We’ve been here before. Dealing with an avalanche of injuries leading up to important games is not unchartered territory for Ireland.
Thankfully, the outcome of the Murrayfield experience was different. A further sign of Ireland’s progress under Andy Farrell.
What a difference 10-years makes. The implosion against Italy in the 2013 Six Nations ranks among our worst experiences ever. Luck was not on Ireland’s side as injury crisis stifled Ireland’s attacking set-up in Rome.
Keith Earls, Luke Marshall and Luke Fitzgerald all departed the action and Peter O’Mahony was handed the difficult task of operating on the wing. A square peg in a round hole, a quality player operating in an alien position.
Their talisman Brian O’Driscoll also spent 10 minutes in the sin bin which compounded Ireland’s adversity. It all culminated in a 22-15 defeat.
Argentina and Georgia examples
The capitulation against Italy isn’t a standalone example either. Let’s also reference Ireland’s 2015 world cup defeat at the hands of Argentina.
Ireland were without five high-profile players that day; Paul O'Connell, Johnny Sexton, Peter O'Mahony, Sean O'Brien and Jared Payne. All were sorely missed as Argentina won 43-20. Another quarter-final exit for those in green.
The recurring theme continued. It’s not so long ago that we’d Georgia on our minds for all the wrong reasons following the Autumn Nations cup clash in 2020.
Ireland were the minus the services of Johnny Sexton, Tadhg Furlong, Andrew Conway, Robbie Henshaw, and James Lowe that day. Such was reflected in an underwhelming performance which belied a 13-point win.
Strong criticism inevitably followed and the coaching ticket was questioned. Farrell has answered the sceptics in style, aided and abetted by capable personnel like performance coach Gary Keegan and forwards coach Paul O’Connell among others
insert hyperlink here to previous article on coaching ticket https://www.shannonside.ie/sport/column-cookes-six-nations-corner-2-219035
Keegan’s transformative influence has been evident throughout the Six Nations and has helped yield a more favourable outcome than previous scenarios above.
Ireland again were forced to deal with depleted resources during the toughest games against France and Scotland, yet won both games by a combined margin of 28 points.
Take the French game for instance. Three front-row forwards unavailable in Dan Sheehan and Tadhg Furlong along with test centurion Cian Healy. Additionally, top-class players like Jamison Gibson Park and Robbie Henshaw were ruled out but Ireland still emerged victorious.
The Scottish game was an even greater test of our mental fortitude however and bore a striking resemblance to the Italian nightmare 10 years ago.
Cian Healy was dealt a similar fate to O’Mahony, tasked with playing hooker following injuries to Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher. Josh Van der Flier wasn’t accustomed to taking lineout throws either, yet both players adapted impeccably to their new roles.
It’s not like Ireland hadn’t enough injury problems already. Caelan Doris was already in the treatment room along with Tadhg Beirne who’s ruled out for the remainder of the competition.
Ireland were 7-3 down when Doris and Sheehan departed the scene. Iain Henderson and Garry Ringrose would later compound Ireland’s injury woes, but Farrell’s men held Scotland scoreless for the remainder of the contest and ran out 15-point winners. Resilience personified!
The England game
At time of writing, Ringrose and Henderson are ruled out of the final Six Nations game against England. It remains unclear if Kelleher, Sheehan and Doris will be available for selection.
Robbie Henshaw, if match-fit is the best option to replace Ringrose at centre, while Ross Molony or Jean Kleyn could take Henderson’s place in the engine room.
Doris has been one of the best players in the competition, but Jack Conan is a strong auxiliary back row so no need to worry. Therein lies the embodiment of Ireland’s improving squad depth. Conan made the Lions squad two years ago but can’t make the first-string Irish side! Remarkable really!
England in disarray
Regardless of what happens, Ireland won’t fear Saturday’s opponents, who’ve all the hallmarks of a camp in disarray. Replacing Eddie Jones with Steve Borthwick as head coach is a decision that appears to have backfired. Eight wins from their last 16 Tests is testimony thereto.
The magnitude of their latest defeat was the lowest point. The French condemning England to a 43-point loss; their worst ever at Twickenham.
The World Cup is approximately six months away meaning Borthwick has minimal time to rectify matters. What’s equally concerning is that he doesn’t know his best out-half, the most important position on the pitch.
Marcus Smith was preferred to Owen Farrell for the French game, a move which surprised many but failed to reap dividends. Smith can’t be a scapegoat however as England were outmuscled in every department.
While victory can’t be taken for granted against England, Farrell’s men are still the favourites. For Ireland have been subjected to Murphy’s law in the sense that anything that could go wrong has gone wrong, yet they’re still finding ways to win.
Murphy also states that if everything’s going well, then you’ve overlooked something. That would also be correct, Ireland focus on opportunities instead of obstacles and should be rewarded with a Grand Slam title on St. Patrick’s weekend.