Anyone who followed this site’s social media channels over the weekend will be sick of me harping on my experience in the Aviva Fan Studio on Saturday, but I couldn’t let my match writeup go without thanking them once more for letting me be involved; it really was a super way to see the match.
If you fancy being in that row of seats yourself for Ireland v Australia, click here to enter their competition. Trust me, it’s well worth it.
As for the match itself, whatever happened on the day, it was always going to be over-analysed given that it was the first outing for a new coaching regime. Unfortunately much of the analysis flying around social media as the contest happened was based on pre-existing judgements on the characters involved blown out of all proportions after certain incidents.
Maybe I'm naive but I prefer to look at a match not only as the full 80 minutes, but also where is sits in context with Ireland’s season as a whole.
Because of this I was careful in my preview to set out what I was looking for as a minimum in this first challenge for Joe Schmidt and his team, so I suppose the best way to start going back over the match would be to go through them point by point…
- THREE MEN IN EVERY POSITION - As far as I’m concerned, Joe’s remit is to have a squad ready for RWC2015. For this he will of course not only need to know his ideal matchday 23 but also have depth all over the park and know he can rely on up to 45 players to answer Ireland’s call if required. To this end we saw a solid outing from Paddy Jackson where he kicked 6 from 8 including a super strike from the touchline, a two-try cameo on his debut for Dave Kearney, and of course a man-of-the-match display from Jack McGrath. Although they all made the odd mistake, they more than made up for them with super contributions around the park and certainly played their way into the scheme of things heading towards 2015.
- DEFENCE - Call me boring if you want but I’m a hell of a lot more impressed with the 9 in the final scoreline than I am with the 40. In every team sport I consider it vital to sort things out at the back first, and having Les Kiss stay on the ticket was a big plus in helping with the transition. The Samoans may have been under-strength going into the match, and they may have been hurt further by the nasty clash of heads, but I’m not sure that really mattered to an Ireland team who was happy to let them have the ball, particularly in the first half. Many saw this as a negative but I thought it was a perfect way to get us used to our defensive structures (yeah, I know, “YAWN!”) and after a few early positional mistakes they eventually settled and the tackles started coming in thick and fast as Heaslip & McCarthy led the stats, the turnovers were being forced by McGrath, O’Mahony and most of all Rory Best, and the penalties were being kept to a relative minimum in areas that would hurt us. So all good on that front so far.
- SET PIECES - Take a bow John Plumtree. Of course he will see much to work on, particularly in the area of restarts, but given the dark places our scrum has been in recent times and the fact there was a rookie forced to lock down with barely a minute on the clock, John must feel some satisfaction from a job well done as both McGrath and Ross were excellent. From a position where we could barely sellotape one decent front row together, we now seem to be able to keep things tight for eighty minutes even with changes. And as for the lineouts, well just look at the Peter O’Mahony try from our first serious attacking position. They certainly won’t all come that easily, but having it pay off like that will be a massive boost to the confidence.
- DEFINITIVE STYLE - Because of the tendency to play without the ball early on, we didn’t see much of this on the day and relied more on opportunism for the second half tries than an actual offensive mindset. But given that this is undoubtedly going to be a team built around Johnny Sexton, I don’t see this as too much of a problem. Jackson ran things well and his positional kicking was often effective (an area many Madigan fans forget is one where he has issues) more often than not finding the gaps in the Samoan back three and playing a big part in our second try (though perhaps the latest bit of BOD brilliance played a bigger one!). Looking back over the match you can’t help noticing the Irish offence stepped up a gear when Eoin Reddan came on but what Murray loses in passing speed from the breakdown, he more than makes up for in darting runs and box-kick accuracy and I would still start him and hope for more impressive cameos from Reddan. Overall, we have still yet to see a definitive style but there is plenty of time for that.
On the Samoan side of things, of course they will be disappointed that they couldn’t make more of the possession they had, as well as the fact that the discipline issues they had in South Africa were still there as George Pisi deservedly saw yellow just before half time.
And although their former player Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu can be a bit much to take on twitter, many of his complaints about the lack of respect Manu Samoa get from scheduling are justified. For them to get themselves to 7th in the world and then be denied the chance to play anyone above them in November to see if they can progress further does make a mockery of the system.
Also here is hoping after that after the unfortunate collision their outhalf Tusi Pisi (who’s nickname surely must be “Lemon Squeezy?”) will be ok - of course it is never good to hear the word “concussion” BUT at least it does seem as though this particular situation was handled appropriately.
So as you can probably tell, I was very much “glass half-full” about this match, maybe a shade more. To see people moan about the likes of Gordon D’Arcy for the odd mistake was a shame (an opinion that was as much about his facial hair as it was his ability) especially since he played such a big role in setting up the McFadden try. Yes, Luke Marshall is probably the future at 12. But if Darce is fit I want him at least involved in the squad.
Going back to Ian Madigan, I reckon his interests would be best served by going back to his province and starting in Treviso in a couple of weeks. It would be harsh to leave out Jackson against Australia after this performance, while the Leinster man needs some game time, though I know that’s not exactly a given with Jimmy Gopperth around!
On a final note, I make one major exception to my rule about wearing green goggles when looking at our performance on Saturday. That would be when it comes to Joe Schmidt himself, and of all the things about this match that made me feel good about our future, top of the list was his immediate post-match remarks on the display:
“Untidy, earnest, some good endeavour, but not the accuracy we were looking for”
I really don’t want to exhume arguments about former coaches by making too many comparisons to the past - all I will say is that to see someone who seems to be able to express himself (he even said BOD had things to work on!) while at the same time having the full support of those immediately around him certainly fills me with confidence (cringeworthy cliché alert) going forward.
Whether it’s pre-match or post, the noises have been good from all over the Irish camp. Now I believe it’s time for us to do likewise by giving them the encouragement they need to up their game even more against the Wallabies. JLP
Also this weekend