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Six Nations: Ireland coach Joe Schmidt urging fans to keep the faith after England loss

England 21 - Ireland 10

By Jonathan Bradley

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt is pleading for fans to maintain faith in the side after their winless run stretched to four games following Saturday's 21-10 defeat to England.

After enduring a chastening World Cup quarter-final loss at the hands of Argentina back in October, the squad's bid to secure a third Six Nations championship in a row is already over after drawing with Wales and losing to France in the games prior to meeting Eddie Jones' resurgent Red Rose.

It also means Ulster's Rory Best is winless after his first three games as Irish skipper. Schmidt, however, saw some reason for optimism.

"There's a little bit of a transition period," said Schmidt alluding to losing players like Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll.

"We're building past that. Don't lose faith. I'm positive by nature. We tried to play positively. I think we demonstrated enterprise and we're going to keep trying to do that. Hopefully that will be enough to get people enthusiastic about the next two games."

Ireland had to defend resolutely in the first-half as they fought off a huge disparity in both possession and territory to somehow trail only 6-3 at the turn.

Having made 95 tackles to England's 42 over the first 40 minutes, the men in green had their backs to the wall but produced some stirring defensive stands.

Jonathan Sexton - the subject of so much talk during the week after Jones' comments about his injuries - put Ireland into the lead with five minutes played.

Five minutes later, Owen Farrell levelled matters with his first kick of the day.

With the superb Billy Vunipola and Maro Itoje to the fore, Ireland could find little respite until a forward pass and a scrum transgression saw England leave Irish territory without a point.

It soon counted for little, however, as Ireland were penalised in possession and Farrell this time made no mistake. Having had so little of the ball - the sobering stats read 40% possession and 28% territory - Schmidt's men were glad just to be in the game at the break.

After the turn, improvements were evident and Ulster's Stuart McCloskey, who became more involved as his debut wore on before a 63rd minute substitution, set the tone early with a big hit on Ben Youngs.

A clever kick from the inside centre then forced Mike Brown - who was the subject of much controversy later in the game when a swinging boot made contact with Conor Murray's head - into conceding a penalty.

While Itoje stole the ball from a misfiring set-piece, Ireland were soon in the opposing 22 again when James Haskell's late hit on Murray brought a yellow.

It was the scrum-half himself - having scored Ireland's last try back in the first-half of the draw with Wales - who produced a clever show and go to dart under Joe Marler and across the whitewash.

Sexton converted for a 10-6 lead but Ireland would not score again.

First it was Anthony Watson over in the corner, collecting a Chris Robshaw pass to the wing that could have been converted by any of three gleeful recipients, before Brown was sent beyond a similarly undermanned defence by Farrell.

Ireland created chances in the final quarter - a break from Sexton and Henshaw saw the soon-to-be Leinster team-mates combine only for the latter to lose control stretching for the line while Josh van der Flier was denied a debut try by the TMO - leaving Schmidt to bemoan "fine margins."

"We let them come back at us too easily," the Kiwi explained. "It is hard to stop them. There was a little bit of fatigue there from that first-half.

"So, for them to get back after getting 10-6 up was disappointing and then you lose because a ball falls out of a player's hand or there seems to be a dark patch on the TV when you're waiting for a TMO decision and it doesn't fall your way. We thought it was a try. It would have put us back in the game with five minutes to go and them a man down.

"They're the fine margins because they were teams that were evenly matched. We can't buy a trick at the moment. It's frustrating."

Ireland have the most winnable games of their campaign in the final two weeks - hosting Italy and then Scotland at the Aviva Stadium - and Schmidt admits the team are under pressure.

"We need to get a result and make sure we build over the next two weeks," he said.

"It's a proud group. They showed character, particularly in that first-half. It's tough but I don't seriously feel that we're a million miles away."

ENGLAND: M Brown; A Watson, J Joseph, O Farrell, J Nowell; G Ford, B Youngs; J Marler, D Hartley (capt), D Cole; M Itoje, G Kruis; C Robshaw, J Haskell, B Vunipola.

Replacements: J George (for Hartley, 71), M Vunipola (for Marler, 59), P Hill, C Lawes (for Haskell, 71), J Clifford (for Robshaw, 71), D Care (for Youngs, 59), E Daly (for Farrell, 66), A Goode.

IRELAND: R Kearney; A Trimble, R Henshaw, S McCloskey, K Earls; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best (capt), M Ross; D Ryan, D Toner; CJ Stander, J van der Flier, J Heaslip.

Replacements: R Strauss (for Best, 71), C Healy (for McGrath, 59), N White (for Ross, 59), U Dillane (for Ryan, 66), R Ruddock (for Stander, 66), E Reddan (for Murray, 71), I Madigan (for Sexton, 71), S Zebo (for McCloskey, 64).

Match rating: 6/10

Man of the match: Billy Vunipola

Referee: Romain Poite (France)


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