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Dublin: 13°C Thursday 13 May 2021

O'Brien shows up strongly as Wolfhounds stutter to Saxons defeat

A highly-anticipated encounter ultimately failed to excite as the English side came away with a win.

Ireland Wolfhounds 9

England Saxons 18

Murray Kinsella reports from Musgrave Park

JOE SCHMIDT WAS hoping to see a number of Six Nations hopefuls put their hands up for Six Nations selection, but a frustrating night in Cork meant limited opportunities for individuals to do so.

Sean O'Brien runs at Thomas Waldrom O'Brien made a strong start on his return from injury. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

A hugely restrictive refereeing performance from Welshman Neil Hennessy was unhelpful, but Ireland’s Wolfhounds will be disappointed with their inability to attack or defend in a cohesive fashion.

Perhaps of most importance ahead of the Six Nations, Sean O’Brien delivered a strong 51-minute display at openside flanker before being replaced, and he looks a live contender for next weekend’s trip to Italy.

The Leinster back row was excellent around the breakdown and made himself busy when Ireland did manage to string phases together on a chilly evening at Musgrave Park. Schmidt will dissect the game in minute detail to weight up the selection claims of others.

England were well worth their win, finishing with a Christian Wade try in the closing minute after impressive out-half Henry Slade had crossed the whitewash in the first half.

The overly-fussy refereeing from Hennessy was part of a stuttering first 40 minutes, but Schmidt will have been unhappy with the Wolfhounds’s failure to put together meaningful attacking passages.

There were at least hugely positive early signs from O’Brien as the returning Leinster flanker won a turnover penalty in the first minute after a thumping Dominic Ryan hit on Sam Burgess.

Craig Gilroy Craig Gilroy was lively with ball in hand. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Outside centre Keith Earls was similarly impressive in his first action, spinning out of a tackle and powering through another to demonstrate his athleticism.

It was England who drew first blood, however, out-half Slade crossing near the right-hand corner with 23 minutes gone. It was the Exeter man who had directed a sharp multi-phase attack from the Saxons to put them in position to strike, as he initiated the momentum with a half break off Burgess’ screen pass.

Matt Kvesic and Rob Webber surged forward in midfield and into the Irish 22, before Elliot Daly almost barrelled over in the corner. Scrum-half Dickson moved the ball snappily to find Slade running into a gaping hole in Ireland’s fringe defence.

Slade was wide with the conversion, but made amends soon after with a penalty. That score came after a handling mix up between Ian Madigan and Gordon D’Arcy in the middle of the pitch, the former then being penalised for holding on after he scrambled to clean up.

Slade’s 45-metre strike sent the Saxons 8-0 ahead.

There was more poor handling down the left-hand side from Ireland within minutes, D’Arcy and Earls sending innaccurate passes out the line to waste a promising visit into English territory.

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From the subsequent scrum, Chris Ashton attempted to break out from the Saxons 22, but Hennessy pinged the visitors for crossing and Madigan finally got the Wolfhounds off the mark with a penalty.

Sam Burgess and Mike Ross Sam Burgess had a mixed evening for the Saxons. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

There was time for Slade to extend the English lead before the break, punishing Mike McCarthy for a no-arms hit on Dave Ewers that saw the Leinster lock forced off the pitch with a head injury.

Slade’s strike left the Saxons 11-3 to the good, an advantage that was hard to argue as anything other than deserved.

The second half began in similarly stop-start fashion, although the increasingly threatening Daly gave Ireland a scare with a break outside Keith Earls near the half-way line. The centre’s kick ahead came to nothing.

Ireland did manage to assert some scrum dominance at least, but their next score came from the breakdown. Hennessy caught England going off their feet, and Madigan slotted the penalty to draw the score back to 11-6.

It was the scrum that allowed Ireland to narrow that lead again in the 56th minute, Madigan on target with his third strike of the evening for 11-9.

However, linout malfunctions and some poor kicking from Ireland meant there remained a frustrating lack of flow to the game, while the raft of substitutions from the 50th minute onwards.

England wrestled back parity at the scrum in the final quarter, and looked the far more likely to score again, but the closing exchanges were played out in the middle third of the pitch as the Musgrave Park crowd were starved of the excitement they craved.

The English did finish strongly, Wade darting over from close range after a late period of England pressure to ensure the Wolfhounds ended with further disappointment.

Wolfhounds scorers:

Penalties: Ian Madigan [3 from 3]

Saxons scorers:

Tries: Henry Slade, Christian Wade

Conversions: Henry Slade [1 from 2]

Penalties: Henry Slade [2 from 2], Elliot Daly [0 from 1]

WOLFHOUNDS: Felix Jones (capt.); Fergus McFadden (Andrew Conway ’13), Keith Earls, Gordon D’Arcy, Craig Gilroy (Noel Reid ’73); Ian Madigan, Kieran Marmion (Isaac Boss ’55); Jack McGrath (Michael Bent ’59), Richardt Strauss (Rob Herring ’52), Mike Ross (Nathan White ’53); Iain Henderson, Mike McCarthy (Robbie Diack ’40); Dominic Ryan, Sean O’Brien (Eoin McKeon ’52), Jack Conan.

SAXONS: Chris Pennell; Chris Ashton, Elliot Daly, Sam Burgess 9Ollie Devoto ’73), Marland Yarde (Christian Wade ’51); Henry Slade, Lee Dickson (capt.) (Joe Simpson ’63); Matt Mullan (Alex Waller ’51), Rob Webber (Luke Cowan Dickie ’51), Henry Thomas (Jake Cooper-Woolley ’73); Matt Garvey (Carl Fearns ’73), James Gaskell (Maro Itoje ’16); Dave Ewers, Matt Kvesic, Thomas Waldrom.

Referee: Neil Hennessy [Wales].

Attendance: 8,200.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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