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Best And Horan Back At The Coalface

Best And Horan Back At The Coalface

The result may not have gone the way of Ireland ‘A’, but there were still a number of pleasing aspects to dwell on from Sunday’s hard-fought clash with England Saxons – not least the sight of Rory Best and Marcus Horan back in green.

Having closed the gap to 14-13 with a late try from replacement Chris Henry, the Ireland ‘A’ players and management were disappointed not to finish the job and overhaul England Saxons in a competitive clash at the Rec on Sunday.

But while the collective performance may not have matched the heights of last summer’s Churchill Cup, this was a very worthwhile exercise for Michael Bradley’s men as the international season revs up for the start of the RBS 6 Nations.

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The game may well be remembered for the Irish side’s failure to convert pressure into points during a thrilling finish, but getting fit-again front rowers Rory Best and Marcus Horan some high level game-time was a serious plus for the watching Declan Kidney.

That the two Grand Slam winners battled their way back to an international standard of fitness after their respective seasons looked ruined is a testament to their powers of recovery, their sheer will to play for their country and the efforts of various surgeons, doctors and the provincial and national medics and physios.

Eight days after he lined out for Banbridge in the AIB League, hooker Best was back playing for his country. The Ulster captain played 40 minutes against the Saxons as he continues his incredible recovery from an operation on a chronic disc condition which was expected to rule him out for the entire season.

Speaking after the game, Bradley said: “Rory did really well and we felt at half-time he was running out 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.”

There were further encouraging signs from Horan, who tuned up in recent weeks with run outs for both Munster and Shannon. He lasted the full 80 minutes against England’s second string as he makes his way back to full fitness following a minor heart procedure.

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

“It’s very important for Irish rugby that both Rory and Marcus are available for Declan Kidney and the upcoming Six Nations. They are not quite there yet and may not be considered for the Italy game next Saturday.

“But there are four mighty games after that and the more games they get, the better.”

The Saxons defended defiantly as Ireland ‘A’ got on top and it was only when prop Paul Doran-Jones was sin-binned that the visitors could slip through for a try.

Bradley spoke of the frustration at failing to break down the English defence for a second time, saying: “We’re disappointed that we lost the game, but I’m pleased that 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.”

The Irish squad assembled again in Dublin on Sunday as they crank up their preparations for the Croke Park opener against Italy. The team and replacements for that game will be announced on Tuesday afternoon.