Monday, November 24, 2014



Joe Schmidt is a man who demands nothing less than 100% accuracy and commitment - and failure to bring both will result in removal from the equation altogether.

But enough about the poor chap's's to his speedy recovery and let's get on to the rugby, shall we?

For me, the true story of this epic contest begins in the 68th minute, when Quade Cooper stabbed the ball towards the intersection of the touchline and our 22.  Rob Kearney did his job and tried to see it out.  Conor Murray did his job and tried to cut off the onrushing Wallabies in case it didn't make it.

In a cruel twist for Ireland, who had a tentative 3-point lead, the ball not only stayed in play but slowed down just before the touchline teasing us that it may cross - then it stopped dead.  The cost - an attacking lineout for Australia and a strong (totally accidental) knee to the head for Murray by the onrushing Cooper.

Now the visitors had over 10 minutes to not only attack our red zone, but also to do so with some of the best in the world at seeking out and exploiting soft shoulders & dog legs...Cooper, Genia, Beale, Folau; any of them on their own would have been bad enough but together they made for an awesome threat.

Having secured the lineout, their first series of plays showed some promise; a (super-duper?) Cooper to Hooper offload got down the middle then they shipped it out wide.  But an excellent read by Zebo closed down the space and eventually Ian Madigan ripped it free from James Slipper and we had a chance to clear.

No score was to come from that scrum in our own 22 as it turned out, but it was still quite eventful.

After the first reset the Wallabies (curiously) changed two of their front row while our team doctor Eanna Falvey (correctly) ordered Murray off to be taken through the concussion protocols.  Most importantly, between the setpiece being called and the ball returning  to play, the clock went from 68:57 to 71:29, well into the "squeaky bum" zone.

From that scrum Eoin Reddan made an impressive box kick clearance for a bit of respite, after which Cheika played his last big card from the bench in the form of human tank Will Skelton.  Now, on top of the weaving and fancy offloading of the Wallabies' creative set we also had powerful bursts up the middle which meant our defence was to be tested to its absolute fullest.  Back they came at us.

A few phases later having gotten back into our 22 the referee Glen Jackson awards a scrum to Australia.  As another minute drains from the clock, our front row stands firm and we get a penalty; Sean Cronin gets so many thumps to the back of his head from his team-mates I'm wondering if Dr Falvey is going to have to intervene again!

So we get it away but the lineout around halfway isn't taken cleanly and with the hungry Australian D rushing through we end up back in our 22 and forced into a safety first clearance which fails to find touch.  Back they came at us.

Once again they combine to slip past our first line but never cleanly and our scrambling is good enough to force another knockon and this time it's Madigan who tries to clear but it stays in play and falls around halfway into the arms of Henry Speight.  Back they came at us.

Pretty much the same thing happens again - no matter where they hit our defensive line (and more than once it was at BOTH our starting props McGrath and Ross together who stood up admirably at the end of a full 80 minute shift each), they get held up and this time when they knock on, the clearance is made by Robbie Henshaw who's kick is a thing of beauty, landing in play over Speight's head before rolling into touch not far outside the Aussie 22.

So the clock is now at the 77:18 mark.  Good news, Murray has survived the head protocols and is back on.  Bad news, Sexton and Kearney have now gone off.  With a makeshift Irish XV on the park, Australia take the line out.  Back they come at us.

A bit of attempted trickery out wide from Cooper, Genia et al before it comes back inside to number 8 Ben McCalman...


It was like Paulie had started his run back when the anthems were played.

McCalman may have gotten his pass away and the play still progressed to the halfway line, but the timing and ferocity of our skipper's hit sent a clear message to the rest of the boys in green  : "Come on lads, we can do this."

Eleven phases and yet another worn-out voice-box for Michael Corcoran later, Tommy Bowe tackles Adam Ashley-Cooper (sidenote - thought AAC was very disappointing throughout) and has Ian Madigan beside him to get down over the ball and force the penalty to win the match and secure for us a perfect November.

Cue the excellent moment captured by the still above which I hope The Bridge 1859 pub won't mind me robbing from their Facebook page.

Many of the comments on social media by Irish fans after the match came with a "qualifier" along the lines of "Well, it wasn't a perfect display, but hey, a win is a win."

To that I say...though you would never know by the media that Ireland and Australia play for a trophy called the "Lansdowne Cup", this match was still to all intents and purposes a cup final.  And in cup final rugby, it matters not how you win, just that you do.

Hopefully in the above account I have illustrated just what we did to deserve finishing on top.

Of course, if you really insist, you could ask the following questions...

What about the holes down the middle of our D early on?

We could put this question another way...was our early 17-0 lead flattering?  To which I would answer "yes".

A moment of brilliance between Sexton and Zebo (helped by an extremely fortunate bounce it must be said) got us our first try but it was just the moments leading to our second when the dangers of the Wallabies offence became apparent.

Henshaw and Payne took a while to settle in the centre against the Springboks.  It took D'Arcy and Henshaw longer as a pair, of that there is no doubt.  And for most of the first half, our opponents were getting from midfield into our 22 way, way too easily for our liking.

Luckily for us Tommy Bowe timed his run to perfection to snag that intercept from Phipps otherwise there was a certain try the other way.

Despite those setbacks, after cancelling out our intercept try with one of their own (will get to that later) the Aussies continued to apply the pressure which led to two further scores (yes, including a controversial one, also to be covered later - but the other one was in many ways a perfect storm of awesomeness) which turned our early lead on its head.

But guess what...for the third week in a row, we not only did our halftime homework but we got it bang on.  Though I highlight the action from the 67th minute onwards above, the fact was we were able to keep them away from our line for the entire second half despite being owned in both possession and territory over that time (37%-63% in each case).

You're always going to have problems somewhere...the key thing is that you deal with them.  And by tweaking our approach, committing fewer number to the breakdown and thus more to our defensive line, we dealt with this major problem.  Of course the actual standard of tackling didn't hurt either - O'Mahony led the way with a gargantuan 17.

What about that pass Zebo threw away?

Hello to those of you who scanned the page looking to see what I have to say about this first!  Hopefully you'll get to read the rest of the writeup at some point as well :-) take on Simon Zebo is that he has improved throughout this series.  He made some key tackles on the day.   He made some key carries.  He was on the end of a neat set crossfield kick play.  All good.

Yet with the score at 17-0 in a match that was akin to a cup final, there was no need for him to try a risky offload, and he did, and it cost us.  No, the tackling from his team-mates wasn't great as the try was being run in, but the quick Foley-Phipps exchange had their counter well underway before we could properly react.

Do I think Zebo is one of our best three wingers and should always be in our matchday 23?  No.  But does that mean I "have a thing against him"?  Absolutely not.  He is a quality player in a position where we have an abundance of quality.  If you want to derive any more from that viewpoint, that's up to you.

What about the lack of accuracy in our tactical kicking?

It certainly wasn't perfect...often our kicks did fall into that key area outside their 22 but often they didn't and if there's any test nation you don't want to get that area wrong it's the Wallabies.  Luckily our D was strong enough.

What about the crooked darts?

On a day when the Aussies were doing everything they could to avoid us throwing into lineouts, from the rare occasions we did, we lost as many of four.  Definitely not good enough, but even with that we have a superb trio of hookers in Best, Cronin and Strauss who more than make up for the dodgy darts in other areas.

What about the fact that "we've been here before"?

Ah, don't mind Paulie.  That was just a soundbite he had skilfully prepared for the inevitable questions after a victory.  In that moment, as skipper you don't want to be seen to be resting on any laurels and taking that tack was absolutely the best way to go.

But as for when we WERE "there" before, I don't want to harp on too much about individuals on this point because that wouldn't be fair, but let's just say it was a completely different setup and mentality throughout the squad.

What about the officiating?

It definitely wasn't Glen Jackson's finest outing.  As the saying goes, "all we ask for is consistency" - for example in the first 5 minutes he pinged Peter O'Mahony both ways for doing essentially the same thing at the breakdown.

As for "that try" - personally, I had it as a good grounding (ie shaved a blade or two of white grass on legal second movement) but a VERY suspect pass beforehand.  I hear the RTE boys had their fancy graphic do-hickeys show it was flat at halftime, but what annoyed me was that for all the looks the TMO had, he never went back to the overhead angle which I thought was the best for determining "flatness". that could be debated ad nauseum but thankfully it had no affect on the outcome. often is the case, I'd dare say the Aussies may single out a moment or two when we got the benefit of a strange whistle.

What about Rob Kearney's missed drop goal?

OK now the questions in italics are starting to get was a class effort that missed by a whisker...time to start wrapping up methinks!!!!

When you're on a long quest, it's natural to keep your head down to make sure you're both moving forward and staying on the right track.

Rugby Union has always involved several different areas in which you must excel, and in recent times the professional age has added even more.

For example, it's not enough to win a lineout, you must also do so with enough accuracy to have decent front foot ball moments later.  It's not enough to hoist a garryowen hopefully upward, it must land in a certain spot and be accompanied by kick-chasers running the  right lines.

When the full-time whistle blows, not only do the coaches and players look back down at what transpired; so do we as pundits and fans, scrutinizing every last second down to its finest detail.  And this is of course part of what makes following sports so entertaining.

But once in a while, I think we need to stop ourselves from looking down.  Once in a while, we need to look not only up, but also around, and see where we are in world rugby.

The world rankings with their mind-melting maths may not carry a whole lot of weight in real terms, but right now they say we're first in Europe, third on the planet.

Don't just take it from the rankings.  Don't just take it from me.  Look at what they're saying all over the world about Joe Schmidt's Ireland right now.

Since that heartbreaking 81st minute against the All Blacks we have played 10 and won 9, including a Six Nations title and hard-earned wins over France, South Africa and Australia, all of whom have graced World Cup Finals.

Of course there are much bigger battles down the road.  But right here, right now, at the end of November 2014, what say we enjoy the fact that we're right up there with the best test nations of the world, and what's more, that it's exactly where we belong.

#ShoulderToShoulder JLP

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Next Week
Saturday, November 29
England v Australia, Twickenham, 2:30pm
Wales v South Africa, Millennium Stadium, 2:30pm

NOTE : our Treviso v Leinster writeup will publish Tuesday.


Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019