Ireland’s creaking midfield duo left legless ahead of last waltz

Patrick McCarry

As we stood in the player’s gym at Twickenham, England captain Chris Robshaw paid vanquished Ireland every respect before turning his thoughts to his side’s ‘biggest challenge’. The Triple Crown dream is still alive for England and they have Wales in town next month. Robshaw and his teammates have revenge on their minds after their meek surrender at the Millennium Stadium last year.

With newspaper deadlines looming, just two Irish journalists were part of the mob that surrounded Robshaw. Our English counterparts asked the captain to extol on the virtues of Joe Launchbury — the Dave Kearney tap-tackler — and for his role in the Danny Care try that turned the tide. We asked him to explain how his team stymied Ireland’s rolling maul and who Brian O’Driscoll swapped his jersey with. It was Luther Burrell for those that have an interest in such matters.

Magic moments are required to beat England at Twickenham and, for that matter, to win Grand Slams. Rob Kearney’s try, just after half-time, seemed like one of those moments. It was but little followed. Craig Joubert allowed white jerseys to infiltrate Irish mauls so the visitors tried to work some space for their back three. Kearney hared 40 metres up the left flank but Launchbury pawed his ankle and the Leinster man went sprawling. Watching and waiting the whole time, however, was the excellent England fullback Mike Brown.

English papers, once you get past the Danny Boy headlines in honour of match-winner Care, are trumpeting their side’s youth seeing off Ireland’s experience. It is hard to argue. Of the Irish players that have multiple Twickenham wins on their CV, Rory Best stood out while Andrew Trimble plugged away on the right wing. The thirtysomethings — O’Driscoll, O’Connell, Ross and D’Arcy — looked just that.

Every backline player, it seems, wants one last duel with the ageing gunslinger, O’Driscoll. Billy Twelvetrees lined him up for some bone-shuddering tackles and Burrell weighed in with a couple of his own. Ireland’s greatest player and his midfield partner are still fine players and are giving their all for the cause. O’Driscoll’s was a mixed bag but for all his endeavour, D’Arcy delivered neither a line break or an offload to put a team-mate into space. It was a shame to see O’Driscoll — working to an obvious gameplan — grubber kicking so much possession away. Brown gobbled it up.

Gordon D'Arcy tackled by Dylan Hartley

Source: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

In their two games together in this championship, O’Driscoll and D’Arcy have been on the pitch for all but 90 seconds — the outside centre’s cramping calf saw him hobble off at Twickenham. There was a kick chase up the right flank in the second half that D’Arcy bust a lung to pursue. Andrew Trimble got their first, the ball bounced off Brown’s face into touch and then D’Arcy showed up. He is committed, he is a great at breakdowns and Joe Schmidt trusts him. He is also a yard off the pace. Many will call for Robbie Henshaw or Darren Cave to be paired with Luke Marshall in midfield for the Italy game but it is hard to imagine O’Driscoll missing his home soil swansong. D’Arcy may be placed in cold storage for a trip to Paris that could still prove to be the title decider.

The defeat to England, while not as galling, had similarities to the Australia game in November. Ireland had set plays and ran nice lines while the Wallabies’ back three played with turbo-charged abandon, beat their markers and threatened all evening. Brown, Jonny May and Jack Nowell did likewise. Ireland had the Sexton-Trimble cross-field kick, the Rob Kearney try, whatever O’Driscoll could muster and the rolling maul.

Schmidt, speaking after the match, acknowledged that England were a team clearly going places. If Ireland fail to act quickly, he said, ‘we will be scrambling to catch up’.

I left Twickenham after the women’s match and interviews with the stoical Alison Miller and tearful Lynne Cantwell. Walking out of the imposing stadium I passed the England Women’s dressing room. Pharrell Williams’ Happy was blasting out and the ladies, who won out 17-10, bounded around. They also have Wales, and a potential Triple Crown, next.

Jenny Murphy and Sophie Spence dejected after the game

Jenny Murphy and Sophie Spence console each other after a narrow defeat to England.

Source: ©INPHO/James Crombie

At 10pm at Twickenham Station, a late train to Waterloo was preparing to depart. A female Irish supporter in a green jersey rushed down the station steps, misjudged one near the end and fell in a heap. A rush of white jerseys bypassed her, in their haste, and a voice called out ’Let the police deal with her’. The Irish fan regained her feet, pride replaced pain and she made that train.

The Triple Crown is gone but the championship is within Ireland’s grasp. New blood and free spirits should do for Italy and leave Schmidt with a championship-decider in Paris. Expect O’Driscoll and D’Arcy to be back in tandem for the final dance. One can only hope it is not another slow waltz to doom.

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