James Crombie/INPHO

As it happened: Ireland Wolfhounds v England Saxons, A International

We were at Musgrave Park for a fixture which marked the start of a busy period of international rugby.

ALL EYES were on Sean O’Brien tonight as he made his much-awaited return from injury as the Ireland Wolfhounds faced the England Saxons in Cork.

With the Six Nations just around the corner, Joe Schmidt has made it clear there are places up for grabs and tonight’s fixture at Musgrave Park gave those on the periphery the chance to impress.

Good evening and welcome to The42′s coverage of tonight’s A International between Ireland Wolfhounds and England Saxons from Musgrave Park, Cork. Kick-off is at 7.45pm.

Never has there been such interest surrounding a Wolfhounds game but with the Six Nations just a week away, tonight’s fixture represents the last chance for Joe Schmidt to cast his eye over those on the fringes of selection.

Munster’s Felix Jones captains a very strong Irish selection which includes Sean O’Brien. The flanker makes his long-awaited comeback after a 14-month lay-off and while Rome may come too soon for him, there are others involved tonight that will hope to catch the eye and work their way into Schmidt’s thoughts.

Before we run down both teams for tonight, there is big news coming from Musgrave Park where there has been a late change to the Wolfhounds side:

With that late change, here is confirmation of the Wolfhounds side:

15. Felix Jones (captain), 14. Fergus McFadden, 13. Keith Earls, 12. Gordon D’Arcy, 11. Craig Gilroy, 10. Ian Madigan, 9. Kieran Marmion, 1. Jack McGrath, 2. Richardt Strauss, 3. Mike Ross, 4. Iain Henderson, 5. Mike McCarthy, 6. Dominic Ryan, 7. Sean O’Brien, 8. Jack Conan.

Replacements: 16. Rob Herring, 17. Michael Bent, 18. Nathan White, 19. Robbie Diack, 20. Eoin McKeon, 21. Isaac Boss, 22. Noel Reid, 23. Andrew Conway.

What do you make of that side? And, who, if anyone, is in contention to start in Rome next Saturday?

And, here is the visitors’ line-up for the game. The Saxons have plenty of international experience in their ranks with Sam Burgess set to be the cynosure of all eyes on his debut.

15. Chris Pennell (Worcester Warriors), 14. Chris Ashton (Saracens), 13. Elliot Daly (Wasps), 12. Sam Burgess (Bath Rugby), 11. Marland Yarde (Harlequins), 10. Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs), 9. Lee Dickson (captain) (Northampton Saints), 1. Matt Mullan (Wasps), 2. Rob Webber (Bath Rugby), 3. Henry Thomas (Bath Rugby), 4. Matt Garvey (Bath Rugby), 5. James Gaskell (Wasps), 6. Dave Ewers (Exeter Chiefs), 7. Matt Kvesic (Gloucester Rugby), 8. Thomas Waldrom (Exeter Chiefs).

Replacements: 16. Luke Cowan Dickie (Exeter Chiefs), 17. Alex Waller (Northampton Saints), 18. Jake Cooper-Woolley (Wasps), 19. Maro Itoje (Saracens), 20. Carl Fearns (Bath), 21. Joe Simpson (Wasps), 22. Ollie Devoto (Bath Rugby), 23. Christian Wade (Wasps).

Dan McFarland is in charge of the Wolfhounds this evening as Musgrave Park stages its first game since the €3.2 million redevelopment of the Cork venue.

Dan McFarland James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

England open their Six Nations campaign this day next week with a trip to Cardiff. Stuart Lancaster is among those in the crowd this evening keeping a close eye on proceedings.

Stuart Lancaster James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

There’s less than half an hour until kick-off but to pass the time why don’t you browse some of our pre-match offerings:

Just a couple of minutes until kick-off at Musgrave Park. What are your predictions for tonight’s game? Will the Wolfhounds be too strong or will Sam Burgess inspire the Saxons to a win in Cork?

England emerge from the new Musgrave Park changing rooms before Felix Jones leads the Wolfhounds out on a bitterly cold evening in Cork.

The visitors get us under way as Ireland begin on the front foot with some territory in the Saxons half.

Sean O’Brien into the thick of the action straight away with a turnover at the first breakdown. The Wolfhounds have started positively with Madigan seeing plenty of the ball early doors.

After several phases in the Saxons 22, Gordon D’Arcy is penalised for holding on but the replays suggest Thomas Waldrom was fortunate to get away with a high tackle on the Leinster centre. The referee is Neil Hennessy from Wales.

The Wolfhounds are yet to click in these opening stages despite some promising positions. The hosts steal one against the head before some fisticuffs between Sean O’Brien and Chris Ashton.

It’s been a very stop-start opening to this game. The referee is penalising both sides at the breakdown and he’s had stern words with Lee Dickson.

Another injury blow for the Wolfhounds and a worrying sign for Joe Schmidt as Fergus McFadden is forced off with Andrew Conway, who wasn’t even in the original squad, on to take his place.

The Saxons get their hands on the ball for the first time but it breaks down as Sam Burgess’ loose ball goes into touch. England have been forced to make a change now with James Gaskell replaced by Saracens’ Maro Itoje.

Kieran Marmion’s box-kick causes a moments hesitation from Marland Yarde as the winger lets the ball bounce and from the resulting line-out, Ireland steal another one against the head.

But, Iain Henderson is then penalised for coming in from the side. Both sides have been extremely indisciplined in the opening twenty minutes. There is no fluidity to the game thus far.

TRY! Henry Slade 

After the referee has a word with both captains, the Saxons keep hold of possession from another messy scrum and several phases later, Slade crosses the line as Ireland are stretched in defence.

That was a flowing move from the Saxons and Ireland had no answer. It was the first time either side had managed to put a string of passes together and after the space had been created on the right, Slade had the formality of diving over. The conversion is missed.

Penalty! Wolfhounds 0-8 Saxons

Slade brings his and his sides’ tally to eight points with a sweetly struck penalty from halfway. The Exeter out-half has a lovely left boot and he punished Ireland there for more indiscipline at the breakdown.

Again Ireland fail to build upon a good platform created by Iain Henderson’s line break. Slade gives the Wolfhounds another opportunity to put some pressure on the wall of white shirts with a careless kick that goes out on the full.

The error count rises, however, as possession slips from O’Brien’s grasp in the tackle before D’Arcy knocks-on.

Penalty! Wolfhounds 3-8 Saxons

After a period of sustained pressure on the Saxons line, Madigan gets the opportunity to reduce the deficit with a penalty slightly to the left of the posts. Chris Ashton was penalised for crossing and Ireland are on the board with a couple of minutes until the interval.

The Saxons have the chance to restore their eight point advantage straight away but a long-range effort from Elliot Daly falls just short.

Huge hit from Mike McCarthy on Dave Ewers and both men need a bit of treatment. Ewers seems to be OK and has got back to his feet but McCarthy is being helped off the field by the medics for what looks like a concussion assessment.

Penalty! Wolfhounds 3-11 Saxons

The last action of the half sees Slade increase England’s advantage with a penalty from just left of the posts.

The Wolfhounds made a promising start but a series of errors undermined their efforts, particularly in attack, and England have made them pay. O’Brien has had an encouraging half with the flanker very effective at the breakdown.

The second-half has kicked-off.

Couple of minutes into the second 40 and it’s been a lot brighter than the first-half. The Saxons wasted a good opportunity to stretch the Irish defence again but Daly decides to kick instead of throwing it out wide.

Mike McCarthy didn’t return for the second-half and Ulster’s Robbie Diack has taken his place. Ian Madigan now has a chance to reduce the arrears with a penalty on-front of the posts.

Penalty! Wolfhounds 6-11 Saxons

No mistake from Madigan after England were penalised by the referee at the breakdown.

Henry Slade has scored all of England’s points thus far.

Henry Slade scores a try James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Couple of changes now being made by the Wolfhounds with Richard Herring, Nathan White and Eoin McKeon on for Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross and O’Brien.

Penalty! Wolfhounds 9-11 Saxons

Madigan is proving last week’s performance at the Ricoh Arena was nothing more than a blip with a perfectly executed penalty from the left, 35 metres out.

Just two points in it now as we reach the hour mark. Ireland aren’t having to do much but are profiting from the Saxons’ indiscipline and the string of penalties that are coming their way.

As both sides empty their benches, the error count continues to rise. The crowd try and keep themselves entertained with a rendition of The Fields of Athenry.

The mess at scrum time is ruining what promised to be a fascinating game. Every time either side look like stringing something together, the referee’s whistle goes or an error results in another scrum.

Chris Ashton looks to break down the right but the pass to him is poor and he knocks-on. Jack McGrath’s evening is over with Michael Bent coming on for the final fifteen minutes.

Much better for Ireland as good hands from Diack keeps a period of pressure alive. Madigan is trying to orchestrate proceedings but the wall of white shirts are standing firm.

Boss makes the break to build a solid platform for the hosts and after picking holes in the Saxons defence, another knock-on, this time from Bent, leads to the move breaking down.

Ashton counters quickly and after putting Gilroy under pressure, the Ulster winger is forced off with a nasty knock to just below his eye.

Diack steals the Saxons line-out again to relieve the pressure but time is ticking for Ireland with the deficit still three points.

It’s all still very scrappy as we enter the final five minutes. Ireland are looking to mount a late onslaught in search of a try to snatch victory here. Just when it seems the Wolfhounds are gaining some forward momentum, they’re pushed backwards by a sturdy England defence.

Isaac Boss has make a big impression since coming on. He’s made several darting breaks and his latest box-kick causes Yarde some problems but again there is a knock-on.

Try! Christian Wade

And that’s that. The Saxons recycle possession from a rare line-out win and after going from side-to-side, Slade’s pop-pass creates the opening for Slade to dart in and touch down. The Exeter out-half adds the extras to seal a 18-9 win for the visitors.

Hugely disappointing result and performance from the Ireland Wolfhounds and it’s been a case of several players not seizing their opportunity. Dominic Ryan, Iain Henderson and O’Brien were the stand-out performers in green and will have done their chances no harm for Rome while Madigan’s kicking from the tee was faultless.

In pics: Paul O’Connell and the Ireland squad trained at the Aviva today

Here’s what the redeveloped RDS will look like after its €20 million makeover

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