Five-try Ireland get Schmidt era off to a perfect start
Ireland got the Joe Schmidt era off to a blistering start with a record-breaking five-try destruction of Samoa, lifting them above the visitors into seventh place in the world rankings.
Tries from Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien and Fergus McFadden, and a brace on his debut for Dave Kearney ensured Ireland head into next week’s clash against Australia brimming with confidence.
After a sluggish start dominated by scrums, Ireland showed enough quality in the second-half to see off the committed Samoans, as well as offering glimpses that Schmidt’s style can reap rewards.
Brian O’Driscoll produced the game’s magical moment, a superb pass beneath his legs in the build-up to O’Brien’s try, as he reminded Ireland just what they will miss when he retires at the end of the season.
And there was a further boost for Ireland when Paul O’Connell made his first appearance in an Ireland shirt since March 2012.
Joe Schmidt saw a lot of areas for Ireland to work on for next week's clash with the Wallabies and Monday's video analysis may not be easy viewing for some.
When asked about the performance, the Kiwi said: "Untidy, earnest. Some good endeavour but not the accuracy we're looking for.
"It's like the appetiser and there is a double main course to come and they're going to be massive steps up. I'm already looking ahead and nervous for next week."
"The Samoans were short of a few players and we need a reality check on Monday and we've got a real step-up to take next week.
"I just think our ball security wasn't great. We turned over six balls in the first half just from poor handling and we've got to be alot better than that.
"You can't offer full-strength sides opportunity like that and I think with the Wallabies coming up next wee, that's a risk we can't afford to take.It was nice to see some elements. It was nice to see the drive for the first try which was top drawer and a couple of the other tries."
On the performance of man-of-the-match Jack McGrath, Schmidt said: "Jack started really well. We asked a fair bot of him, he hasn't had a massive amount of game time lately but we felt we needed to get that running into his legs and he didn't disappoint us at all."
On Brian O'Driscoll's magical second half flick and the outside centre's display, he added: "A great little pass between his legs but a few defensive reads that he'll look at again and a couple of things early in the game when we maybe forced off-loads that we didn't have to dp."
Jackson kicked Ireland into a 3-0 lead after just three minutes from in front of the posts after some excellent work from Peter O’Mahony at the first breakdown, making amends from an opening error at the restart.
However, a poor mistake from the restart allowed Samoa to demonstrate some of their trademark passing invention behind the scrum and a Mike Ross offside allowed Tusi Pisa to level matters in the eighth minute, the first of his two first-half penalties.
In a stop-start game, Samoa played most of the rugby and enjoyed twice as much possession as a nervy Ireland, who kicked away much of their usable possession.
With 12 scrums and resets in the opening quarter, it wasn’t the fizzing encounter much of the crowd had hoped to see, although they were cheered when O’Mahony won a second penalty to allow Jackson to double the lead in the 21st minute.
And O’Mahony capped off an impressive opening when he scored the first try of the Schmidt era, albeit his finish from a 20-metre lineout drive was more redolent of forwards coach John Plumtree than the enigmatic head coach.
Man of the match Jack McGrath, debuting assuredly at loose-head in a scrum that was becoming a penalty machine for the Irish, had won the penalty that allowed Jackson to kick for territory and the Irish pack did the rest.
The Ulster man missed the conversion but Ireland now had a healthy 11-3 lead in the 27th minute that reflected their utter dominance in the set-piece and tight exchanges, despite the Samoan’s danger in unstructured play.
O’Driscoll produced the half’s only real bit of quality, a no-look pass that almost created a try.
While he wasn’t looking, he was also tip-tackled by opposite number, George Pisi, and Jackson’s final act of the first-half was to kick the resulting penalty, from the touchline, for a commanding 14-6 lead.
Another moment of magic from O’Driscoll made the game safe just seven minutes into the second-half, a sublime pass between his legs setting up a try scored by Sean O’Brien, a seven-pointer that put his side 21-9 ahead.
Samoa lost Pisi and Brando Vaaulu when the pair collided just before the half-hour and even by this stage the game was disintegrating into a patternless affair, Ireland perhaps guilty of having one eye on the visit of a buoyant Wallaby side.
Scrum-half Kahn Fotuali assumed the place-kicking duties and he made it 21-9 as Ireland emptied the bench, allowing Dave Kearney, brother of Lions and Leinster full-back Rob, to join McGrath in making an international debut.
And he celebrated in magnificent style, scoring a try in the corner with his first touch within just a couple of minutes of his introduction, despite the pedantic intervention of the Television Match Official
And there was also a welcome return for O’Connell, the 2009 Lions captain making his first appearance since March 2012 before McFadden added a fourth try in the final ten minutes.
Ireland: R Kearney; T Bowe (D Kearney 60), B O'Driscoll (I Madigan 70), G D'Arcy, F McFadden; P Jackson, C Murray (E Reddan 60); J McGrath (C Healy 60), R Best (S Cronin 70), M Ross (D Fitzpatrick 60); M McCarthy (O’Mahony 60), D Toner; P O'Mahony (P O’Connell 54), C Henry (S O’Brien 35), J Heaslip.
Samoa: F Autagavaia; A Leiua, G Pisi (I Tuifua 75), J Leota, B Vaalu (F Otto 57); T Pisi (J Sua 57), K Fotualii (capt); S Taulafo (J Johnston 75), W Avei (T Paulo 51), L Mulipola (V Atafia 9), F Lemalu (J Tekori 52), T Paulo, O Treviranus, J Lam, T Tuifua (F Levave 68).
Referee: Steve Walsh (New Zealand)