Saturday 25 October 2014

Tony Ward: Exciting young guns must get run against Pumas

Published 19/11/2012 | 05:00

Fear not, there's no chance of getting ahead of ourselves on the basis of this rout. Fiji were poor, but once this was downgraded to a non-international, it was about giving the best of emerging talent the opportunity to show what they could do a level up – in theory at least – from the provincial game.

Between being downgraded to shadow Test status, to being disgracefully denied so many top players plying their trade in Europe, added to the recent death of former team-mate Maleli Kunavore, the least we would have expected from the visitors would have been an opening quarter of fire and brimstone.

Instead their collective mindset right from the off was anywhere but in Thomond Park.

By contrast, for most, if not all, of the players wearing green, this mismatch mattered. Assessing performance and potential in such one-sided circumstances is difficult, but it would be doing the Irish lads – who were prepared to put their bodies on the line – a disservice were they to be judged on what the opposition didn't do rather than what they themselves did.

For Ireland, it was about numbers 10 to 14. Between them, this quintet delivered seven of the eight tries and 48 of the 53 unanswered points.

Hooker Sean Cronin, in a well-timed tour de force, delivered the remaining try – he and immensely promising flanker Iain Henderson were the standout figures in a one-sided forward romp.

Save for the third quarter, when the game died a fractured death, the Ireland XV managed to exert control.

I feared in advance that a loose and fluid game would favour the free-running South Sea Islanders, but on this sloppy (and that's being kind) evidence, with possession almost a liability for the visitors, it was as shambolic a November series match as I have witnessed.

Ireland assistant coach Les Kiss urged a sceptical public to get behind what he believed to be a young, exuberant and potentially exciting new crop, particularly behind the scrum.

I echoed those sentiments and with very good reason.

The extreme cynics out there, the doom and gloom merchants, will no doubt pedal the glass-half-empty line, as in 'what was achieved against such porous opposition'?

I'll tell you what: here was an Irish backline running with purpose and imagination.

Yes, the passing accuracy could be even better still, but what I felt watching, on a cold and damp November evening in Limerick, was the type of excitement in an Irish backline that I haven't come remotely close to feeling for some considerable time.

It's been a hell of a long time since an Irish three-quarter line – sparked by Conor Murray and the highly composed Paddy Jackson – combined as an attacking unit with such purpose. Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy, Fergus McFadden and Jackson too were outstanding.

Darren Cave also had his moments, but certainly one from Marshall, Gilroy and McFadden could, indeed should, get a start next week – and at the very least all three should be in the frame for detailed discussion in the selection meeting ahead of Saturday's clash with Argentina.

In balancing the feebleness of the opposition with the level of performance, we should perhaps ignore the greatly exaggerated scoreline.

But equally, we should acknowledge an underage player development programme and conveyor belt operating smoothly.

Whatever else may be going wrong, at present this country's still got serious talent.

Irish Independent

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