Monday 19 February 2018

Clinical Irish smash Samoa

Ireland 40 Samoa 9

Dave Kearney shows superb skill and awareness, despite the efforts of Faatoina Autagavaia, to score the first of his two tries in yesterday’s win over Samoa
Dave Kearney shows superb skill and awareness, despite the efforts of Faatoina Autagavaia, to score the first of his two tries in yesterday’s win over Samoa
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

If you were an Ireland supporter in Lansdowne Road yesterday then you were more thankful for the benign conditions than the impressive stat of a 5-0 try count to open the Joe Schmidt era.

This was an endurance test, and had it been a few degrees lower and flogging down with rain then what was a good attendance of 39,108 for this fixture would have been halved by the time referee Steve Walsh said it was over. And he didn't get round to saying that until nearly two hours after he had started it.

As it was, a good deal of the attendance had tuned out by that stage. The contest was over early in the third quarter when, with George Pisi in the bin, Ireland went into a 21-6 lead. And it lurched towards the bizarre before the hour mark when Samoa lost two men in the same concussive incident. Yet it was only coming down the final straight that the green shirts could afford a wave to those who had been Mexican waving to them from much earlier.

The attrition rate was compounded by referrals upstairs to make it a long night, but that aside it should have been better than this. You left wondering indeed what it would have been like had Ireland been up against stronger opposition – the Samoans had been weakened before the start. "Our ball security wasn't great and we turned over six balls in the first half from poor handling," Schmidt said afterwards. "We have to be a lot better than that. You can't offer full-strength sides opportunities like that, and with the Wallabies coming up that's a risk we can't afford to take."

His video review will get off to a dodgy start, because that's what Ireland endured. From as early as the restart to Paddy Jackson's opening penalty – he hit six from eight – which Gordon D'Arcy misjudged, to a loose clearance from Conor Murray and a dodgy offload by Brian O'Driscoll, the home team looked like they were using a remote control with fading batteries. Just as well then that they had full power up front. While the Wallabies were struggling with the Azzurri scrum in Turin yesterday, Ireland were having an armchair ride against the different shade of blue.

It helped Ireland that the injuries started in their opponents' front row as early as the eighth minute, which was ideal for new boy and man of the match Jack McGrath.

We've no idea what the odds were on him picking up this award but surely they'd have been long enough to attract no interest. He had a great start at the set-piece which facilitated him contributing elsewhere as well. The other debutant, Dave Kearney, didn't do so badly either, picking up two tries in his 20-minute spin.

The first touchdown, probably uniquely, saw the final pass coming from his brother Rob. The fullback attracts occasional criticism over his defence, perhaps unfairly, but he was in the headlights for one tackle on Alapati Leiua and he shone brightly with a great stop. The second was the finishing touch to a fine score, shortly before the final whistle, in a 70-metre attack that was well conducted down the tramlines.

Other than that, Paddy Jackson kicked well off the tee, though somehow managed to miss a gimme at the end, and Peter O'Mahony was Ireland's thief in chief in the first half-hour when the home team's looseness was giving Samoa far too much opportunity. When they ran at Ireland they were forcing soak tackles, and with a bit more continuity they would have caused Ireland's defence more stress.

It would have been interesting to see how Chris Henry coped with all of this but he was gone with a hamstring strain shortly before half-time on a day when he was desperate to impress. He will have a scan today, and while he was unlikely to start against the Wallabies, missing out on the rest of the series would be a huge setback for him.

When they fetch up here on Saturday it will be a much-changed home team, with Paul O'Connell – who got the loudest cheer of the day when coming off the bench – Luke Marshall, Johnny Sexton, Cian Healy and Sean O'Brien all in the frame to start.

Three of that quintet – O'Connell, Healy and O'Brien – made useful contributions off the bench yesterday. Indeed it was O'Brien's try, with George Pisi in the bin, and facilitated by a brilliant pass by O'Driscoll, that put Ireland out to 21-6 and effectively ended the issue. Then when Samoa lost Tusi Pisi and Brando Vaalu after a horrible collision on the hour mark it was time for the stewards to take their positions.

Ireland's lead at the end of the first half had been 14-6 thanks to Jackson nailing three from three, with the only try coming from O'Mahony, who was on the end of a perfect 15-metre maul. With that sort of dominance at the set-piece the home team always had a get-out-of-jail card. They didn't have to use it, but Australia will come with their tails up after sticking 50 on Italy, and it will be an entirely different contest. And it will be much better than this.

Scorers – Ireland: D Kearney 2 tries, P O'Mahony, S O'Brien, F McFadden try each, P Jackson 3 cons, 3 pens. Samoa: T Pisi 2 pens, K Fotuali'i pen.

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 (P O'Mahony 60), D Toner, P O'Mahony (P O'Connell 54), J Heaslip (capt), C Henry (S O'Brien 35).

Samoa: F Autagavaia; A leiua, G Pisi (yc 40-50), J Leota (I Tuifua 76), B Vaalu (V Afatia 57); T Pisi (J Sua 57), K Fotuali'a (capt); S Taulafo, W Ole Avei (T Paulo 52), L Mulipola (J Johnston 8), F Lemalu (J Tekori 52), T Paulo, O treviranus, T Tuifua (F Levave 68), J Lam.

Referee: S Walsh (Australia)

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