wales but were left exposed in Twickenham.

IT WAS ALWAYS likely Andy Farrell’s move to a 6/2 bench split would leave Ireland in a difficult position at some stage in this Six Nations, and today that moment arrived with less than five minutes played at Twickenham.

Ireland had never been more heavily fancied to win in London, so it was no surprise to see England fly out of the blocks once the anthems were done in southwest London. As Ollie Lawrence ran in the opening try, Calvin Nash lay in a heap on the turf, the Ireland winger seeing his first visit to Twickenham cut short by a thumping hit from Tommy Freeman.

Off went Nash, and suddenly Ireland’s 6/2 split came into sharp focus. With Conor Murray and Ciarán Frawley the two backline options available to Farrell, Frawley was sent it to play fullback as Hugo Keenan relocated to the wing.

This is the risk that comes with naming six forwards on bench, but up to this point Ireland had reaped all the rewards without experience a single bump on the road.

calvin-nash-receives-treatment Calvin Nash was forced off early in the first half. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Farrell used the 6/2 split for the first time against France last month and on the opening night in Marseille his six replacement forwards brought real punch as the visitors finished over the top of their hosts. When Farrell returned to the idea for the round three meeting with Wales, Ireland’s bench again made a notable impact as Farrell’s men eventually powered to another bonus-point win.

Given its success to date Farrell was always likely to lean towards the temptation of rolling that dice again in London this weekend, and the former England player and coach did so fully aware that some day, that gamble would leave his team thrown into a real pressure situation.

Here it took the form of facing into 75 minutes of rugby with just one recognised winger on the pitch, a specialist fullback on the right flank and a player winning just his fourth Test cap coming into fullback against a team who love to kick.

Across an absorbing first half, Ireland weathered that storm, not only limiting the damage but somehow taking the lead into the break.

In the opening 35 minutes Ireland clocked up stats we rarely see with this team – England enjoying 67% of the territory and 57% of the possession while keeping Ireland tryless.

Yet the only numbers that count read in the visitors’ favour: England 8-12 Ireland, Jack Crowley kicking four penalties as Ford – who missed his conversion attempt after the Lawrence try – added one three-pointer.

After an agressive, purposeful first-half display from England, Ireland were blessed to be in the ascendancy. 

Then the picture became further complicated. After Ireland pushed clear through a stunning team try finished by James Lowe they were forced into another backline reshuffle as Frawley left the action for a HIA, the fullback taking a bang as England summoned an immediate response through George Furbank.

Now the real fun started, Conor Murray coming on at scrum-half as Jamison Gibson-Park was deployed to the wing. Frawley’s early exit meant Ireland would head into the final half hour with no backs left on their bench and their tempo-setting nine stranded on the fridges of the play. At least Keenan got to slot back into the more familiar surroundings of fullback.

jamison-gibson-park-and-maro-itoje Jamison Gibson-Park played the last half hour on the wing. Andrew Fosker / INPHO Andrew Fosker / INPHO / INPHO

The danger that comes with the 6/2 had slapped Ireland in the face, but Farrell had yet to send in the cavalry who have made the tactic such a profitable development for this team.

Just after the hour mark the first wave entered, with Rónan Kelleher, Finlay Bealham, Iain Henderson and Jack Conan all shredding their tracksuit tops. By that point Ireland were chasing the game, Ben Earls muscling over moments after Peter O’Mahony had been sent to the bin. O’Mahony wouldn’t return, Ryan Baird taking his place once the Ireland’s captain’s 10-minute break ended.

With 10 left to play Baird chopped into a tackle as Ireland won a huge penalty on halfway, Crowley then measuring his kick to the corner perfectly.

Cian Healy, the final member of Ireland’s six reserve forwards, entered the fray just in time for a crucial Ireland opportunity in the England 22, as the game rolled into a breathless closing chapter.

Ireland won the lineout and moved the ball across the pitch expertly, Henderson, Crowley and Gibson-Park swinging sweet passes under pressure before Lowe dived over in the corner again. Impact made, Crowley’s missed conversion kept England within touching distance.

james-lowe-scores-his-second-try-despite-marcus-smith Lowe finished two brilliant team tries. Andrew Fosker / INPHO Andrew Fosker / INPHO / INPHO

Elliot Daly tried his luck from distance after Henderson was pinged for not rolling away, but the Saracens man couldn’t hit the target.

Ireland continued to hang on, England butchering another chance in the 22 before Henderson swept in to reclaim possession, before the same player was strong to gobble up a Kelleher lineout under serious pressure in the air.

With two to go, Conan received treatment for a shoulder injury as England prepared to go to the well again.

Steve Borthwick’s men drove forward, piling towards the tryline with the clock entering the red. With penalty advantage the ball was slung back to Marcus Smith, England’s own super-sub winning the game with a last-gasp drop goal.

On a day where Ireland found their backs against the wall for the first time in this championship, England summoned their best performance of the year to snatch a deserved win.

It might just be the victory which finally sparks the Borthwick era into life.

Ireland still have a championship to play for when Scotland come to Dublin next week, but a gripping evening in Twickenham saw the dream of back-to-back Grand Slams slip into the London night. 

Post-game, Farrell outlined he had no regrets about how the 6/2 split worked out on the day. We’ll get a better indication of his true feelings when he names his team to face Scotland.

The 6/2 split didn’t lose the game for Ireland, but the way this contest unfolded will certainly give the Ireland coaching team extra food for thought in their selection meetings next week.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel