Friday 20 September 2019

Tony Ward: 'Players do what's asked as Tadhg Beirne emerges with most credit from money-making exercise'

 

Standing-out: Tadhg Beirne. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Standing-out: Tadhg Beirne. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

We'll not go so far as to suggest it's mission accomplished for this was no mission. It was unashamedly designed to bulk up the coffers.

Playing a top-tier southern hemisphere country in Chicago as part of the November series has its merits but can we appeal to the powers that be to put this developing practice on hold. Yes, on the field there were a number of positives for Ireland on Saturday, but as an exercise in real Test rugby it was a charade from first to last.

England against South Africa was an ugly lump of a game but at least you knew you were witnessing an international encounter underpinned by genuine intensity.

I hate the modern-day Barbarian concept and what we saw in Chicago was precisely that. All that said, he who pays the piper calls the tune and so for Joe Schmidt, Rhys Ruddock and the rest Chicago called.

The players selected (on both sides - although Italian rugby is in a sorry state) gave it everything they could in the circumstances but it was always set to be an opportunity for individuals to make their mark and not the component units. In that respect, it is difficult to highlight an Irish player who didn't deliver.

He'll not be stating it at any media assembly but the object of the exercise for the head coach was to delete names rather than add them with the Argentinians and Kiwis now firmly in view.

Of course, you can only put away the opposition as it is presented and the task for Schmidt, Simon Easterby, Andy Farrell and company now is to assess the reality of what they witnessed against the greater reality coming their way.

In the opening half on Saturday, Jack McGrath, Tadhg Beirne, Ruddock, Jack Conan, Garry Ringrose and Jacob Stockdale were the stand-out figures. Ringrose and Stockdale should start again over the next two weeks with the other four in the mix to make the 23.

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McGrath against Cian Healy is like for like while Ruddock and Conan are in a back-row pile-up.

We have always produced back-row forwards in abundance but never have we possessed the strength in depth as of now. That leaves Beirne and were I James Ryan or Iain Henderson I would be looking worryingly over my shoulder.

It's not just that the newly-adopted Munster man scored a brace of tries, but his sheer presence and footballing intellect in every facet of the game, not least the breakdown, simply cannot be ignored.

Our think tank has some challenge nominating the 23, but fine-tuning the back-five forwards will test their intuitive skills beyond that again.

The scrum-half dilemma continues although I thought Luke McGrath enhanced his pitch given the circumstances. What he brings to the base more than anything is tempo and we as a team with World Cup-winning aspirations need that.

Conor Murray is no slouch in that respect but it is not his greatest strength. The spotlight will now switch to Kieran Marmion who is rightly in pole position ahead of facing the Pumas.

I hope John Cooney is given another shot off the bench in a few days' time as he along with Ross Byrne (particularly impressive) appeared well at ease in the final quarter.

Despite kicking five conversions from five and running with typical menace in broken play, I didn't think Joey Carbery had the type of game in terms of control for which he himself would have wished.

In that frantic first half when a cool head or, more specifically, an energy-sapping kick to either corner was most required, it never looked on the agenda.

He is still Johnny Sexton's shadow ten by a distance but, much like Seán Cronin, Dave Kilcoyne, Josh van der Flier and Jordan Larmour, the case for serious impact off the bench in what truly is a 23-man game holds.

Larmour was pure poetry in motion. We have never had a player with so much God-given attacking talent. Conor O'Shea's comparison with Christian Cullen in his pomp holds. Still, I would have reservations about him facing New Zealand. .

Leadership in the last line comes with experience and Rob Kearney has that. I have a sneaking suspicion the roles may be reversed come Japan with the brilliant Larmour set to fill that green No 15 shirt for many years to come. For now one constructive step at a time.

And a final plea relative to that if I may - Joe, please sign on the dotted line.

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