Wednesday 26 September 2018

Neil Francis: Joe Schmidt out-foxes Michael Cheika on great day for the nation's game

Garry Ringrose. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Garry Ringrose. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

What sport will the nation be watching next week? South Korea v Mexico perhaps, Belgium v Tunisia possibly, or maybe the highly competitive match between Dublin and Laois, or another compelling battle between Donegal and Fermanagh. Once again our rugby team shows the way. Our soccer team are not at the big show and the GAA just cannot compensate for the amount of poor-quality sides that manage to get to provincial finals.

The rugby team have done it the hard way. Quite often it's easier to roll over and yet they produced a performance of wilful obduracy yesterday which showed their personality and demonstrated the character, not just of the team but of the nation.

When you win consistently against the odds, away from home against really competitive sides - this island is compelled to watch. I'll say it again: the nation's game.

The victory yesterday in Melbourne was underscored by Joe Schmidt and his sheer force of personality. Ireland's resolve takes its cue from their coach and his manifest will. If there is a way to define how good a coach is, you always look to see how a team performs in the third quarter. An assessment is made on the trend of the game and on the hoof Schmidt analyses what needs to be done and conveys it to his team.

His players have to react and they have to be brave and committed. Yesterday they were lion-hearted and that is what makes their continued success and their ability to carve out victory so compelling. They were brave, they were organised and they were convincing, and still in the last five minutes they had to scramble for their lives in what was a fantastic Test match.

Ireland's work-rate was the difference and, as the man says, no one ever drowned in sweat. The way they won this match wasn't down to genius - just common sense - and yet again it all emanated from their world-class halfbacks. The key to this game was the quality of ball presented to Conor Murray at the breakdown.

He didn't have to do a huge amount of digging and Australia were very much second best. For all intents and purposes the Wallabies gave up contesting at the breakdown to the point that David Pocock tried to come in at the back of Ireland's ruck in the first half because there were no Australians in the ruck, thereby creating no offside. Pocock still got pinged for his quick thinking.

The quality of refereeing was just as bad as it was last week - Paul Williams being as inconsistent and as inefficient as Marius van der Westhuizen. Going on recent Test history, 15-12 is a relatively high penalty count. It seems the better referees can keep it down in single figures for both sides by coaching the players on what not to do before they commit the crime.

Australia, as they have done for the last season or two, reverted to a performance of indiscipline which they seemed to have stemmed in Brisbane but it came back to haunt them yesterday - yet they got away with murder on a couple of counts.

Caleb Timu and Bernard Foley both knocked the ball on when they had no real chance of catching it. In Foley's case, Williams told the Australian out-half that it was a deliberate knock-on, which is a yellow card. The Australian pivot got away with it and yet when Jack McGrath did something similar in a ruck with five minutes to go, he got the bin. It's mystifying how you can let one action go and penalise another.

Australia picked up a penalty try in the 25th minute. The Australian maul was good and they got low and tight and got a good drive on. As they got over the line, Cian Healy went in to bring it down. Because he was over his try-line he was entitled to do that and his sense of bewilderment was as strong as everybody else's watching the game when Williams ran under the posts and awarded a penalty try, denying Kepu the score and then binning Healy for something that wasn't a yellow-card offence.

Five metres out it would have been relevant, but no Irish player tried to sack the maul in its formative stages. While we are highlighting the maul it is disconcerting that Ireland's prominence in this area has fallen off a cliff and you can no longer call Ireland a mauling side. Their defence on opposition ball is not what it should be and Ireland need to improve on this for the third Test.

We saw props putting in good performances in yesterday's Test and on occasion they were used properly to take advantage of their speed and power.

In the New Zealand v France game, rather than taking a static ball from Aaron Smith, Joe Moody took a couple of steps back and took a great angle in to a flat pass, and the loosehead scored a great try from 25 metres out.

Tadhg Furlong's performance yesterday was highly effective and necessary and his try told you more about his footballing intelligence and patience rather than his speed and strength. It is very easy close to the line to over-run or take a ball flat and with no momentum. Furlong arrived from deep and timed his run to such an extent that if the entire Aussie team had been waiting for him he still would have scored. His ability is so all-encompassing it is immoral.

I thought Australia lacked accuracy and they were in no danger of kicking on from their impressive performance last week in Brisbane. When Will Genia went off in the 26th minute, they lost the guy who controls the pace of their attack and Nick Phipps just couldn't get them going forward or manage to connect with the right men at the right time.

There was no zing or danger in their passing movements and it was rare to see an Australian side who put themselves under pressure with the inaccuracy of their passing. Far too much ball went loose and Israel Folau never got a look-in.

Kurtley Beale just was not himself and maybe they found the line-speed and consistency of defence from Ireland too much to handle. In this regard Garry Ringrose's inclusion made all the difference. His reading of when to commit was far better than what was produced last week and Ireland's midfield of Henshaw at 12 and Ringrose at 13 is now the number one pairing.

Schmidt got his tactics right and had near enough the best team on the park. Their work at the breakdown was far superior and quite how there were only five points in it is a matter for another day. Cheika was out-thought in this instance and we will see what his reaction will be in Sydney. I expect a far more aggressive Australian performance on the line and at the breakdown.

As for Ireland, the nation awaits another big performance from a team who are a credit to their country.

Sunday Indo Sport

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