They ran out of players but not spirit - Five talking points from Ireland's big win over Australia
Ireland beat Australia 27-24 in a cracker at the Aviva Stadium this evening. Here are five talking points from what was a compelling encounter.
Ireland run out of players but not spirit
By the first minute of the second-half, Ireland had literally run out of players - back-line players at least, which is the worst possible combination against a sweet and slick Australian back-line.
They scored 24 points in eleven minutes either side of the break during those famed “championship moments” and the damage could have been much worse but Ireland, somehow, bravely clung on and avoided slipping into an abyss.
In many ways, this was an extraordinary win that ranks up there with the Chicago coup and last summer’s win in South Africa.
The three-quarters which played for Ireland in the second-half arrived as virtual strangers. Even Joe Schmidt, who legend would submit even controls what TV programmes the players watch on Irish duty, would not have ran a back-line featuring Marmion on the wing and Carbery at full-back.
So there was no shame in Ireland’s mini-implosion; simply the affirmation that Ireland remain some distance away from being three deep in every position, even if the attrition rate this week has been unusually high.
But the bench impact from the forwards was vital; Peter O’Mahony, Cian Healy and Ultan Dillane were pivotal in the build-up to the Keith Earls try which hauled Ireland back into the game in the final quarter.
Australia rested 11 players for a trip to France last week - and still managed to win. Ireland don’t boast such riches - yet. But yesterday demonstrated that they can still thrive when they are missing some of their best players.
The next three years will help that crusade as they plot towards ensuring another World Cup is not undermined by a lack of strength in depth.
Mumm’s the word on head fears
World Rugby’s latest moral crusade - caused directly by their moral weakness, as usual - in legislating coherently and consistently on the issue of high tackles was utterly undermined in the fall-out of last week’s Test.
There were plenty of anguished cries from the audience when Dean Mumm lifted Tadhg Furlong’s legs and guided his body over the horizontal into the turf during an attempted clear-out.
Despite the result of the offence - the big Wexford man landing in a heap and to his credit not feigning any fake injury - referee Jerome Garces sought the wise counsel of Nigel Owens, the late inclusion as tough judge.
Calmly, they explained that the incident was low enough to the ground and without enough force to warrant any further punishment than that of a penalty.
If officials on the field are allowed to officiate, this sport may yet have a chance to regulate itself.
Ringrose with first of many
“Garry Ringrose with the try for Ireland.” As the match commentators of various hues and medium uttered this phrase in the 34th minute, one sensed it would not be the last time.
There will be many more in this young man’s career; as many as the great Brian O’Driscoll, who scored 46 in his irrepressible reign in green?
Perhaps not but any flattering imitations to the great man were fleeting when he danced through an Australian defence staging its impromptu version of the Mannequin challenge.
There were shades of that seminal O’Driscoll try in Paris on that famous hat-trick afternoon at the start of this century, when the centre scooped the pill from the floor as if it were an empty crisp packet before dashing to the try-line, inside to outside, low to the floor, with a hip-swinging swagger.
This newspaper expressed its disquiet during the week at the fact that, despite enduring return to play protocols for concussion or concussive symptoms, it did not feel right that Ireland should play both CJ Stander and Rob Kearney.
Those fears were heightened when Kearney received a heavy blow in the first quarter which, until he was eventually persuaded to leave the field at the third attempt, forced him for yet more Head Injury Assessment.
Rugby as a sport claims a duty to player welfare that is much-trumpeted but we have long argued that the protocols that allow a player to return within seven days are simply not fit for purpose.
The risk of repeat concussions are obvious so why take it?
Ireland’s kicking game
Ireland’s kicking game was awry and Paddy Jackson’s errant boot into touch cost his side the seven-pointer before the break; his attempt to find space from a counter-attack was a valid choice but it was executed so poorly.
He wasn’t alone as Conor Murray tossed in a couple of poor box-kicks while Keith Earls also kicked ball down the throat of Israel Folau.
Ironically, the riskiest kick was the one that produced a moment of magic; Zebo’s brilliant kick that ended up with Iain Henderson scoring Ireland’s opening try.
Ireland’s restarts also need ongoing surgery; they don’t necessarily need to become prescriptive but at times it seems there is a lack of purpose.
Even in the second-half, Ireland kicked with panic off turnover ball.