Tuesday 16 July 2019

Catch me if you can . . .

Brilliant Larmour leads Ireland’s Chicago rout

Ireland’s hat-trick hero Jordan Larmour runs in his second try, and Ireland’s fourth, during last night’s comprehensive victory over Italy in Chicago. Photo: Brendan Moran
Ireland’s hat-trick hero Jordan Larmour runs in his second try, and Ireland’s fourth, during last night’s comprehensive victory over Italy in Chicago. Photo: Brendan Moran
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Two years on from turning a page in the history of Irish rugby, Joe Schmidt took a different sort of Ireland back to Chicago for a different sort of Test. Then, as now, it opened a series of four games, one of which was against the All Blacks in Dublin, but that's where the comparison ended.

Last night, an understrength Ireland accounted comfortably, 54-7, for an understrength Italy in front of a scattered crowd. None of that will surprise you.

You probably won't be bowled over either by the news that Jordan Larmour scored three tries and added to his growing reputation as a man who does untold damage from broken play. How good will he be by the World Cup? Impossible to put a measure on that from this distance - what is certain is that Ireland's pool opponents will go out of their way not to kick badly to him, for by then everyone will be very well acquainted with who he is.

And the same is certain for Tadhg Beirne. Apart from two tries, his contribution was massive. He is the best all-round rugby player in Ireland just now, so it will be interesting to see how Joe Schmidt uses him next.

The coach probably will take some time to calm down from the concession of a try just before half-time - not that Ireland don't concede their fair share in that department but when a pre-called move gets lost in translation there is widespread discomfort in the camp.

When he gets over that intercept that briefly brought Italy back into the game, he can focus on getting the best from Beirne. Picking from a full deck might see him slipped back onto the bench, which is fair enough given what he will bring when he comes on. But why not run with it at the start?

If Schmidt wants to trot out his best back-row against New Zealand in a fortnight then he will play Beirne at six, CJ Stander at eight, and toss a coin between Dan Leavy and Seán O'Brien at openside. His team to face Argentina on Saturday will give you a clue on his thinking but no more than that. Schmidt loves players who do lots of small things very well, and pretty much all the time. Chicago gave us further evidence that Beirne is that man.

Earlier in the day, New Zealand, put 69 on Japan but conceded 31 points, the third time in five games their defence has leaked more than 30 points.

In the Guinness Pro14, Connacht made it four wins from eight with a bonus-point win, 5-2 on tries, over the Dragons in Galway. It put them into third place overnight but that's likely to change following this afternoon's ties where wins for Munster and Cardiff would likely shift Connacht back to fifth spot. In Conference B, Ulster moved up to second place with a hard-earned win in Treviso.

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