Joe Schmidt has refused to rule out Robbie Henshaw even from Ireland’s Six Nations clash with Wales, despite the centre suffering a suspected dislocated shoulder against Italy.
Ireland boss Schmidt remains hopeful that Henshaw could yet shake off his injury, though the British and Irish Lions star’s tournament could well be over.
Henshaw ran in two of Ireland’s eight tries in Saturday’s 56-19 win over Italy in Dublin, but required oxygen and left the field in a sling after being injured in the act of crossing for his second score.
Tadhg Furlong suffered a hamstring injury after just three minutes of Ireland’s comfortable win, but Schmidt hopes the Leinster prop could also be ready to face Wales in Dublin on February 24.
“We’ll know more after Robbie’s scan tomorrow, he looked in a fair bit of discomfort when he came off but what’s promising is the fact that he was more comfortable later on,” said Schmidt.
“What’s not promising was the degree of discomfort he was in at the time.
“We’ll have an update hopefully later once he’s had that scan.
“Robbie is superb defensively, and on the attack as well. I think Robbie is a class player.
“Tadhg Furlong just felt a tightening on deceleration. We’d be hopeful he would still be okay in two weeks’ time.”
Garry Ringrose retains a slim chance of recovering from ankle trouble in time to face Wales, with Schmidt hopeful the Leinster centre could return to offset Henshaw’s possible absence.
“Garry’s making really good progress, next weekend might be just one weekend too soon, but he’s not far away,” said Schmidt.
“But again it might be the weekend after, and for him to come back straight off an injury lay-off to play against Wales, that would be a tough call, but it’s a call we’d be happy to make based on Garry’s previous contributions.
“He’s such an intelligent player. He does add value when he comes into the side.
“He could be another option if Robbie Henshaw is unavailable, as we suspect he potentially will be.”
Asked to assess Ireland’s tile chances, Schmidt replied: “You do feel that you’ve a chance when you can get those first two wins, especially with an away win first up.
“We haven’t lost a Six Nations game at home in the five years I’ve been involved.
“There’s a real benchmark there that we can hopefully defend.
“We probably had a couple of knock-backs injury-wise today. So it’s a bit of a wait and see, really.
“But if you’d said to me two weeks ago you’d have nine points and a 39-point differential, I’d have bitten your hand off.
“We do feel that we’ve gained a bit of confidence that we’re heading in the right direction.
“Wales will be a whole different scenario. They are very attacking as a defensive side and they squeeze you and force errors.”
Italy boss Conor O’Shea admitted his Azzurri squad need to boost their fitness to challenge the world’s top sides.
“We knew they were going to hold the ball, because they don’t think we’re fit enough – and they’re right,” said O’Shea.
“We are much fitter than we were; much, much better than we were, but we’re not at the level that we need.
“There’s a reason we’re not number two or three in the world. And that’s the reason.
“When we held the ball, we looked good. We’ll just keep moving forward, forward, forward.”
England limped over the line against a brave Wales at Twickenham with two first half tries from Jonny May – and a controversially disallowed try to Gareth Anscombe – proving the difference. Here are our three takeaways from the match:
Aaron Shingler is the real deal
The Wales No6 had never been to Twickenham but on his first visit he certainly made an impact.
The 30-year-old Scarlets flanker may be relatively old to be making his mark on the Test arena but his mobility, defence and work at the breakdown were outstanding – overshadowing the much vaunted England backrow.
Shingler played a big role in Scarlets winning the PRO12 title last year but the former England Under 19 cricketer was not expected to play a key role for Wales because of the riches available in the back row.
However following injuries to Taulupe Faletau, Dan Lydiate and Sam Warburton the way opened for the 1.97m, 105kg blindside flanker to join his club-mates in the national side.
One break early in the second half typified Shingler’s impact. The ball was turned over in Wales’ half and Shingler sprinted through a gap showing surprising speed to outpace the defence.
He came to the full back and with a man in support tried an audacious kick ahead.
In the end the move came to nothing but there was enough on show to suggest a permanent place needs to be found for Shingler in the Dragons’ starting XV.
England are not as good as they think they are
Here were worrying signs for England.
After much vitriol before the match about Rhys Patchell having no “bottle” and how England would monster Wales – in the end the hosts just got home.
They were outplayed for long stretches by a Wales team without Liam Williams, Jonathan Davies, Rhys Webb and Leigh Halfpenny – ruled out with a foot infection shortly before kick-off. Put that quartet in to finish off the platform set-up by the impressive Wales pack and the result may have been different.
Wales dominated for long periods both in the set-pieces and with some high quality close-in handling from the forwards.
If not for some desperate defence and a high Wales error rate, England would have found the going a lot tougher.
England look tired, devoid of ideas and reliant on a touch of class from a few key players. On this performance they look decidedly beatable with Ireland – and even Scotland and France – capable of dethroning the champs.
Farrell needs to be wrapped in cotton wool
For a team with such a winning recent record, 24 wins from their last 25 matches, England looked short of truly world-class players.
The pack especially, even the majestic Maro Itoje, looked very human and were backpedaling for much of the afternoon.
Without doubt the one player who is near the very best in his position across the globe is fly-half/ centre Owen Farrell.
Almost everything good England did came from him – his handling, positional play and vision were outstanding.
The moment of class for Jonny May’s first try when Farrell spotted the empty spaces behind the Wales defence and put in a perfectly- weighted grubber kick was precision at its best and England certainly got a lift when George Ford departed with Farrell moving into the No10 spot. Without him England would be rudderless.
England had some other standouts – Chris Robshaw who never stopped working and Jack Nowell who got good go-forward when he came on in the second half – but overall this was a workmanlike performance from a team that is nowhere near the level of the All Blacks – dream though they might.
On this performance England will not beat Ireland, whether it’s at Twickenham or not. The Red Roses simply look like they have hit a wall and desperately need some spark.
The former Brive, Castres and Montpellier fly-half is faced, however, with a near blank playbook ahead of Scotland’s Six Nations clash with France in Edinburgh on Sunday.
France are undergoing something of a reformation under recently appointed coach Jacques Brunel, meaning Townsend has little to learn from watching their defeats by Japan, South Africa and New Zealand in November when the since sacked Guy Noves was in charge.
“We’ve asked ourselves, ‘how much do we watch from November’, with a different coaching group,” said Townsend.
“Obviously there is a certain expectation of the French national team to play a certain way — ‘combat’ as they call it.
“The set piece, the forward exchanges, the big hits around the tackle area are very important to French rugby players, their supporters and their club coaches.”
The Scotland coach said his time in France was “pivotal” in his development as a player and a manager, and he is now up against Brunel who already has international experience from taking charge of Italy between 2011-2016.
“Jacques Brunel is a very experienced coach and you could tell throughout the game last week that France got better the more they were playing together,” said Townsend.
“It must be a tough job bringing the French team together from more clubs, different ways of playing, but they look to have improved throughout that 80 minutes which is a good sign for them.
“There are two different psychologies in the French team, from the clubs and from the national team. There is a ‘win at all costs’ mentality at some clubs.”
Townsend will have little more than his knowledge of the French game and a recording of France’s last-gasp 13-15 loss to Ireland to help him overcome Scotland’s own psychological barrier of a heavy 34-7 loss to Wales in Cardiff during last weekend’s opening round of fixtures.
“There were a couple of things from Saturday’s game against Ireland which had similar themes that we saw in November,” said Townsend.
“One is around competing for the ball post-tackle and that is something that they (France) do more than other teams, so we have got to be very wary of that.
“We are certainly aware that if France get any momentum and confidence they are very, very dangerous. That is when they execute their backline plays, their three-on-twos, better than anyone else in the world.
“If they get an early score their chests go out, their shoulders go back and they can play outstanding rugby.”
Townsend added: “If we can make sure that that confidence doesn’t come early in the game and we can keep making that work through defending very well, and knocking their big men down — because they have got very big men — they will have to get up off the floor while we’ve got the ball.
“We will be stressing them with whatever rugby we play, and we’ll make sure that they are working harder than they have ever worked before, and that is where we can have the advantage.”
Scotland (15-1): S Hogg, T Seymour, H Jones, P Horne, S Maitland; F Russell, G Laidlaw; R Wilson, H Watson, J Barclay (c); J Gray, G Gilchrist, S Berghan, S McInally, G Reid. Reps: S Lawson, J Bhatti, J Welsh, B Toolis, D Denton, A Price, C Harris, B Kinghorn.
France (15-1): G Palis, T Thomas, R Lamerat, G Doumayrou, V Vakatawa; L Beauxis, M Machenaud; M Tauleigne, Y Camara, W Lauret; S Vahaamahina, A Iturria, R Slimani, G Guirado (c), J Poirot. Reps: A Pelissié, E Ben Arous, C Gomes Sa, P Gabrillagues, L Picamoles, B Serin, A Belleau, B Fall
Referee: John Lacey (IRE);
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