George Hook: New regime know real challenges lie further down road
Published 11/11/2013 | 02:00
Against Samoa at Lansdowne Road on Saturday evening, Ireland were hard-working and full of intent, but they were also inaccurate and failed on many of the basics. That is my view, but roughly translated it was Joe Schmidt's view immediately after the game.
In a very frank assessment of his team's performance, the coach also did not spare his star player. He suggested that Brian O'Driscoll would not enjoy the video when the team reassembled today.
It was the first time in the professional era that an Irish coach did not resort to gobbledygook in a post-match interview.
The new coach must have despaired in the first half as his charges kicked ineptly, handled poorly and defended catastrophically. In a 52-minute first half, caused by the constant resetting of the scrum which referee Steve Walsh never addressed, Ireland's defence was opened up like a wet envelope.
Paddy Jackson got his positioning all wrong; Fergus McFadden clawed fruitlessly at an opponent; and O'Driscoll insanely shot up out of the line leaving an acre of space.
Were Australia the opponents we would have gone in 30 points behind at half-time.
The first half was probably the worst international seen at the ground in 50 years. Samoa arrived missing some front-line players and lost more as the game wore on, eventually capitulating and putting up a token defence in the second half.
The entire match lasted two hours and the bored attendance engaged in Mexican waves before eventually resorting to chatter rather than cheering. A perceptible hum of conversation could be heard during the game.
The Irish kicking game rivalled its defence. Every back was guilty of kicking the ball to a Samoan defender and inviting him to run back. Where was the brave new world of running from deep, holding possession and imaginative lines of running?
Jackson had a fine game by his standards, but not until the belated arrival of Ian Madigan did we see a fly-half (albeit he was in the centre) run at defenders, and it led to a 70-metre try. Jackson kicked well from the tee and did not obviously err.
However, for McFadden's try he butchered a three-on-two and was saved by a superb piece of running by Gordon D'Arcy, who held two opponents to allow the wing a free run to score. The real issue for Ireland and Schmidt is not how the No 10 performs against average opponents but rather how he does on the biggest stage.
Johnny Sexton will miss more games because of Racing Metro than he would have at Leinster. Thus it is vital that we have a quality back-up.
The Samoans were there for the taking. From the off Jack McGrath had a field day at the scrum and the men in blue looked out of condition.
The lack of puff was evidenced by the number of times the visitors recycled the ball only to lose possession to fitter, stronger and more aggressive opponents. The Pacific Islanders will tumble down the rankings if there is a repetition of this performance.
Nowhere was that more obvious than when Jamie Heaslip had a running argument with the referee, which cost his side 30 metres.
The Samoans wasted the opportunity though, lost the ball and conceded seven to a breakaway try which owed more to the vision of Jackson's long kick than O'Driscoll's flick through his legs.
There was definite good news for the Irish scrum. No longer are Mike Ross and Cian Healy indispensable, but even Dave Kilcoyne and Stephen Archer have slipped down a notch. It is good news as Ireland face a dodgy Australian scrum and although New Zealand struggled against France in the set-piece, we will be glad if we get parity. Happy days indeed.
The true test of what the coach can do will be seen after 20 games when Ireland run out in the World Cup in 2015.
By then he will have lost some iconic figures. The challenge for Schmidt is not how he performs now with established players, but how he does in the future with new ones.