Bruised Irish pick up the pieces

So much for three days off. When Ireland returned to training camp on Thursday, the physical pain and mental anguish caused by last Sunday’s 12-6 Six Nations defeat to England was still lingering.

To the broken bodies, already numbering Simon Zebo, Jonathan Sexton and Mike McCarthy as definite non-starters against Scotland in eight days, was yesterday added Gordon D’Arcy, ruled out for the rest of the RBS 6 Nations Championship with a foot injury.

D’Arcy had not been amongst the casualties on an already lengthy treatment list, also including his centre partner Brian O’Driscoll, lock Donnacha Ryan, and back row Sean O’Brien, in the wake of that Dublin defeat but the IRFU revealed the veteran number 12 had suffered a stress injury to a bone in his right foot.

Initially described as causing discomfort following the England game, the injury “failed to settle down” as Ireland prepared to train at Carton House on Thursday. The upshot of a scan that afternoon is that D’Arcy’s foot will require immobilisation in a boot for at least four weeks, keeping him out of action for six weeks in total. That is a timeframe which should mean he will be fit for Leinster’s Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final at London Wasps on April 4 but opens another vacancy in the Ireland line-up for the remaining three games of the championship, casting the audition net wider this weekend as Kidney’s assistants monitor provincial performances in the RaboDirect Pro12.

Injuries aside, the primary moods at Ireland’s two-day mini-camp which concluded yesterday were the nagging feeling that Declan Kidney’s team should have done much better against the English and a determination to rectify the situation in time for the trip to Murrayfield in eight days.

“There’s a bit of frustration in the camp, especially when we looked at the video and saw things we might have tidied up a bit,” prop Mike Ross said. “At the same time you can’t dwell on that too long, we’ve a new challenge next weekend and our focus is going to be on that.

“At the end of the day we lost by six points. Six points is not a huge amount but ... there were small things. Our kicking game could have been better. We lost a couple of lineouts. It was really hard to get territory during the game so when you got into the 22 you had to make it count.

“A couple of times we were in their half and lost the lineout so that made it difficult. We found getting across the gain-line quite difficult at times because they’ve a good defence. Conditions weren’t ideal so it wasn’t really the day for flinging it around so you really had to win your collisions and get across the gain-line but it’s a bit difficult to do that from your own 22.”

Ross is clear about the way forward when Ireland aim to get back in the championship title race with a victory over the Scots in Edinburgh.

“Do better? I think there are a couple of small things, like when we are in ouropponents’ half we have to execute our set-piece better. We have to make betterdecisions in contact.

“We’ve looked at it, a couple of times (scrum-half) Conor Murray was stuck in contact and we probably could have waited for him to come back into us, or sometimes our passes weren’t on the money and we put our out-half under pressure.”

Leinster’s resident Corkman is entitled to call it ashe sees it given his solidcontribution to an efficient scrummaging effort against an English pack which had demolished the Irish front row in his absence atTwickenham last March.

“Yeah, I mean you’d always sleep well if the scrum went okay,” Ross said. “We had 100 per cent return from our ball and they lost two of theirs so we’ll take that given what transpired 12 monthsprevious.

“We worked hard on itduring the week, if you don’t get it right against England you’re in for a long afternoon because it can function as oxygen for them if you give them penalties, gives them go forward, gives them belief.”

Ross sees no let-up next weekend against a side rejuvenated by a morale-boosting victory over Italy at Murrayfield last weekend, built on a strong pack performance freshly motivated by temporary forwards coach Dean Ryan and a speedy, strong-running back three.

“Scotland always had a good pack but it seems in the last few years they’ve acquired a pacey backline. They’ve Visser and Hogg at full-back, and we know about them from having played Edinburgh and Glasgow.

“They’ve a good, strong pack and they’ve skilful outside backs so it’s going to be another tough battle. It’s never an easy game.”

With a Grand Slam and Triple Crown already out of the question thanks to the England defeat, Ireland have to win their remaining games against Scotland, France and Italy if they are to have any hope of a first Six Nations title since the Slam success of 2009.

“There’s still a championship there,” Ross said. “I mean, France will probably come good at some juncture, they’re never as bad as the results would indicate.

“And hopefully that will be against England and not against us! “So it’s tight enough. There are four teams on two points and one team (England) on four points, and only France with no points. So it’s a pretty wide open championship and anything can happen at this stage.

“And I think it’s going to be very difficult for one side to do the Grand Slam.”

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