Monday, June 18, 2018

Keego on...Melbourne Momentum

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What a difference a week makes. Ireland looked half a second slow last week against a galvanised and smooth Australia side and the score line fairly reflected the game.
This week however, Ireland played hungry, bossed the game, strangled Australia and…….the scoreboard didn’t reflect that at all. Again the referees where in for more scrutiny than they should be. It appears to be an issue in this summer series all round. The referees should be silent for most of the game, the players know the rules and like any sport, the ref should be near invisible. I used to think that they were afraid of making a call but it now appears that they are afraid of NOT making a call. The France and New Zealand games have been aeons worse than Ireland v Australia but there have still been issues. The TMO getting involved sometimes, but not others, the referee begging to be helped by the linesman who isn’t able to name the player who infringed. It was just a calamity all around. World rugby needs to look at how New Zealand is refereed. Either sort that or give everyone the same leniency. The only upshot of this is that I expect more consistency in November. I expect the backlash (unexpected by world rugby) on the summer tours will lead to an edict from on high, where the referee must get it right. The game will slow down for about 6 months and then settle. This helps Ireland against New Zealand in November. No clotheslines in the Aviva this time around. 
But back to Melbourne. 
Australia cut Ireland open with a really nice midfield move started and finished by Beale. As we said last week, the more we heard his name on commentary, the more trouble Ireland is in. As the game progressed, his name was quiet and was substituted with a quarter to go. A good nullification job done from Ireland. Pocock had a game for the ages last week and was another one Ireland needed to deal with; he made 15 tackles and gave away 1 penalty. But he was nowhere near his brick wall self like he was last week. Massive job done by a reenergised Irish back row. They were able to read the game far better than last week; O’Mahony led from the front and was immense all day. Australia appeared to expect back row dominance and scrum parity. They had the latter but nowhere near the former. 
Beale scored after 2 minutes, Conway finished a great Irish move in the corner at 7 minutes, and he looked great but took a knee to the hip while scoring. Looked sore from the couch, I can only imagine how it felt for Conway himself. Australia where kept scoreless until a penalty try at 26 minutes. Ireland kicked 2 penalties. Not a good return for their pressure but the board was ticking over far better than last week. The penalty try came from Australian pressure which Ireland can’t really complain about.
16-14 to Ireland at half time. Ireland had been strangling Australia and a few seconds of a loss of concentration led to a penalty try. Also, the championship minute’s tactic was in full affect here, Ireland won a penalty on the Australian 22 but was not allowed to take the scrum. Mental bullet shot into Australia just before half time. 
Ireland looked free and relaxed so far. Defending with grit and not giving anything away. Massive intensity and scrap from them. Fantastic to see. Offloads happening seconds into the second half. O’Mahony playing like a Fijian 7’s player with his silky offloading. I was off the couch at this stage enjoying the way Ireland where playing. They just needed to score. The game was too close for all of the possession and territory they had. As an aside, there was a player (Coleman) who was concussed and back in the line of defence for Australia. This just CANNOT happen in rugby at any level. If it means blow the whistle and restart to get the player off the pitch then that is what has to be done. Sexton has been employing a shorter pass today and it has been befuddling Australia, and bringing in the big boys at speed into contact. Pocock got away with a steal to alleviate pressure, but the green waves kept coming. 
A short pass inside to Keith Earls who snuck off his wing like the lads in Oceans 11 and he cut through the guts of Australia. Kearney chased and was in perfect position for a cheeky offload. Fantastic play and exactly what Ireland needed. 49 minutes on the clock and there is only 1 team in this. But as always, the return has to be found. Money has to be made when you have this much momentum.  Pressure led to advantages which led to attack on the Aussie line, but a double movement from McGrath led to a penalty. Earls really should have been given a try in the corner, a fantastic scrappy finish from Earls but the referees call it the other way. But the waves kept coming. 54 minutes and a ballsy lineout from Herring (another great shift from him) to the 7 foot tail of the lineout in Toner (see comments on Herrings play) lead to more advantages. The truck full of wexford beef started rolling and Furlong was in position 1a to take a Murray pass and batter 2 and a half Australians to score. Important to have a return on the pressure. 
Ireland defended high and tight, turned over ball that Australia where recycling last week and where demoralising the home side. The play said one thing, the scoreboard another thing. Sexton had a great kicking game with a lot of tricky kicks splitting the posts. The big thing I noticed was the shape of the kick was the same all day. Much like a golfer trusting his shot shape, Sexton hit a nice little left to right shape all day from everywhere. He trusted the feet and the feet delivered. 
24-16 at 77 minutes and Ireland looked confident but getting tired. The intensity was massive again in this game massive hits. 
Australia on the Irish line and score at 77 minutes. Ireland look very tired, a long 2 year season catching up now. They hold on for a 26-21 win. Ireland draws a knock on through pressure and deserves the win. 
Let’s look at the stats.
Ireland had 60% possession for 63% territory. 
Ireland forced Australia to make 60 more tackles at 177, they made 143 of them. Shows the work they had to get through. Ireland made 99 of 117.
Australia conceded 15 penalties to Irelands 12 (still too high for Ireland)
And the big one, last week Ireland conceded 21 turnovers, this week they conceded 9! Unreal change! Something was identified during the week and the backrow stepped up. 
A massive game from Ireland who should have been out of sight. For all of the talk of the defence, Ireland conceded tries again. It is the only worrying stat, how many times in 3 years have Ireland conceded 3 tries. Puts pressure on everywhere else. If everything is working as it was on Saturday then they can score, the week before was a different story. 
Bring on Sydney! I smell a series win! 
Keego (@nkeegan): Blogger, professional wrestler, sometime attempted rugby player (@TheThirsty3rds), professional procrastinator and attempted musician with a fondness for long walks on the bar, tea and the couch. Opinionated Leinster fan and constant gardener.

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