Last night, Andy Farrell said Ireland were still chasing the 2020 Guinness Six Nations title, despite their humbling defeat to England at Twickenham.
The head coach had said he was disappointed by Ireland’s first-half performance. They allowed England to jump into a 17-0 interval lead, but he was equally pleased with the way they battled back to a 24-12 final score, denying the home side a try bonus point.
Those second-half tries, from Robbie Henshaw and Andrew Porter, may have flattered Ireland on the scoreboard, but Farrell is certain those points may be vital in the final standings, next month.
Ireland next have a home game with Italy, on March 7, and go to Paris a week later to meet France, in the last game of the competition. Farrell believes his squad are still in the hunt for silverware, despite this first loss in the championship.
Asked about the impact of the Ireland replacements, who contributed to a late rally and the 80th-minute second try, Farrell said: “I thought they did really well. I thought we played some decent stuff toward the end, but, obviously, a little bit too late. You don’t want to be playing your best rugby when it is over, really. But, having said that, you look at the scoreline and it’s pretty important, isn’t it, that we get over for the try.
“As disappointed as we are, we’re still in a competition: we are. To lose by 12 points (is disappointing)....... we’ll be realistic and understand the reason why and we’ll take that apart and take our learnings from that. The reasons we want the learnings, and to make sure that type of first-half doesn’t happen again, is to make sure that we’re still in with a chance to win the competition. That’s the reality.
“We dust ourselves down; we won’t feel too sorry for ourselves for too long and look at the reality of stuff,” Farrell said. “We’ll see what we can do against Italy.
“If we can perform well, then, who knows? We’ll see if we can take it to the last weekend (against France). We’re still in a competition.”
Strong showings off the bench, from try-scorer, Porter, back-rower, Caelan Doris, and scrum-half, John Cooney, can only have enhanced their prospects of earning starts against Italy, at the Aviva, in 12 days’ time, but Farrell, with an extra week to plan, would not be drawn on potential changes to his starting line-up.
“We’ll see. We’ll see how people pitch-up and who needs a game. We’ve got people going back to their clubs, we’ve got a fallow week, and people will be refreshed anyway. We’ll assess this game and what’s best for the team,” Farrell said.
Ireland lost loosehead prop, Cian Healy, after 25 minutes, and although wing, Andrew Conway, was withdrawn for a head injury assessment, he could have returned to the game, but was kept off as a tactical substitution, as Ross Byrne stayed on, finishing at fly-half, with captain, Johnny Sexton, moving to inside centre.
As for Healy, in line for his 99th cap against Italy, Farrell said: “He jarred his hip and... he’ll have some scans somewhere and we’ll see how he goes.”