Tuesday 27 September 2016

Alan Quinlan: Injury to Tommy a terrible blow on day when Ireland - and Pumas - showed class

Alan Quinlan

Published 10/08/2015 | 02:30

The injury to Tommy O'Donnell is a devastating blow
The injury to Tommy O'Donnell is a devastating blow

One of the things Joe Schmidt and his management team would have addressed when they sat down to start planning this World Cup campaign would be how to deal with the massive level of expectation which has arisen from successive Six Nations triumphs.

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That task was not made any easier at the weekend in Cardiff - if anything it has increased substantially.

But isn't that a great problem to have? We are now up to second in the world rankings, the first time that has ever happened, and we are just a month out from the start of the World Cup.

Ireland got as much out of Saturday's game in the Millennium Stadium as they could have hoped for, but before anyone starts losing the run of themselves, we need to appreciate that Wales were poor on Saturday and made a lot of mistakes.

But it was the way that Ireland punished them that showed this is a team with a very high work rate, and the speed and accuracy they showed in everything they were doing was encouraging.

Both teams were understrength but it was clear that Ireland have much more in reserve than Wales. I thought Jamie Heaslip laid down a marker and set the tone.

Here's a guy with nothing to prove, yet his approach to the game suggested he was fighting to get the last seat on the plane.

Attitude

When you have someone like him leading the way it makes it much easier for the lads who were trying to impress.

I thought Heaslip's performance summed up the attitude and frame of mind which is in the squad, and was further proof that this is a side who is going about their business in a very professional manner.

Schmidt might have thought the first of four warm-up matches would make the selection of his final 31 a bit easier. It hasn't. It has just made it more difficult.

Indeed, aside from the injury to Tommy O'Donnell, and the much lesser fear surrounding Andrew Trimble, this was a day when nearly everything went right.

The injury to Tommy is a devastating blow. He's from my own club Clanwilliam in Tipperary and I know how proud they all are of him and how much they were backing him not just to make it to the World Cup but impress there.

And up until he got injured he couldn't have done much more to state his case. His tackle count was awesome and he was one of so many players to lay out the best possible argument for inclusion. That is what makes his injury such a massive blow.

I just hope he is back in action as quickly as possible. It is a tough blow for a player to get injured at the best of times, but with a World Cup just a month away it is really terrible.

Keith Earls looked like a fella who was never away, not someone playing his first international in two-and-a-half years. He looked electric and while there were one or two handling errors when he seemed to be looking for space before he got the ball, they were the only flaws in a superb display.

Donnacha Ryan, too, produced a massive display on his return after a similar lengthy period out. He produced countless tackles, was good in the lineout and Schmidt will have been very pleased with what he saw.

But, to be honest, I can't think of a single player who did his cause any harm on Saturday and just about everyone of them enhanced their claim.

They won't need Schmidt to tell them that Wales were poor but they can only play what is put in front of them. And Ireland were just outstanding in the opening 30 minutes and blew Wales away.

I was surprised how accurate and sharp they were in the fundamentals. I expected them to be a bit rusty but the likes of Eoin Reddan was really sharp and throughout the field the bar kept being raised.

Trimble was full of energy. His tackle on Eli Walker for Earls' try was a timely reminder of what he is capable of at this level, while Paddy Jackson played well, even if his kicking wasn't top-notch.

But all of the lads, no matter how well they played, will be looking for improvements because that is the standard which has been set.

Resilience

I thought there was a period there, around the hour mark when Chris Henry received a yellow card where Ireland showed the sort of resilience which has now become a constant with this team.

They defended as if their lives depended on it and that is something which is always great to see.

There was a great tackle from Earls to force a turnover, they won a penalty off a dominant scrum and Rory Best stood out with a great turnover.

It was just clear they were not going to be weakened by being down a man for ten minutes. The great teams are capable of doing that and Ireland showed real steel at that point.

They will return to Carton House in Maynooth with a considerable pep in their step, and rightly so. They will take the performance in the context of the strength of the Welsh challenge but they all should be rightly pleased at how well this went.

But, without a doubt, the standout performance of the weekend was Argentina's shock defeat of South Africa in Durban's Kings Park, their first-ever victory over the mighty Springboks.

Ever since the pools for the World Cup were drawn, there has been a line of thought out there that an Irish win over France would present a handy quarter-final against the Pumas.

That notion was put in its place on Saturday, not only because there is no such thing as any easy World Cup quarter-final but, perhaps more importantly, it showed just how effective Argentina can be in a World Cup.

Not that we would need much reminding of that!

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