Rugby Union

Half backs struggling to get going for Ireland

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Irish fans may be starting to worry as the two most recent warm up games against Wales in Dublin and England at Twickenham, saw below par performances from two of their star players and guaranteed starters.

Scrum half Conor Murray and fly half Jonny Sexton linked up for the first time prior to this months tournament in front of a capacity crowd at the Aviva little over a fortnight ago. And not all went to plan for the world number two side.

It was apparent that Wales were not reading from the same script, but in all fairness, when are they ever reading from the same script? They often produce awe inspiring performances in the big games.


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Led by the outstanding performance of flanker Justin Tipuric, Warren Gatland and his Welsh warriors picked up a 16-10 win, which is no mean feat, because to go to the Aviva and win is not something a side achieves very often.

It's hard to single out Murray and Sexton in that game alone, but it was evident from the onset that they were both rusty. Sexton was misjudging kicks and their was lack of fluidity in the backs, who could not make any real opportunities tell.

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Defeat for Ireland ended a nine game winning streak at home for Joe Schmidt and his squad, and they went into the game against England disappointed, but with a point to prove, not only to themselves but to the fans too.

If anyone was arguing about the strength of the Irish side for the Wales game, they could not do so at Twickenham, with Ireland boasting their wealth of riches that everyone expects to see play at the World Cup. The only notable absentees were Cian Healy and Rob Kearney, who both hope to be available for their World Cup opener against Canada.

The referees whistle in front of 80,000 who were in full voice, again marked a game of real disappointment for the men in green, and notable sub-standard performances from both half backs were registered.

England came storming out the dressing room, and arguably should have taken a much more substantial lead going into half time. As it was, a 12-3 lead had to suffice, and Murray and Sexton will have been thanking God.

They failed to grab the game by the scruff of the neck, and every time Ireland attacked in the backs, the ball went to ground, or a move was poorly executed. Sexton in particular looked out of sorts, and struggled against what was a measured and impressive performance from his opposing number George Ford.

There was more to Ireland in the second half, and they clawed their way back into the game, which will have been promising for Schmidt and Irish fans alike, but England held on and Ireland suffered a second defeat in as many games. This isn't ideal preparation for a World Cup.

However, as much as fans may begin to panic, have no fear. Ireland has been blessed with an 'easy' group, and all being well, they will qualify with ease, probably as group winners. The big test will be France in Cardiff, but if Sexton and co find their A game, there aren't many teams capable of stopping them.

In terms of these World Cup warm-ups, they are mandatory for preparing for a major competition, but take these results with a pinch of salt. As disappointed as the performances and results have been for Ireland, they will know they have plenty more gears.

Is this simply pre-World Cup rust? Or are we seeing a side that has reason to be more confident and optimistic as ever, slowly begin to crumble under pressure?

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Jonny Sexton
Ireland Rugby
Wales Rugby
Rugby Union
England Rugby
IRB Rugby World Cup

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