Saturday 23 September 2017

Schmidt backs young out-half after costly chargedowns and missed kicks

US Eagles 19 Ireland 55

Jacob Stockdale is tackled by Peter Malcolm as he tries to make a break. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Jacob Stockdale is tackled by Peter Malcolm as he tries to make a break. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

By the time the Ireland squad arrive in Tokyo tonight, after the marathon trek from New York, Joe Schmidt will know if the first hurdle of this two-nation tour has been cleared successfully: the fitness of Joey Carbery.

And even if it hasn't, Paddy Jackson will be waiting to greet them at reception when they arrive at the team hotel, so it wouldn't be catastrophic. In which case a 9-2 win on tries against second-class opposition in searing heat would be a decent return. If Carbery - who may well need a scan on his ankle - is okay, then all the better.

Keith Earls of Ireland is tackled by Marcel Brache of USA. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Keith Earls of Ireland is tackled by Marcel Brache of USA. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Certainly the player himself would love an opportunity to have a different sort of game. You couldn't make it up: twice blocked down for tries, two out of five off the tee, and then hobbling off injured with what Schmidt reckons is not a recurrence of the syndesmosis injury which required an operation midway through the season.

When Schmidt jumped in to bat quickly for Carbery at the post-match press conference, it was confirmation his out-half had had a nightmare. That's what Schmidt does.

"They were two very different kicks," he said of the blockdowns. "One was an attacking kick, one was a clearing kick, so different situations. The first option was superb: the space was there, he just took too long. Looking at the replay it's just the fingertips of the guy, and if we land in behind there was a chance for us to get into space.

Natural

"With Joey, he's a natural player, you want to encourage him to keep playing naturally and I just want him to learn from the experience. I can't imagine I'm going to go too hard on him. There's probably enough that has gone wrong for him today without me jumping on the back of it."

Rhys Ruddock of Ireland is tackled by Ryan Matyas of USA. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Rhys Ruddock of Ireland is tackled by Ryan Matyas of USA. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Schmidt picked five new caps in the match-day squad, and given the trend of the game - plus the 28 degree heat - it was always likely all five would get a run. Jacob Stockdale was the only starter, and his debut unfolded pretty well, with an early try. He looked perfectly at ease with the step up.

James Ryan went one better when he came on in the second half and scored within roughly 60 seconds. And then Andrew Porter was held up over the line. All three were part of last year's U-20 World Cup squad. Now they are Test players.

It was an old hand, though, who stole the show. Keith Earls (right) was man of the match in a two-try performance that had Schmidt hoping Warren Gatland wasn't tuning in.

There were three assists in an outstanding display where he covered a remarkable 218 metres with ball in hand.

Josh van der Flier of Ireland is tackled by Ben Tarr of USA. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Josh van der Flier of Ireland is tackled by Ben Tarr of USA. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

The Eagles have had a handful of fine athletes but none could come close to the package that Earls brought to the game.

So it wasn't much of a contest. Eagles coach John Mitchell pointed to the disastrous start - Earls was over inside three minutes - which exposed the hosts' narrowness in defence. "We looked like a new team," he said.

It was worse than that: they looked like a team many of whom were new to the game. Which, relatively speaking, a lot of them are. Mitchell is doing a runner back to South Africa - where he has lived throughout his 18 months as Eagles boss - in a few weeks, and you wouldn't envy his successor.

They had lots of territory and possession but their skills were woeful.

And despite Ireland losing four balls out of touch, there was a gulf at the set-piece. That was established early on, so the tourists knew that driving a lineout or shunting a scrum was always an option if nothing else was on. But mostly it was.

Keith Earls of Ireland is tackled by Marcel Brache of USA. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Keith Earls of Ireland is tackled by Marcel Brache of USA. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Niall Scannell had a fine game in the dominant pack, as did Josh van der Flier, and the immensely physical replacement Dan Leavy, who deserves a bit more game-time in Tokyo. And Jack Conan got over for another try in a season that, for him, keeps on giving.

Ireland were out of sight, 29-7, at the break, by which stage they were running close to empty.

"They were well and truly fatigued at half-time," Schmidt said. "Jerseys were dripping with perspiration and the ball was very slippy.

"For some players who came on in the second half, the conditions were a bit more difficult, players were tired and we probably weren't as sharp as at stages of the first half

"It's always really hard to judge, to calculate the level of performance, because the context is hard to judge. The context atmospherically was really tough."

Strangely it was the away side who dealt better with it, though the third quarter was sloppy as the traffic cranked up off the bench.

Conceding the block-down tries was an annoyance, but the Eagles worked hard for their third touchdown, on 55 minutes, from Ryan Matyas.

By that point Ireland had been hauled back to 36-19 before pulling away again, and had to work hard enough in the closing stages to avoid conceding a fourth try. They can thank replacement Luke McGrath for that - he pulled off a stunning cover tackle on Eagles captain Nate Augspurger to put him out at the corner flag.

With the talented John Cooney also in the party it gives Schmidt something to think about in Tokyo. For now however he has a very hard-working bunch who look desperate to make a positive impression while the marquee names are off with the Lions. Two more opportunities are coming around the corner.

US Eagles - B Cima; M Te'o, R Matyas, M Brache (W Magie 28 -36, HIA), M Iosefo (S Davies 51); AJ MacGinty, N Augspurger (capt); B Tarr, P Malcolm (J Hilternrand 46), C Baumann (P Ryan 46), N Brakely, N Civetta (M Jensen 46), J Quill, D Tameilau (A Duratolo 46), T Lamborn.

Ireland - T O'Halloran (J van der Flier 73); K Earls, N Ringrose, L Marshall (R Scannell ht), J Stockdale; J Carbery (S Zebo 51), K Marmion (L McGrath 51); C Healy (D Kilcoyne 51), N Scannell (D Heffernan 51), John Ryan (A Porter 51), Q Roux (James Ryan 61), D Toner, R Ruddock (capt), J Conan, J van der Flier (D Leavy 69).

Ref - L Pearce (England)

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