Dan Sheehan injury a concern as Ireland complete home preparations

Hooker awaiting scans on a foot injury as Andy Farrell concedes the victorious performance against England was mixed

Dan Sheehan did not travel with the rest of the 38-man Ireland squad to Biarritz on Sunday in readiness for their final World Cup warm-up game against Samoa in Bayonne, pending an anxious wait for the results of scans on the foot injury which cast a cloud over Saturday’s 29-10 win against England.

The brilliant Irish hooker seemed to suffer the injury when volleying the ball on the full from a loose English lineout before limping out of the game in the 37th minute.

Andy Farrell seemed fairly sanguine about Rónan Kelleher’s wellbeing after his seasonal return was delayed by a hamstring strain, but sounded suitably concerned about Sheehan.

“Dan’s lost a bit of power in his foot. It seems to be the same old story,” said Farrell in reference to Jack Conan sustaining a similar injury in the win over Italy a fortnight ago, and which is likely to rule him out of next Saturday’s game along with Kelleher and David Kilcoyne.


Farrell and his assistants are likely to make some, if not wholesale, changes to what was close to a full-strength side against England featuring a dozen players making their first start of the season. He’s also mindful of the two-week break to Ireland’s opening pool game against Romania in Bordeaux.

“It just getting the right balance of who could do with the extra week or two as far as preseason is concerned; who could do with some more game time; what’s the likely team going forward against Romania and how that looks and trying to balance all that out.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” added Farrell of the coming week, not least the heat of south-west France and the 9pm kick-off in local time, matching three of Ireland’s four pool games.

“It’s a bit of a trial run for us next week in a lot of areas so that will be good for us.”

Ireland’s curate’s egg of a performance in extending their winning home run to 16 and registering a 24th victory in their last 26 Tests prompted a suitably mixed verdict from Farrell.

“I thought we played some good rugby at times, some ‘clunky’ stuff again. Certainly dropping the ball at the line under pressure seems to be a start-of- the-season type of thing, dealing with that type of stuff where you are right at the line and you know you are going to be hit and people snatching at it rather than having soft hands. There was a bit of that going on.

“But some of the tries that we scored I thought were super. We were nice and connected, everyone pushing at the line which obviously makes it hard for the defence to read.”

While delighted with the performances of his back three, Ireland’s lineout wobbled untypically under pressure, and were again pinged for double banking, although James Ryan pointed out that he was cleverly manoeuvred into that position by Maro Itoje.

Plenty for Paul O’Connell to work on in that area.

“I thought it was a good day for us, for our learning,” said Farrell. “England have a fantastic lineout defence, there is no getting away from that, so all credit to them. A few options that Paul won’t be best pleased with execution-wise but the best thing about today really was how we kept our nerve when things weren’t going too well and found our way back into that.

“Some of the calling from James [Ryan], in particular, and our execution in the second half was much better.”

On the flip side, England’s maul – which did some damage in the Grand Slam coronation last March – was largely becalmed by the Irish pack.

“It was a point we looked at as forwards heading into the game today,” said Ryan. “Steve Borthwick is one of the best lineout coaches in the world and their lineout drive is a huge part of their game. It was the same when he was coaching Leicester, it was very disappointing to concede that maul try here during the Six Nations so we definitely didn’t want to concede one today.

“I thought we were pretty good, good smarts, good intent with our maul D [defence]. It’s just such an important area heading into the World Cup and the opposition you will be facing, the drive is such a big part of the game.”

The experiment of playing Cian Prendergast at number eight was a moderate success. The Connacht backrow completed a mountain of work and atoned for having the ball ripped from him a second time with a big hit on Will Stuart before winning a turnover, and making positive contributions thereafter save for one loose kick.

Ireland went for the jugular after Billy Vunipola’s upgraded red card caused more disruption to England’s uninspiring World Cup build-up, and Ross Byrne teed up tries for the superb James Lowe and Mack Hansen, before Bundee Aki did likewise for Keith Earls to mark his 100th cap to finish his 36th try with a somersault flourish.

“He did well. He did well,” Farrell repeated of Byrne. “He’s very clear. He’s very good at running the week and very clear of what he wants from the players around him so therefore there’s good clarity. There’s people who can fit in around that, that can play their game around that. So, his control is very good.”

When he was asked how much Ireland were holding back, Farrell quipped with a broad smile: “Holding everything back. Write that down. Everything. We’ve not shown nothing. There’s so much up our sleeves, it’s frightening.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times