Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

Wallace puts the heat on Kidney

England Saxons 17 Ireland A 13

Michael Bradley believes Paddy Wallace is in pole position to retain his Ireland centre jersey in the Six Nations opener against Italy.

Wallace faces a battle with in-form British Lions star Gordon D'Arcy for a midfield spot in the championship kick-off at Croke Park.

The Ulster ace scored eight points in this slender defeat to hand Declan Kidney a nudge ahead of the fixture on Saturday.

Replacement Chris Henry's late try was a small consolation for the visitors following first-half tries for England by David Strettle and fly-half Shane Geraghty in a 12-point tally.

But Ireland A coach Michael Bradley was delighted with utility back Wallace despite the narrow loss in Bath.

Bradley said: “Paddy went well at 10 although he hasn't played much rugby in that position recently.

“He is a player who has been involved all the time with Ireland and he doesn't even need to force his way back in. He's already there.

“He would have to be omitted. It's up to other players like Gordon or Jonathan Sexton to get ahead of him because it is Paddy's jersey.”

The pre-championship warm-up at the Recreation Ground also saw front-rowers Marcus Horan and Rory Best stake their claim following lengthy spells out through injury.

Hooker Best was taken off at the interval as a precaution while prop Horan completed his first outing since a routine heart operation last October.

Bradley added: “It's very important for Irish rugby that both Rory and Marcus are available for Declan and the Six Nations. They are not quite there yet and may not be considered for the Italy game.

“But there are four mighty games after that and the more games they get, then the better it is for Irish rugby.

“Rory did really well and we felt at half time he was running out of a bit of steam. It's a big ask to play against a quality side like the Saxons for a full 80 minutes.

“There was no issue with the injury and it was just a match fitness decision.

“Marcus was good too and he kept up his level of performance for the whole match. He was the man who was jumping on the ball at the end of the match to get turnovers for us. It was good to see.”

Ireland took the lead in the West Country when Wallace fired home a close-range penalty after two minutes. But England were dominant up front and their superiority was rewarded with the first try of the match on 14 minutes.

A solid scrum provided Ben Youngs with quick ball and the Leicester Tigers number nine neat pass on the blindside allowed David Strettle to cross in the right corner.

Shane Geraghty converted from the far touchline before Wallace added a second penalty to keep the visitors in touch.

But the home side cemented their authority by doubling their try tally on 29 minutes.

Phil Dowson claimed the high ball on the halfway line and Alex Goode combined with Saracens team-mate Brad Barritt who off-loaded as Geraghty sauntered under the posts.

Geraghty added the extras for a commanding 14-6 half-time lead.

Ireland were handed a boost when Saxons prop Paul Doran-Jones was yellow carded for killing the ball. That allowed Henry the space to dive over after a well-worked move with replacement scrum-half Isaac Boss.

The visitors pushed for a winner but Geraghty put the final nail in the coffin with a last gasp penalty to seal a deserved victory.

Bradley added: “We're disappointed that we lost the game but I'm pleased as we played some good rugby.

“The Saxons defence was very strong and they worked hard in defence for each other. Defence wins you games and the Saxons were good in that department.

“We created a lot of opportunities and we got into the Saxons 22 on numerous occasions but we couldn't convert our chances.

“We turned the ball over cheaply and that was the story of the day for us. We needed more of a return for our play.

“We lost by four points but we were right in the game until the final penalty in the last minute.

“We needed more momentum in the top third for us then I believe it would have been a different result.”

England Saxons: A Goode; D Strettle (M Benjamin 69), D Waldouck, B Barritt, N Cato; S Geraghty, B Youngs (M Young 71); N Wood (T Mercey 61, P Doran-Jones 79), D Paice (R Webber 62), P Doran-Jones, D Attwood, G Skivington (capt), T Wood, P Dowson (G Parling 62), A Saull (L Narraway 48).

Ireland A: G Duffy; I Dowling, F McFadden (I Humphreys 74), K Matthews (D Cave 57), F Carr; P Wallace, P Stringer (I Boss 67); M Horan, R Best (J Fogarty 40), T Buckley (M Ross 67), M O'Driscoll (capt Ä R Caldwell 40), D Toner, S O'Brien, S Jennings (C Henry 57), J Muldoon.

Referee: J Garces (France).

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