A positive start, now let's really kick on
Clinical display against Canada bodes well for rest of tournament
Published 25/09/2015 | 02:30
I was engrossed in the opening weekend of the Rugby World Cup, and Ireland's win over Canada was arguably the most clinical performance of all.
Wales struggled at times in their big win over Uruguay. New Zealand and England were pushed hard by Argentina and Fiji respectively. But Ireland never looked in trouble.
Sure, at the start of the second-half Paul O'Connell was in the sin-bin, but Ireland held out and went on from there to finish very strongly.
In terms of confidence, it was a totally different Irish side to the warm-up games. There were a couple of knock-ons in the early stages, but that was to be expected with the first-day nerves.
At that stage there was a slight worry that Ireland would repeat the poor performance they gave against England, but they kicked on.
They were really clinical, and the breakdown was back to its best. There was some fantastic inter-play between backs and forwards, and that created space in the wider channels.
Ireland made more metres than anyone else all weekend too - they topped the polls with 732 metres made. Obviously Ireland didn't play against a top-tier side, but it was always going to be a tough game.
Discipline was good, Paul was harshly sin-binned but overall that facet of the game was much improved from the warm-ups.
In terms of momentum and confidence, Ireland need to build on that through the pool stages. They didn't pick up any injuries either, which is very important.
The kicking game was up to scratch too, and it's great that Johnny Sexton played so well.
Early on there was a pass that didn't go to hand, and a kick that came off the side of his boot. But other than his game management was excellent.
Johnny is imperative to how Ireland go. He is so influential and if he goes well, generally the team does well too.
Throughout the side, individuals performed brilliantly. Conor Murray had another good outing - his distribution and physicality was a major plus.
Against England, Ireland made errors but the likes of Luke Fitzgerald, Dave Kearney and many others stood up to the plate.
In 2007, individually Ireland weren't up to the speed of it from the off. So it's great to see guys like Iain Henderson kick this World Cup off on the right foot. He was one of the top tacklers in the competition with 19 against Canada, and constantly got over the gain-line.
It is quite a commodity to have - when someone can always make that metre or two and give the team that front-foot ball. That makes life so much easier. In terms of the team's attack - it is all-important because guys can arrive at the ruck with forward momentum.
Henderson has been a revelation in the last couple of games and thoroughly deserves his selection. Devin Toner had been playing so well in the Six Nations and it is harsh, but Henderson is a unique prospect in the second-row. He took the position, rather than Devin losing it.
It's huge for a team in a World Cup to have that depth though, and that has been a feature of Joe Schmidt's reign. Sean Cronin is another fantastic option off the bench, you love to see him sprung around the hour-mark.
He is like a winger or a powerful centre that plays at hooker. He is an incredible ball carrier, has great speed and feet. And he scores tries for fun.
Cronin is probably overlooked a little bit for the starting spot, but when you have Rory Best there as well, there can be no complaints.
Ireland are in a good place as they move into the Romania game on Sunday - I expect something similar from another fresh selection at Wembley.
It's important that everyone gets their chance to build and another win would give them more momentum from the first game.
Ireland are in World Cup mode now and need to keep the pedal down. The two big games in the pool - Italy and France - are yet to come.
But every World Cup game is important, so Schmidt will have his side clued in from the off.