We have a lot of work to do, says Jamie Heaslip despite good start against Samoa
Ireland 40 Samoa 9
A GOOD start might be half the battle but the real war begins this week.
Joe Schmidt's era opened with a five-try win, but the coach's reaction in the aftermath told Ireland's players and fans that he expects much, much more from his team in the weeks to come.
Ireland put 40 points on Samoa, but next week's opponents Australia had earlier scored 50 in Turin against Italy. The difficulty graph for this tough November schedule always had an upward curve and it steps up several notches as next Saturday evening approaches.
Schmidt had spoken in the build-up about his admiration for this Samoan team, but they came in under strength and, it appeared, somewhat undercooked. Their players went down with a frequency last seen with Ireland's personnel during the last Six Nations, and their day was summed up when out-half Tusiata Pisi and winger Brando Vaaulu violently collided in midfield in the 57th minute and went off with head injuries.
From then on, the islanders folded and Ireland ran in three tries to put a gloss on a performance that had looked lacklustre for much of the evening.
The hosts ceded possession and territory to the Samoans, but still managed to keep them tryless. They kicked more, passed less and made 156 tackles to Samoa's 92.
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It left the head coach pleased with the effort, but frustrated by his team's lack of accuracy.
The happiest man in the coaching box had to be forwards coach John Plumtree, who enjoyed a dream debut. The set-piece ran seamlessly, Ireland scored off a 20-metre maul and their work at the breakdown and in the tackle was excellent.
There were accomplished debuts from Jack McGrath and two-try Dave Kearney, while Chris Henry's hamstring was the only injury of real note as Brian O'Driscoll, Mike Ross, Cian Healy, Paul O'Connell and Sean O'Brien each got minutes under their belt on the road back to full health.
But there was also a sense that the step up in class required over the course of the next few days will be a big one, and there will be plenty of material for Schmidt's first Monday review as the national team coach.
"As a whole it was quite positive and we took a step in the right direction, but as always there were a lot of 'work-ons' and I'm pretty sure Joe, Les (Kiss) and John are going to have a nice little sheet of 'work-ons' for us on Monday," said stand-in captain Jamie Heaslip.
Schmidt praised his team's endeavour, but admitted that they would need to be much improved next week.
"Australia are the third-ranked team in the world, we're a fair way off that. We've got to maximise our performance next week," he said.
"You've got to crawl before you can walk, before you can run. We just need to understand that we have to look after the ball first, and I think the other elements of the game can come.
"I'd accept that there should be some criticism of the backline. I did think that we did two very nice scrum set-plays that resulted in one immediate try and one three phases later.
"We grew during the game and delivered a little bit more towards the end. At the same time that was after the collision between their two players that meant that they probably had less organisation in their defence, so we maybe profited from a little bit of disorganisation from them."
One of those 'work-ons' will surely be around the defensive line, which fractured several times in the early stages and allowed the Samoans some big gains that they failed to capitalise on. There was also uncertainty around kick-off receptions and a tendency to kick possession away needlessly.
The first half was as difficult to analyse as it was to watch, given there were 17 scrums and a host of stoppages due to injury.
Paddy Jackson got Ireland under way with a third-minute penalty thanks to strong work on the ground by the excellent Peter O'Mahony, but it was cancelled out when Gordon D'Arcy made a mess of the restart and Mike Ross was harshly penalised for offside in midfield. Pisi levelled.
The visitors lost tighthead Logovi'i Munipola in the build-up to that penalty, and his replacement Viliamu Afatia found the step-up from French second tier rugby difficult as Jack McGrath earned a penalty at the scrum that led to Jackson restoring the lead.
McGrath was enjoying his debut, partly because it largely involved scrummaging, and he again destroyed Afatia to give Jackson a chance to kick for the corner. Rory Best found Devin Toner and Ireland set about marching their way to the Samoan line and, despite three separate attempts to haul down the maul illegally, O'Mahony touched down.
Jackson missed the conversion and Pisi soon narrowed the gap from the tee, but Samoa finished the half with 14 men as George Pisi was nailed by the TMO for a tip-tackle on Tommy Bowe and headed to the sin-bin as Jackson made it 14-6 at the break.
That lead would grow to 15 while Pisi watched from the stands as a brilliant Best turnover – one of several – led to a clever Jackson kick that cruelly evaded Vaaulu, and O'Driscoll executed a sublime between-the-legs flick for McFadden, who took contact. Ireland recycled quickly and O'Brien crashed over.
Then the Samoans lost their two men to head injuries and, subsequently, their way. The subdued Kahn Fotuali'i did kick a penalty, but as Schmidt brought on a raft of replacements on the hour-mark, the visitors wilted and things started to click for Ireland as a set-piece move involving McFadden and D'Arcy was carried on by Healy and eventually the brothers Kearney combined for Dave to score a debut try.
McFadden then got his own score after brilliant work from D'Arcy, before Kearney sealed the win with his second try, and Ireland's fifth, as he took Eoin Reddan's pass at the end of a move started by Ian Madigan in his own '22'. Jackson couldn't add any extras, but Ireland had breached the 40-point barrier.
Still, no one at Carton House will be getting carried away as they bring their coffees into the meeting room this morning.
"We are going to have to be twice as good as we were tonight," Schmidt concluded. "The Samoans had some good individuals but they were a little bit scattered in amongst some guys who hadn't played as much for them in recent times and that made them a little bit vulnerable and we managed to profit from that."
IRELAND – R Kearney; T Bowe (D Kearney 60), B O'Driscoll (I Madigan 70), G D'Arcy, F McFadden; P Jackson, C Murray (E Reddan 60); J McGrath (C Healy 60), R Best (S Cronin 61), M Ross (D Fitzpatrick 60); M McCarthy (P O'Mahony 60), D Toner; P O'Mahony (P O'Connell 54, blood), C Henry (S O'Brien 35), J Heaslip (capt).
SAMOA – A Faatoina; A Leiua, G Pisi (I Tuifua 74), J Leota, B Vaaulu (F Otto 57); T Pisi (J Sua 57), K Fotuali'i (capt); S Taulafo (J Johnston 74), W Ole Avei (Tii Paulo 51), L Mulipola (V Afatia 8); F Lemalu (I Tekori 51), Teofilo Paulo; O Treviranus, J Lam, T Tuifua (F Levave 69).
REF – S Walsh (Australia)