Tuesday 17 September 2019

Rory Best vows Ireland 'will be better' when Joe Schmidt's men face the All Blacks

Luke McGrath of Ireland scores his side’s third try in the win over Argentina at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile
Luke McGrath of Ireland scores his side’s third try in the win over Argentina at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

New Zealand will fly into Dublin this evening and most Irish rugby supporters will be relieved that they arrive with a win rather than a loss in their rear-view mirror. The All Blacks looked doomed at a sodden Twickenham yesterday until referee Jerome Garces and his TMO Marius Jonker bailed them out with an offside decision against Courtney Lawes, ruling out England's try that looked like a match-winner.

"Lawes was basically in (TJ) Perenara's pocket he was so far offside," New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said after his side's 16-15 win. Perhaps the point is, however, that there were lots of other rear-foot offsides in the game that went unpunished.

Whatever, did Ireland need to be facing, as two years ago, a New Zealand side coming to Lansdowne Road in search of an immediate uplift?

Pumas coach Mario Ledesma had an interesting take on it. "I didn't see their game (against England) but if they were bad it's difficult for them to be bad two games in a row."

Joe Schmidt will be glad he has avoided a degree of badness where the All Blacks lost. The Ireland coach has a few other problems on his hands though, top of the list being Sean O'Brien's broken right arm. The flanker's relationship with injury is a long tale of woe, and it will require a surgeon to decide on the next chapter.

At least Schmidt is well covered in the back row. And at scrum-half where there was a casualty in Kieran Marmion, one of Ireland's three try-scorers yesterday, who went off with a sprained ankle, Schmidt kept the door open for Conor Murray, who hasn't played this season, when he said, in a comment that may have been aimed more at Hansen: "I'll speak to Conor this week and see how he feels." Schmidt said Murray wasn't named in the squad so as not to put pressure on him. "It's highly unlikely he will be involved but as I said I'll talk to him during the week."

The injuries started in the warm-up when Robbie Henshaw pulled up with what was described as a tight hamstring and it was considered too big a risk to start him and maybe have to change him early in the game. His replacement Will Addison had a fine game. Both Garry Ringrose and Rob Kearney are expected to be fit for next Saturday.

Despite a lineout dipping to 76 per cent Ireland's pack were excellent yesterday and the scrum was a wrecking ball that delivered all three tries. For a nation that has the scrum as part of its rugby culture to be shunted around the park like that will have been hard to bear.

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James Ryan picked up yet another man of the match award, despite a horror sequence of three turnovers in the first half, but he delivered massively after the break. His second-row partner Iain Henderson will have been less pleased with how things worked out. The queue for places in the second row is around the block and the Ulster player needed a bigger game than this.

Devin Toner came on for him and strengthened his claim to start alongside Ryan against New Zealand. So too did Dan Leavy make a big case for Saturday in what is a huge game for Ireland's building towards the World Cup. "His competitiveness, his combativeness - I think he did a really good job," Schmidt said.

The lineout was the only area of discomfort for Ireland. "I think we'll be better for tonight and we'll have that bit more cohesion there for next week," captain Rory Best said. "We'll be better for another week together. It's hard to put a figure on how much we need to get better but we'll improve."

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