Friday 9 December 2016

Johnny O'Connor: Solid start from our boys in Irish green

Henshaw, White and Marmion can start the flow of provincial talent

Johnny O'Connor

Published 12/02/2016 | 02:30

Connacht'sd Nathan White at the captain's run last weekend. Photo: Sportsfile
Connacht'sd Nathan White at the captain's run last weekend. Photo: Sportsfile

The Connacht contingent did themselves proud last weekend against Wales. It was a pity that Kieran Marmion didn't get on to show what he's got, but Nathan White and Robbie Henshaw had good, solid outings.

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There was a bit of talk about the scrum and a few penalties that went against Ireland there, but I thought in the context of it Nathan did really well. He was good in the loose, had a few carries and made his tackles.

It was always going to be difficult to compete against a dominant Welsh pack at set-piece. So overall, he will be pleased by that and needs to take confidence from every outing in an Irish shirt.

That will only be good for Connacht going forward, and despite losing Rodney Ah You, to have Nathan and a prospect like Finlay Bealham it's very promising, and bodes well for next season.

Robbie gave another starring display in midfield and he just goes from strength to strength. That extra game against Scarlets a couple of weeks ago seemed to do him the world of good, and although he hasn't featured much for Ireland this term, he looks like one of their best operators in the backline.

He's never scared of the physical stuff either, and faced with Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies, he fronted up and put in the big tackles. Another aspect were the hard lines he ran; it can't be easy to take the ball up like that time and again, but he relishes those collisions.

I could see him being the star of the Six Nations for Ireland again this year and who knows where that will take him, in terms of being in contention for a Lions spot in New Zealand in 2017. He looks like one of the better midfielders around at the moment.

But, overall, that performance from Ireland will have lifted a lot of the doom and gloom that surrounded rugby on this island since their quarter-final defeat to Argentina in the World Cup.

But the players and management masterminded this new style of play that we haven't really seen from Ireland in the past. And you would hope it is something they can continue into the future.

When you are 13-0 up you expect not to give too much away in international rugby but Wales have a really good habit of coming back into games like that, and they have done it to Ireland many times in the past.

Turning

The Keith Earls tackle was a big turning point, and in my opinion that was a questionable decision. It might have looked awful, but rugby is a contact sport and at those speeds there is only certain things you can control.

What goes up must come down, and it was just unfortunate the way Liam Williams fell after the initial hit, but I think it was a fair tackle. Common sense needs to be applied more often in the game of rugby, and that's a perfect example. There was no intent from Earls to hurt the player there.

From there Rhys Priestland stepped up to slot that penalty and Wales were on the front foot for a long time after that. Those sort of things turn matches, but at the end of the day a draw is a fair result. They are two of the best teams in the Championship, and it will be just interesting to see how they turn out after that.

This weekend Ireland have a totally different opposition awaiting them in Paris. France under Guy Noves looked inept last weekend; it was chaotic at times and although they have all of the skills and individual brilliance to do damage, there are parts of their game that leave them very vulnerable, especially against an in-form, well-structured side like Ireland.

France can put it together and be absolutely world-class on their day, but when is that going to happen? It must be so frustrating for their fans watching on.

Doing the simple things right, and well, is the key to being a successful international side. And then you have the likes of New Zealand throwing in the added flair. But France don't operate with any sort of structure.

It would have been a disastrous start for Noves had they lost last weekend against Italy, but they will get caught if they continue to play like that. His style is outdated and although it might be exciting to watch now and again, Ireland will exploit them.

Irish Independent

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