Ireland’s eyes on title but Farrell wants to see Twickenham improvement

<span>Andy Farrell and Caelan Doris celebrate after the win over Wales.</span><span>Photograph: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile/Getty Images</span>
Andy Farrell and Caelan Doris celebrate after the win over Wales.Photograph: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile/Getty Images

The rugby world will be in the unfamiliar position of wanting England to win in a fortnight. Scotland, in particular, will be wishing it hard. Ireland are six points clear of the field after three rounds, which means a bonus-point victory at Twickenham in round four would yield them the title, even before the visit of Scotland in round five. Just a win would all but guarantee it.

“It sets it up nicely,” said Andy Farrell, “because we’ve earned the right to get to that point. But going to Twickenham, everyone knows how difficult a task that is. We will certainly be looking forward to that after the fallow week.”

It is traditional at this point to say that team X will have to be better when they go to team Y next, but the truth is, Ireland will not really. They may not have been at their best against Wales in winning 31-7, but they were so much better than the team who ran England close in the previous round that they enjoy significant room for error.

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A bonus-point victory, their third from three, was secured with the last play of the game, but they played nearly half the second half with 14 men, courtesy of yellow cards for Tadhg Beirne and, in the last 10 minutes, James Ryan. The fact they appeared to wobble without ever leading by less than 10 tells its own story.

Much will depend on how England react to their defeat at Murrayfield. Farrell would not be drawn on what Ireland need to do to beat England. “We played against the same side [Wales] that played at Twickenham [in round two],” Ireland’s coach said. “So you could say that Wales played better here than they did at Twickenham, but we still found a way.

“It’s not as simple as saying we need to be better to win at Twickenham. Of course, we always want to play better, but the game is what it is, from minute one. For example, we’re winning the penalty count hands down at half-time and then all of a sudden within minutes of the second half, it has evened up. That could happen in two weeks’ time. The game takes its own shape, but there’s parts of our game we obviously need to improve. That’s never, ever going to be any different, but I suppose it won’t be for England either.”

It was amid that rush of penalties against Ireland at the start of the second half that Wales scored their only points, a penalty try from a Wales lineout and drive, which also saw Beirne receive the first of the yellow cards. One could say Wales were lucky to be awarded it – Farrell certainly had his doubts – but it was as close as they came to bothering their hosts.

Ireland scored from a lineout and drive themselves in the first half, then swung the ball this way and that for their second, finished by James Lowe. After their “wobble” at the start of the second half, they registered tries in the final quarter by Ciaran Frawley and Beirne.

Can anyone stop them? One thing we can say for sure. England will need to be better if they are to get even close.