Thursday 8 December 2016

So easy for Ireland, but injury blows cause concern

Brendan Fanning in Cardiff

Published 09/08/2015 | 02:30

Keith Earls scores Ireland’s third try
Keith Earls scores Ireland’s third try

The story of Cardiff was more about the hip injury suffered by Tommy O'Donnell, and Andrew Trimble's curtailed afternoon, and less of the comings and goings on the scoreboard, even if the 35-21 win moved Ireland to second in the world rankings for the first time.

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"At the moment we know he's hurt his hip but we don't know what the injury is - we'll know more in the next 24-48 hours," Joe Schmidt said afterwards. "The frustrating thing for Tommy is he made 14 or 15 tackles, got at least three, maybe four or five turnovers. As he fatigued, he probably conceded a few of those penalties that I spoke of. I thought he had started the game really strongly and he's such a dynamic player for us - so we'll just cross our fingers and wait and see how it is."

As for Trimble, the coach said the wing's departure was due to a foot sprain rather than the toe injury which cost him a season of international rugby last year.

At this time of year the only way to keep your cards is close to your chest. In which case, what we get is not so much Test rugby as test card rugby: you warm the TV up but there's only one picture on.

The perfect illustration of this in Cardiff yesterday was illustrated when Ireland - the dominant force between two largely second-string sides - got scrum ball in those much sought-after positions: around the 15-metre line, deep in the opposition 22.

For the first, on the left-hand side, the one thing you knew for sure was that nothing elaborate would come of it. So they went straight to Darren Cave, who trucked it up further than he thought likely. And for the second, on the other side of the field, again there was a flashing light on Cave's head.

If he thought the previous carry was good he won't have believed the cock-up in the Welsh defence that allowed him score by the posts.

Naturally enough, Warren Gatland afterwards pointed to Ireland's 'limited' game plan, the implication being that his own side had played a whole heap of rugby. They didn't, and what they did play was most pretty poor.

Gatland had a good yak with Schmidt in the lead-up to this so he knew exactly what to expect from Ireland in their approach. What he hadn't bargained on was the level of error from his own side, who didn't look comfortable in any area of the field.

Morever, he didn't have anything like the same number of players who came through with credit. This week Schmidt will trim the squad by about seven bodies. Of that bunch, forwards Tadhg Furlong, Rob Herring and Jack Conan, along with backs Craig Gilroy and Noel Reid, appear closest to the door. Of yesterday's contingent, Kieran Marmion started the game probably knowing that, for him, this was about giving him more experience in case he is called up later in the script because of injury. Isaac Boss is ranked number three in the scrumhalf club and his non-involvement here didn't alter that.

Fergus McFadden and Felix Jones too will have a bit of a sweat on - which is unrelated to their ability, or indeed performance in Cardiff, and more to do with the riches enjoyed by Schmidt in the back three. The hugely successful return of Earls emphasised this point.

Second-row is not too shabby either, so Donnacha Ryan's run-out gives the coach even more comfort there. Currently, his most pressing concern is at prop, where Cian Healy is the main worry - chances are he will be taken whether fit or not if there is a decent chance of him getting up to speed during the pool phase - and Marty Moore, who will have to prove on Saturday that he is on track after his lay-off.

With three games to go Schmidt already will be offering up prayers, less for winning scorelines and more for safe passage. The sight of O'Donnell, first hoovering up the ground and mad for contact, and then getting a blast of gas before being carted off, was sobering.

With luck, there won't be any more pictures like that for Ireland.

Report, Page 11

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