Saturday 18 November 2017

Tony Ward: Ice-cool Murray underlines captaincy credentials in an Ireland display for the ages

8 November 2014; Ireland's Tommy Bowe is congratulated by team-mates Conor Murray, left, and Richardt Strauss after scoring his side's second try. Guinness Series, Ireland v South Africa, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
8 November 2014; Ireland's Tommy Bowe is congratulated by team-mates Conor Murray, left, and Richardt Strauss after scoring his side's second try. Guinness Series, Ireland v South Africa, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
8 November 2014; Tommy Bowe, Ireland, is congratulated by teammates Rhys Ruddock, left, and Conor Murray after scoring their side's second try of the game. Guinness Series, Ireland v South Africa, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Rhys Ruddock is congratulated by teammate Peter O'Mahony after scoring their side's opening try of the game.
8 November 2014; Ireland captain leads his players off the field after the game. Guinness Series, Ireland v South Africa, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
8 November 2014; Jamie Heaslip, Ireland, applauds the supporters as he leaves the field after the game. Guinness Series, Ireland v South Africa, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Rhys Ruddock dives in to score his Ireland's try early in the second half at the Aviva Stadium.
8 November 2014; Jonathan Sexton, Ireland, is tackled by Jan Serfontein, South Africa. Guinness Series, Ireland v South Africa, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
8 November 2014; Peter O'Mahony, Ireland, takes possession of the ball from a lineout. Guinness Series, Ireland v South Africa, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
8 November 2014; Conor Murray, Ireland, is tackled by Tebo Mohoje, left, and Tendai Mtawarira, South Africa. Guinness Series, Ireland v South Africa, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
8 November 2014; Conor Murray, Ireland, is tackled by Tendai Mtawarira, South Africa. Guinness Series, Ireland v South Africa, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
8 November 2014; Simon Zebo, Ireland, is tackled by Francois Hougaard, South Africa. Guinness Series, Ireland v South Africa, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
8 November 2014; Victor Matfield, South Africa, wins possession of the ball in a lineout. Guinness Series, Ireland v South Africa, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
8 November 2014; Victor Matfield, South Africa, takes possession of the ball from a lineout. Guinness Series, Ireland v South Africa, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
8 November 2014; Handr? Pollard, South Africa, kicks a penalty. Guinness Series, Ireland v South Africa, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
8 November 2014; Jared Payne, Ireland, is tackled by Jean de Villiers, South Africa. Guinness Series, Ireland v South Africa, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
8 November 2014; Eben Etzebeth, South Africa, is tackled by Jamie Heaslip, left, and Devin Toner, Ireland. Guinness Series, Ireland v South Africa, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
8 November 2014; Jean de Villiers, South Africa, in action against Conor Murray, left, and Tommy Bowe, Ireland. Guinness Series, Ireland v South Africa, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
8 November 2014; Rob Kearney, Ireland, evades the tackle of Jannie du Plessis, South Africa. Guinness Series, Ireland v South Africa, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

On Saturday we witnessed one of the great wins in recent Irish rugby history. An Ireland team playing to the maximum of its ability when the chips were down and resources stretched to the limit against a southern hemisphere superpower with very definite designs on lifting the next World Cup.

All rational pre-match evidence pointed to one outcome at an atmospheric Aviva Stadium. The only question was how close Ireland could take a Springbok side as near as doesn't matter to full strength. Oh we of little faith.

There's no show like a Joe show. The man is meticulous in his preparation, determined and brimming with self-belief - and he consistently manages to transmit those fundamentals to his players.

The net result was one of the gutsiest team performances witnessed at Lansdowne Road for many a long day.

There will be no-one losing the run of themselves out Carton House direction, but the boost to an Ireland squad in the embryonic stage of building towards a serious World Cup assault cannot be understated.

The crucial features of this display were organisation and collective self-belief. That is what Schmidt does when making the seemingly impossible seem so clearly possible.

8 November 2014; Tommy Bowe, Ireland, scores his side's second try of the game. Guinness Series, Ireland v South Africa, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
8 November 2014; Tommy Bowe, Ireland, scores his side's second try of the game. Guinness Series, Ireland v South Africa, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

Admire

There was so much to admire in the way this Irish side went about its business. The key was in frustrating the vaunted South African forward unit at the breakdown.

Whether it was the outstanding Jack McGrath, the equally impressive Rhys Ruddock or the consistent thorn in opposition sides that is Peter O'Mahony, the bottom line was minimal quality possession and maximum frustration from Francois Hougaard out - the Springbok scrum-half had an afternoon best forgotten.

Yes, they had possession, which the post-match stats show, but always on Irish terms as technically and tactically Schmidt, Les Kiss, Simon Easterby and the backroom staff got their tactics pretty close to perfect.

Credit Heyneke Meyer for his honesty (and accuracy) when conceding: "Ireland played the conditions better and were tactically superior."

Once the Irish eight (with Paul O'Connell again selfless in his role as leader) met the Bok juggernaut at source, the structure was in place for Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton (yes, Lions both) to come of age as a test pairing. That they did. . . and how.

With respect to Hougaard and the hugely promising Handre Pollard, the Irish game-running duo were in a different tactical league, putting their team in the right areas. It's called common sense rugby - same now as ever it was.

And what of the new centre pairing? Case proved? Probably not on one outing but what a promising introduction. Aside from one scissors switch early on, Bok centres Jean De Villiers and Jan Serfontein never came remotely close to dominating or threatening in the most obvious sector highlighted in advance.

Both Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne had their moments, looking assured individually and as a unit at this level.

One incredibly astute kick from Henshaw into the left corner leading to Ruddock's vital second-half try showcased intuition and execution way beyond the former Marist College protege's years. It was a match turner.

Indeed, if there was one aspect of this extraordinary Irish performance that stood out beyond the quality, consistency and desire in defence, it would be the assured level of kicking out of hand, with Murray's pin-point cross-field kick to Tommy Bowe's corner for the match-sealing try as good as it gets.

I love the scrum-half's temperament. Never does he appear rattled or fazed. It is why I see him (and I suspect Anthony Foley and Schmidt to be thinking along similar lines) as a captain in the making.

Bowe is back too and along with Simon Zebo and Rob Kearney (another very much in the frame for man of the match) make for as good a counter-attacking back three combination as there is around.

Not in terms of blistering pace or physical size, but for the total footballing package in your full back and wings I cannot see better. Quite where that leaves Andrew Trimble, Dave Kearney, Fergus McFadden, Keith Earls and Luke Fitzgerald upon their return, we'll leave Schmidt to do the sums.

But perhaps the most assuring aspect to this unexpected win came in the post-match interview with the ever grounded O'Connell. The emphasis was on humility and on collective needs going forward. It was Schmidt talking through his captain. A great day to be Irish.

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