Monday review: Twickenham tweaks required to take Slam


Ireland are now one game away from just a third Grand Slam in the history of the Six Nations.


Centre of excellence

With Jared Payne out of action for the foreseeable future, Robbie Henshaw’s responsibility in the green jersey has increased significantly in the past six months. When he was forced off the field against Italy, it was rightly deemed a huge blow for Joe Schmidt’s gameplan. Two games later and such concerns are barely audible.

Chris Farrell took the man of the match award against Wales, while for many, his replacement Garry Ringrose should have followed suit against Scotland. Rob Kearney took the official award, but the Leinster centre was instrumental throughout, making 12 carries, 12 tackles, beating five defenders and carrying for 92 metres.

Even the basics are done well.

In the opening quarter he drew in a Scottish defender before passing to Keith Earls. The in-form Munster man should have done better with the time and space afforded, but his pass was flung too high for the waiting Jacob Stockdale.

Blessed with speed and the eye for a gap, he soon left the Scots trailing in his wake of a set-piece move.

Murray takes the ball at the base of the scrum with Ringrose directly behind the scrum-half
The move shifts back to the right and to Ringrose who sees a space in the Scottish defence
The centre accelerates through the hole for a line break
RIngrose is eventually hauled down, though he has support from his half-backs

“I could have done with passing to Johnny inside me,” he acknowledged post-match. “He let me know, but I knew myself.”

Jacob Stockdale’s second try owed a great deal to the work of his team-mate in midfield. 

Ringrose tales the ball from Murray as first receiver
Ringrose feeds Bundee Aki before immediately looping behind for the return pass 
He now has Jacob Stockdale on the wing with one defender to beat as Rory Best stands up Scottish defender
His arrowed pass allows Stockdale in for his second try of the game

His opposite number Huw Jones was victim of the 23-year-old’s tricky footwork in both halves as he side-stepped out of would-be challenges.

Lest we forget it was only his seventh start of the season, so it was never going to be a blemish-free performance. On one occasion Jones looked to have slipped by, but dogged determination by Ringrose, aided by Stockdale, ensured he was bundled out over the sideline.

All in all, a fine day’s work for a player earning just his 12th Test cap.


Few teams are as comfortable in possession as Joe Schmidt’s well-drilled side. Critics may suggest that we should perhaps have a more cutting edge, but Test rugby is built on defence and keeping hold of the ball goes a long way towards achieving victory.

Ireland and England are the only two sides in the red on possession stats from the four games, with Ireland’s average of almost 66% out in front.

It also leads to sides becoming more desperate to win the ball back and Ireland are more than comfortable at kicking penalty goals or playing for territory.


There is little doubt in the opening four rounds of the tournament, Ireland have more of their star players in-form than any other country.

Jacob Stockdale is becoming the most prolific finisher since Tommy Bowe in his pomp, and his second intercept try in as many games was a real hammer blow to the Scots.

Tadhg Furlong and Cian Healy, for the 50 minutes he was on the pitch, were a class above their Scottish counterparts, and it was only their backrow that really broke even at the Aviva Stadium.

Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray head to Twickenham in fine fettle and one moment encapsulated their understanding together.

Sexton sees space behind the onrushing Scottish defence
The out-half gathers his own chip
Sexton off loads to the supporting Murray
The scrum-half evades the first Scottish challenge
Murray is finally halted close on the Scottish 22


Defensive lapses

Ireland have conceded the fewest points in the competition – just three points separate the top three teams – but again the defence was opened up on a number of occasions by Scotland.

The fact that the Scots only managed a single try will be a huge source of frustration to Gregor Townsend after they butchered a number of glaring opportunities to cross the whitewash.

Huw Jones fails to put away Stuart Hogg in a two-on-one scenario
A second half three-on-two chance goes begging

Ireland have shown vulnerabilities on occasions at the Aviva.

Italy profited once the game was over as a contest, while the Welsh simply couldn’t get enough of the ball to cause further damage on the scoreboard. Scotland too had their chances, and their only try came in a move straight off the training ground.

Scotland line their backs up on the openside
Rob Kearney bites in allowing Sean Maitland to put away Blair Kinghorn

Peter Horne showed up a slight mix-up in alignment and communication in the green defence in a second-half line break.

The Scottish inside centre takes the ball in midfield
He powers through a gap between Dan Leavy and Garry Ringrose
The Irish defence scrambles back

Andy Farrell will again be forensically analysing what the men in green can do to improve before next weekend’s finale at Twickenham.


There have been 224 penalties conceded in the Championship thus far, with Ireland’s miserly tally of 22 less than 10% of that overall figure. The Irish discipline is by far and away the best in the competition, so why are we talking about it in the negative sense against Scotland?

Quite simply, the sky-high standards Joe Schmidt has set in terms of discipline means that they hold themselves to a higher level of account.

Wayne Barnes penalised Ireland on nine occasions, which was more than the combined total in the two previous home games. Even in the pressure cooker environment of Paris, just six were coughed up.

Some of the turnovers came at the breakdown where the Scots have shown their mettle throughout the campaign.

Devin Toner goes to clearout the Scottish tackler Hamish Watson
Toner can’t dislodge the Scottish flanker and the visitors win the penalty
Rob Kearney can’t move the Scottish tackler and the ball is turned over

It should be noted however that Ireland still conceded four fewer turnovers (12) than their opponents on the day.

The hosts also rode their luck at times at the breakdown, with one penalty going in Peter O’Mahony’s favour at the start of the second half which could easily have gone the other way.

O’Mahony tackles Blair Kinghorn, but isn’t fully supporting his body weight with a hand on the ground

It’s often fine margins in this area of the game, but one which will no doubt be discussed in depth in Carton House this week.

Tricky start at lineout time

It was a shaky start for Ireland, losing two of the first three lineouts, but they enjoyed a 100% record from there on in, and ended up pinching four Scottish throw ins.

Still, the early darts will be a concern and a similar start at Twickenham could have a more significant impact.

The first throw evades the clutches of Peter O’Mahony
David Denton disrupts Peter O’Mahony 

That was as bad as it got, and indeed substitute Seán Cronin dived over from close range soon after his introduction, just 10 seconds after his own throw at the lineout.

Cronin would score of the subsequent driving maul


Cian Healy incident

Shortly before half-time Cian Healy took a blow to the head after coming into contact accidentally with Stuart Hogg’s elbow while attempting to tackle the Scottish full-back.

The Leinster prop was seen receiving attention during the subsequent long passage of play, but unsteadily got to his feet to try and help the Irish defensive line.

The Leinster hooker was wobbly, though it was the 50th minute before he was substituted. 

Thankfully the IRFU have confirmed that Healy is not a doubt to face England and will play a full part in training this week after a “stinger-like injury to the shoulder/trapezius area”, but it certainly made for uncomfortable viewing at the time.


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