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Fate takes a dim view of Ireland’s 6-2 bench gamble

Ireland forced to spend much of the game at Twickenham with a reshuffled backline due to early backline injuries

Fate occasionally takes a dim view of a gamble no matter how calculated or reasoned the logic. Ireland head coach Andy Farrell opted for a six-two split on the bench with just Ciarán Frawley and Conor Murray as cover if a backline reshuffle was enforced rather than a proactive choice. The hope in those circumstances is that there is minimal disruption.

By the 50th minute, Ireland’s backline options were exhausted, as injury claimed a second victim. Six fit Irish forwards sitting in tracksuits, primed and ready to be then joined by two injured backs that the visitors could ill afford to lose.

The first setback was when Ireland’s left wing Calvin Nash shot out of the line in pursuit of a man-and-ball tackle on Tommy Freeman, he rolled the dice and it came up ‘crap’ for him in every respect. Technique was sacrificed. Nash got his head in the wrong place and was left prone following the collision.

He was brave, committed but undone by the England wing who not only survived the contact but was able to continue on his way in a movement that ultimately culminated in a try for England centre Ollie Lawrence.


Nash, following treatment, departed for a Head Injury Assessment (HIA) which he failed. Just six minutes had elapsed when Frawley was summoned. Hugo Keenan moved to the left wing where he played before at age-grade level and in the formative days of his Test match career.

There was initially a little movement as Frawley and Keenan swapped between defending on the wing and at fullback before the Skerries native took on the latter role on a permanent basis.

The key for Ireland now was going to be communication between Frawley, Keenan, James Lowe and outhalf Jack Crowley when he dropped into the backfield at a time when the visitors were struggling to find a rhythm and flow to their game.

Twice around the half an hour mark Frawley rose to catch high balls, the second of which for a mark offered his side a respite and a chance to draw breath. Keenan didn’t miss a beat with his new role, and he combined with Robbie Henshaw to avert a try scoring chance, forcing George Furbank into a knock-on.

Keenan’s brilliant catch from a Jamison Gibson-Park box-kick was the jumping off point for James Lowe’s first try. Jack Crowley’s timing of the pass to Doris was exquisite, and from there good hands allowed Frawley to give Lowe the scoring pass.

Ireland, having been second best for most of the half, led 12-8 at the interval, but were going to need a smidgen of good fortune on the injury front. That deserted them on 50-minutes just after Furbank’s England try.

Frawley had picked up an ankle knock about 90-seconds beforehand and was a little hampered as he tried to stop the English fullback. Frawley ran down the tunnel; unfortunately for his team he walked back up it five minutes later, clutching a tracksuit, his match over.

Another reshuffle, Gibson Park, moved to the wing, where he did brilliantly. The Ireland team showed great commitment and courage to force a winning position with Lowe’s second try but as they tried to muster one last defensive set with players having to realign on the fly, England manufactured a killer riposte to snatch the victory. They were the better side for much of the game.

Sometimes it has nothing to do with the tactical or technical. The cards fell the wrong way for Ireland. That’s sport.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer