Even if rugby’s powers-that-be eventually complete the necessary task of tidying up the world calendar, one fact about the sport will probably remain...the majority of contests invariably have the shadow of another one down the line hanging over them.
When we watch Leinster play in the Pro12, we’re thinking of Europe. When we watch Leinster play in Europe, we’re thinking of Ireland playing internationals. And when we watch Ireland play internationals against nations like Canada, we’re thinking of Ireland playing internationals against nations like New Zealand. It is how it has always been.
So if you want to throw a bubble around a particular contest and analyse it based on the “ideal” way you feel the game should be played, by all means go ahead, but you are setting yourself up to be wide of the mark most of the time, I’m afraid - and Saturday evening’s match at the Aviva Stadium was a classic example of one that needs the full complement of context before we can harp on it.
The bookies said we were supposed to win by 38 pts - in my preview I said 28-30. We fell somewhere in between, so there can be no real complaints about the result. And when it comes to the performance, you have to take into account the nature of the lineup.
Donal Lenihan in a recent interview in the Examiner recalled the “old days” when there were no Christmas interprovincials, so to prepare for the (then) Five Nations, “Possibles v Probables” matches would be organized to see who was on form.
I was in the dressing room with the Probables, while in the Possibles’ their captain was duty-bound to roar at everyone, ‘Lads, if we don’t all pull together, none of us will get on!’ When in actual fact everyone was out to look after themselves and their own!
Saturday’s matchday 23 was very much a “Possibles” selection, and with bigger contests down the line, and especially when we have just re-written history with our last outing, I couldn’t blame anyone for wanting to play a part in this side’s future, and I reckon a line can be drawn from any negatives to that very point.
This is one of those writeups that is best done player-by-player, so here goes...
Still on a path back to his best...the scrum was held up well and he had several good carries. He did spill one in contact though, and wearing a “perfectionist” hat required for this level I can’t help but add that to one in Montpellier and determine he’s yet to make up the ground lost to Jack McGrath. In fact, if anything he could well be looking over his own shoulder.
First lineout going awry was hardly an ideal start for him but he knuckled down to give the kind of performance we know he can...strong carrying and this time even a confident enough punt upfield into the bargain.
Want to know how well FInlay is doing? Consider these two facts...Marty Moore went off to Wasps and Mike Ross wasn’t even selected for his series. ‘Nuff said, as the saying goes. For so much faith to be put in players in such a key position is really something and Bealham delivered with his start, not just at scrum time but also with a sublime offload to his Connacht team-mate for the crucial third try.
The official man of the match but not mine - though please don’t take that as my saying he didn’t deserve it. The call was close at the end and Dillane definitely has the skillset required for locks in the modern game and showed it throughout his shift. His five-pointer in this match was easily the best of the eight, though much like Jamie Heaslip’s that won the gong at the World Rugby awards last night, it was very much the result of a team effort.
Solid outing from Billy, unlucky to be pinged for a neck roll at one point, part of a solid lineout platform after that opening glitch. Not sure how far he’ll go up the pecking order in this particular crop of locks but certainly earned his chance and used it well.
Great to see him back in the lineup and he played the captain’s role well on top of his flanker’s one. Had me screaming at the telly during the build up to the Dillane try as he appeared to be hobbling a bit so I wanted him to stay away from the breakdown area just for a bit but of course it’s a measure of the man that he’d be having none of it.
Much like his fellow wing forward on the day we saw much of why he was a presumptive starter for RWC2015, but unluckily for him yet luckily for Ireland, he’ll find it tough to unseat his replacement. Hard to see POM & SOB not involved next weekend, but it will be one of those “goof headaches” for Joe & co.
I feel about Jack much like I did about Holland - solid outing including great number 8 work ahead of the Marmion try at the base of a driving scrum. Certainly put his hand up as an option though it would take quite a few injuries to get him into the first team’s 8 jersey.
Hate to be negative about any player but I wasn’t exactly bowled over by KM here, or against Leinster a few weeks ago. I just thought the passes and decision-making were just a fraction of a second off. That said, I’m not sure Luke McGrath has had enough game time to justify unseating KM on the bench next Saturday, I just think Jamison Gibson-Park would leap frog the pair of them if he was qualified.
Great display all round. Perfect from the kicking tee including one from either touchline after the first two tries. He will probably be one of the few changes made in the team to play the All Blacks compared to Chicago by replacing Carbery.
Did plenty to make you know he was on the park. I was a bit picky about his finish for the first try in that he could have made the conversion easier although Jackson’s boot made my point moot. Earlsy’s best contribution was smashing DTH van der Merwe (with whom he had an epic battle throughout) after the restart following the 3rd Canadian try, a tackle which won the ball back for us and set us on a path to our own fifth.
His outing was summed up by two successive possessions. First, he provided a strong finish for our second try after the forwards had teed things up in one corner before it was shipped out to the other wing where he had work to do but managed it well. Then off the restart he threw an ill-advised pass that went straight to DTHVDM who easily finished on the way to Canada wiping out our early 14-0 lead. It was hot and cold from him the rest of the match, though more hot to be fair.
Only thing he was missing was a try with his name on it. Amazingly proficient at making every carry into a gain, and when he finds himself in space he also knows how to make the most of the situation. Big things ahead for this player...I reckon his stint on the wing for Leinster earlier in the season was because Joe had him pegged for the Irish 23 jumper against the All Blacks and we may well see him there again.
I’ve already talked down one Ulster back so I may be in trouble for doing likewise to another (maybe I have "Ulst-erior motives"? - really, honestly, I don't)...but I don’t think Craig did enough here to move himself up the pecking order. Good contributions seem to keep ending with bad results like an ill-executed kick forward or losing it in contact after a decent break. Still, knows the Joe playbook and always puts in a shift when called upon.
Normally I believe the practice of giving man of the match to the guy who got the most tries to be a lazy one, but while Tiernan’s two were well taken especially the first, he contributed much more, especially in the area of his basic full-back duties which were solid. Based on this display I’d say Joe doesn’t need to look to Zebo anymore when Rob K isn’t available and he’s reluctant to break up his “Henshayne” centre pairing.
James Tracy - Delighted to see him get a try at the death...this guy’s career has really come on in leaps and bounds since he switched to hooker
Dave Kilcoyne - Just how badly did Killer want a try? I was willing him on with every carry in those final minutes, as no doubt were all in the Loose Head’s Union! I really think he could be challenging Healy for his spot in the first team, though probably not in time for next week. (update - this was confirmed when news came through Monday that he was to go back to his province...unlucky)
John Ryan - another reason we’re well set at tight head - for the second week in a row we had solid scrums both before and after the front row switch.
Donnacha Ryan - I’m still a big fan and I presume his cameo was to get him some more pitch time. Joe will probably keep him with Devin next week though of course Ultan did make a big statement.
Dan Leavy - Even though we have back rowers to burn you have to say Dan earned his chance and he wasted no time clamping himself onto the very first breakdown after his introduction.
Luke McGrath - I thought Ireland’s best spell was towards the end and of course the bench played a part in this although there wasn’t a whole lot of experience among the Canadian subs. Luke was at the heart of our attacking success in those closing stages.
Joey Carbery - missed his place kicks and probably didn’t do enough to prevent Paddy replacing him next week. Even if that’s the case, the experience of the past few weeks and is bound to benefit both him and Leinster.
Niyi Adeolukun - thoroughly deserved his cap and just didn’t have enough time to show what he can do on this stage, though we all know what he’s capable of and no doubt there will be more chances down the line.
Defence - Not a lot to do here...Canada only had 38% of possession and 31% of territory. That probably shouldn’t translate into as many as 21 points but we were only tagged with three missed tackles throughout and for the most part recovered well when someone slipped through.
Canada - when given the chances, they were able to take them and that is to the credit of any Tier2 side against a Tier1. It does not surprise me that both starting wingers scored given the way they play though I didn’t exactly have an interception and a maul in mind as the methods! They are generally good at creating space for attacks in the wider channels, but they don’t have the depth to keep the opposition out for 80 minutes down the other end.
So for me a relatively satisfying performance with one more positive I haven’t mentioned...the All Blacks would have learned absolutely NOTHING from it about how we’re going to play next Saturday. And one thing is for sure...there will be NO ulterior motives for anyone involved that day. Winning will be all that counts, and I for one can’t wait to be there to see how we get on. JLP