James Haskell insists Ireland "got away with a lot" in England’s 19-9 Six Nations defeat at the Aviva Stadium but can only admire the champions’ canny approach.
The Grand Slam has eluded Stuart Lancaster’s men for a fourth successive year and they must hope Joe Schmidt’s unbeaten side slip up in their fixtures against Wales and Scotland to keep them relevant to the title race.
Outwitted tactically and outmuscled, subdued England must also examine the brainless indiscipline that played into the hands of the new tournament favourites and that will dominate a frosty debrief this week.
Lancaster and captain Chris Robshaw looked inwards for criticism, refusing to blame referee Craig Joubert, and his fellow back-row forward Haskell also had no complaints despite believing Ireland had challenged the boundaries of the law.
“Ireland got it right because you’ve got to play the referee and the conditions,” Haskell said. “They got the rub of the green. It’s not about being streetwise, it’s about playing right on the edge and seeing what you can get away with. And I think Ireland got away with a lot. We were trying to meet that physical confrontation, but discipline at the breakdown was difficult. I don’t think any decisions really went our way in that area. Ireland imposed themselves very well.”
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen was at Lansdowne Road and will have left with the impression it is the team coached by his compatriot Joe Schmidt and not the tournament hosts who will mount Europe’s most meaningful challenge to his world champions. Said Haskell: “There are days you enjoy and then some pretty long afternoons when it doesn’t go well at all. This was one of those days.”
England were kicked into submission after Ireland put boot to ball on 44 occasions, 17 times more than their opponents, and Haskell believes they should continue with an approach serving them well. “I think you can kick your way to a Grand Slam. If it works and it’s effective, then you can do what you like to get a Grand Slam,” Haskell said. “We knew exactly what was going to happen, but it’s one thing to know, another to deal with it.”
Meanwhile Ireland’s build-up to their RBS 6 Nations trip to Wales in 12 days received a welcome boost with the news Johnny Sexton suffered only a minor hamstring injury in Sunday’s victory over England.
The Irish management issued the briefest of medical bulletins yesterday following another bruising campaign in this year’s championship, which saw Sean O’Brien and Jared Payne concussed and Sexton withdrawn in the 52nd minute having suffered a “twinge in his hamstring”, according to head coach Joe Schmidt, as he took the conversion which sent Ireland into a 19-3 lead. The fly-half may well have to play for his club Racing Metro in the Top 14 against Grenoble this Saturday with Sexton understood to be already back in Paris as his squad mates prepare for an overnight camp in Belfast beginning tomorrow.
As for O’Brien, understood to have clashed heads with England’s George Ford, prompting his removal from the field after 25 minutes, was yesterday described as “much improved” and the IRFU said the Lions back rower had started the graded return to play protocols for concussion sufferers, likewise Payne, withdrawn in the 70th minute at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday. Wales, meanwhile, have released a dozen players from Warren Gatland’s squad back to their regions for this weekend’s Guinness Pro12 matches, all against Irish provinces. All will re-join the national squad on Monday ahead of Gatland’s team announcement the following day.
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