Monday, February 02, 2015

Wolfhounds-9 Saxons-18


SAX AND THE SCHMIDT-Y

There was much strange about the match which was to provide the subject matter for our HarpinOnRugby writeup this week.

For one thing, it may not have been the full Irish team but it was at senior level and they rarely play on Fridays.  Then we had to come to grips with all the alternative names...it wasn't Ireland A v England A rather Wolfhounds v Saxons, it wasn't Musgrave Park rather Irish Independent Park (which I sure was loved by editors of rival papers), and it wasn't Luke Fitzgerald lining out at 11 in green as listed rather Craig Gilroy (though unfortunately, that last one wasn't that much of a surprise!).

Anyway...to the action...if referee Neil Hennessy had been as finicky about calling offences like like "releasing the tackled player" and "staying behind the hindmost foot in the ruck" as he was with "holding the ball after the tackle" and "sealing off", it would have been a much different contest.

But that's not at all to suggest that the man in the middle was the reason Ireland lost.  Because here's the thing - it's not his job to tailor the officiating to suit the way a particular team wants to play the game (unless you tend to wear all black of course, ha ha).  Rugby's laws are wide open to interpretation and whether it's right or wrong, you have to be able to adapt with what way the whistle is blowing every bit as much as you do the wind.

In my preview I was convinced that Ireland were bound to get off to a better start, and as it happened, I was right, but only for the first five minutes or so.  We dominated the opening exchanges and did everything but score in that time.  It didn't help that the Saxon defence were not only flirting with the offside line but were also buying it a drink and saying "how YOU doin?", but like I said, you have to go with the ref.

And as it turned out it was the visitors who were more able to patch together an offence that was going to click when the time was right.  They won the match because they managed two tries to our none, and while the first included a couple of dodgy "flat" passes, had Elliot Daly and Marlande Yarde more of an understanding the result would have been put to bed a whole lot earlier.

But overall, when analysing this game, it has to be said that from a spectator's viewpoint it was an absolute dreadful contest quality-wise.  So when all is said and done, the only true way to look at this match according to this site's Ireland-centric remit would be to ignore the result and focus on the matchday 23 with a view to finding what we can take out of it as we prepare to both defend our Six Nations title and launch our most serious assault on a Rugby World Cup since its inception.  And the best way to do THAT is player-by-player, so here goes...

15 - FELIX JONES - Nailed-on back up to Rob Kearney, and he has done very well to play himself into that position after injury prevented him from having the same role in 2011.  Took his leadership role seriously on the night, did some good things like catching his own garryowen, though maybe won't be overjoyed by his tackling in the lead up the the first Saxons try.

14 - FERGUS McFADDEN - We can't buy luck with wingers these days!  Just 12 minutes into the match and neither of the starting wide men originally named are on the park.  Doesn't look good for Ferg that he has been left out of the Irish squad for Italy and France but hopefully he'll be back.

13/12 - KEITH EARLS/GORDON D'ARCY - I'm going to go with the theory that this D'Arcy/Earls pairing was selected to throw our upcoming opposition off the scent for our intentions.  Nothing against either player, and perhaps if given time they could work together, but the reality is they haven't done so since a World Cup warmup against England in 2011 and I very much doubt they will ever again.  Earls broke a few tackles, D'Arcy made a few, but both also made individual errors and while there were several other reasons why our attacks broke down, their unease with each other was generally towards the top of the list.

11 - CRAIG GILROY - Played like someone who has spent the week assuming he wouldn't be involved until the final quarter, so not entirely his fault he was quiet.  Still deserves to be in national equation but not among the top five in the pecking order either.

10 - IAN MADIGAN - I read some post-match social media comments that suggested, based on this performance, he is "out of his depth at international level".  If that's the case, we're screwed because you could say the same of certain individual outings in green by Jackson, Keatley and even Sexton.

For one thing Madigan took care of his place-kicking demons from the previous week, making 3 for 3, none of which were easy.  Then we have his ability to bring the ball beyond the gainline which was there for all to see.

Where he struggled, in my opinion anyway, was in generating front foot ball in other ways, particularly with the "wraparound" move.  At one stage a few weeks ago against Ulster he tried the move and then immediately kicked for territory which surely wasn't ever meant to be the end result of that play!

There could be a case to be made for the ball not getting to him quickly enough from the forwards but if that's case he has the option to call off the move.  Definitely needs to either work on it some more or ditch it if he is to play any part at out-half in Rome.

9 - KIERAN MARMION - Was it that he never had the chance to show what he could do or that he never took it?  Because I'd have loved to see him attempt the two dummies pulled off by Isaac Boss after his introduction...could very well have resulted in a try.  The lad's box-kicking wasn't great either.

1 - JACK McGRATH - The scrum was a good platform for Ireland on the night, it was just a shame we couldn't do much with it.  Jack showed why he's the presumptive back-up to Cian Healy.

2 - RICHARDT STRAUSS - A crooked dart killed our early momentum but not long afterwards put in a quality tackle on Pennell to kill theirs in return.  Definitely in our top three hooking options, if not quite enough to make the 23 when all are fit.

3 - MIKE ROSS - Hmmm...I don't know.  If the days of wrapping him up in cotton wool are over, is it time to start thinking of alternatives to start big matches, like Marty Moore or Nathan White?  Just putting that out there.  Ross was of course a big part in our scrum staying solid but in open play it was his poor clearout that helped England win a penalty towards the end of the first half as McGrath was tackled.  Not sure if he's as nailed-on at 3 it might have been previously assumed.

4 - IAIN HENDERSON - Only thing wrong with his performance on the night was the way he laced up his scrum cap - he spent the first quarter fixing it on his head at every opportunity.  You can actually see the maturity in his game increase with every display and I loved the way he threw Maro Imoje out of a maul.  As much as the POC/Toner partnership works for Ireland particularly at lineouts, the man they call "NWJMB" should never be ruled out of Ireland's starting lock equation in my book.

5 - MIKE McCARTHY - Will always put in a decent shift for you at this level but let's just say if Donncha Ryan were fit, Mike would be gearing up for wearing a Leinster jersey through February and March.  His tackle towards the end of the first half was nowhere near as bad as it first looked and hopefully his injury wasn't too serious.

6 - DOMINIC RYAN - Sam Burgess still has a ways to go when it comes to learning the union code, and being in Ryan's pocket for a large portion of this match certainly didn't help.  One of my beefs with the modern game is the tendency for defenders not to go for the low tackle - I don't mean the Lydiate choppy one, rather the good old-fashioned shoulder-to-the-hip one - and let those around you worry about the offload.

This, for me anyway, was how to take Slammin Sam's game away from him and on more than one occasion Dom did it.  He led the Wolfhounds in tackles with 13 and was also our leading lineout choice on the night.  This was the best I have seen him play in green; hopefully Joe was equally impressed.  Faded away a bit in the second half perhaps.

7 - SEAN O'BRIEN - 50-minute shift after a long layoff was all that matters.  As much as you can say for a man of his power he was "feeling his way" back into the swing of things and it is great to see him back.  If he plays a part in Rome it will probably be from the bench but then again the final quarter could well be just when we'll need him.

8 - JACK CONAN - He has had an amazing season and is front runner for Leinster Player of the Year at this point.  You couldn't expect too much from him in a fixture like this and he never did anything to get near those ahead of him in the back row pecking order but there is no doubt he has the bility to get there.  If he and Gilroy had more understanding we could have had a try in the 2nd half.

16 - ROB HERRING - With Best, Cronin and Strauss pretty much nailed on as our top 3 hookers, for anyone to challenge them they definitely need to be competent at set pieces.  So on that score, Herring didn't do himself any favours here with two crooked darts and a scrum penalty in the third quarter.

17 - MICHAEL BENT - Has done well to work his way back into Ireland contention on the other side of the scrum.  Got pinged for an early shove but I reckon every front rower was pinged for something at some point by Hennessy!

18 - NATHAN WHITE - Coughed up the ball to end our best chance at scoring (and winning) in the final stages of the match but that certainly isn't the only thing that can be said about White.  I like him for the Irish set up and would love for him to be involved in Rome somehow.

19 - ROBBIE DIACK - played the full second half, stole a lineout at one point but his biggest involvement unfortunately was getting run over by Dave Ewers on the way to the try at the end of the match.

20 - EOIN MCKEOWN - Decent outing off the bench I thought.  Was a tough night for forwards all round to be fair.

21 - ISAAC BOSS - I've heard some say that complaints about Boss this season for Leinster are unfair.  Well...maybe his own individual game has improved in recent weeks but for me I'm not altogether convinced his strengths are what Leinster/Ireland need right now.  Still, it has to be said, his "double-dummy" went a long way to set up our chance towards the end.

22 - NOEL REID - Somehow managed to haul down Ewers who had just steamrolled Diack so it was no mean feat.  But only played the final minutes and I'm not altogether sure Reid is very far up the Irish pecking order at this point but don't rule him out after the World Cup.

23 - ANDREW CONWAY - Wasn't even meant to be here and given that, he did extremely well.  Struggled  bit under pressure from Ashton in the second half but overall the former Blackrock man is having a good season overall though I'm not sure he'll feature in green much more this year.

++++

Obviously it would have been more ideal for the Wolfhounds to have finished on top but this was to all intents and purposes a pre-season match....Stuart Lancaster won't be happy with the win any more than Joe Schmidt will be disappointed with the defeat.

If we are to learn anything from it, it could be that if we are to commit ourselves to set routines and patterns to our play that is all well and good, but we have to be able to adapt when pesky things such as officials like Hennessy and well-prepared opposition like England get in our way.  It won't hurt to get non-provincial pairings in key positions working better together either.

Do I think we can manage all of the above?  Well of course I do.  Because more than all else, the thing we have to do is #TrustJoe.  Bring on the 2015 Six Nations.

#ShoulderToShoulder JLP


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Next week

Friday, February 6

Italy Women v Ireland Women, Stadio Mario Lodigiani, 6pm

Italy U20 v Ireland U20, Stadio Pozzi Lamarmora, 6pm

WALES v ENGLAND, Millennium Stadium, 8:05pm

Saturday, February 7

ITALY v IRELAND, Stadio Olimpico, 2:30pm

FRANCE v SCOTLAND, Stade de France, 5pm
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