Saturday 24 March 2018

Neil Francis: Quinn Roux was a deplorable selection while media happy to buy 'power scrummaging' theory

Neil Francis

Neil Francis

This bloke goes down to a house of ill repute. He's got both of his legs in casts and both arms are also in casts. The Madame opens the door, takes one look at him and says "what do you want?" The man says "I rang the bell didn't I?"

Ah the chill of consciousness returns. For a while we were dreaming, 19-3 up and Joe Schmidt completing an almost impossible task. It is quite a demanding job trying to second-guess Joe Schmidt. Five new selections in his Test composition and yet with such an obvious handicap they nearly pulled it off.

The team, a bit like our friend at the bordello, may have been handicapped, but was still able to perform. Schmidt would never purposely cede a Test match but does he think that by changing his team around in a match that they will in all probability lose, that they would have a better chance in Port Elizabeth?

Read more: Robbie Henshaw out of final South Africa test and will undergo knee surgery

For the second time in a week Ireland played a Test match with only 14 men. Most of the press happy to swallow the line that Quinn Roux's "power scrummaging" would enable him to be worthy of a cap against his home country. Ireland's scrum last week was the dominant set piece and once again that proved the case yesterday. I think Tadgh Furlong's influence would have been far more significant on bearings in this area. The Connacht B second-row carried once for one metre, lost the only ball that was thrown to him at lineout time and made only four tackles as opposed to Devin Toner who made 12 in this game. Picking a second-row because he can scrummage is like picking a golfer because he has a good practice swing. All big men can scrummage. I ain't buying the tight head side scrummaging theory. There were 11 scrums in the match - maybe you might get value if there were 31 - a deplorable selection.

Ultan Dillane was heavily under-utilised for Connacht this season and for such a phenomenal freak of nature it is quite beyond me why he hasn't got a start in any of the Tests so far. Ten minutes in last week's Test is a shameful waste of such ability. Maybe Schmidt is holding all his aces for Port Elizabeth. This game, though, will be a far more difficult proposition as the Boks got traction, momentum and some of their confidence back. When the game is there to be won - win it.

Some of the new introductions probably didn't have the sort of impact that we wanted. We will take a rain check on Stuart Olding, he is a quality player but Luke Marshall's influence was sorely missed. Gilroy had a satisfactory outing on the left wing but Henderson's influence was not as pronounced as it was in the first Test and he is far better served mixing it up with his South African second-row opponents where he is more than capable of dominating.

Ruddock had a big 50 minutes but as the team struggled with hypoxia and the altitude took its toll, Ireland, brave and all as they were, were unable to keep their shape. Most if not all of the mistakes made in the last 25 minutes came from fatigue, none more so than Conor Murray's attempt of a tackle on Damian De Allende. Murray, normally so sure, would never in a hundred years miss a straight up tackle of that nature at sea level.

For this nation, yesterday was a bad day for a lot of reasons. The soccer team were completely outclassed and can have no complaints. The rugby team, a far different complexion to their endeavour, but the pain of defeat is no less and sometimes being close and highly competitive and in the game right till the end is an awful lot worse than a blow-out. Either way sporting losses of this scale upgrade despair so beautifully.

Another element that rankled was the Boks' triumphalism. Booed off the pitch by their own fans at half time, 19-3 down, and wholly dependent on oxygen deprivation to win them the game, this one is not over by a long stretch. They did start the match, however, with only four players who play at altitude week in week out - Mapoe, Jantjes, De Klerk and Strauss. They did have six Lions players on the bench, all who play regularly at altitude and they made a huge difference when they were all introduced early in the second half.

Ireland had targeted Lwazi Mvovo from the start. The South African winger has buckets of pace but that is not what Test rugby is all about and this is where transformation and racial quotas will hurt South African rugby. Mvovo was replaced at half-time by Ruan Combrinck, who was a revelation. His try to get South Africa back into the game and a toe hold of some substance back on the scoreboard, saw him run through Jared Payne to score easily.

It gives a snap shot of the problems that face South African rugby. Combrinck is a far superior player, but because of quotas, Mvovo gets in. Combrinck got 'man of the match' and he thanked Our Lord Jesus Christ for getting the opportunity and the victory. The Lord Jesus Christ may have worked many miracles in his time, but Port Elizabeth is at sea level and Ireland, even after a fatiguing overly-long season, will be available to compete and win the third Test with normal oxygen levels.

The first 40 minutes were full with purposeful effort as Ireland looked very comfortable. They played a strictly limited form of the game, which took cognisance of the demands that the oxygen would put on them, particularly in the second half. If they started throwing the ball around they would not have been able to walk in the second half and so they kicked and they kicked well. Defensively they were certain and once again it looked like turnovers would win them the game. Toner's try was an absolute gem. Jackson slightly over cooked his kick to the right. The hard chasing Trimble jumped far too early but it was enough to upset Mvovo and he dealt really badly with the bouncing ball.

Trimble chased the ball as it made its way towards the touchline and effected a wondrous Roger Federer like scoop back between his legs which Jared Payne managed to latch on to. Payne went into contact five metres from the line and as Peter Stef-du-Toit tried to nick the ball, somebody came in and cleaned him out with such venom that the new superstar of Springbok rugby looked like a little boy who was about to cry after the hit. It was Trimble - what a clear out, what marvellous energy, what diligence and directness to get back up and follow the play.

The ball was cleared out immediately. Ruddock pirouetted out of the tackle and off-loaded to Toner who scored. Ruddock will probably be punished by Joe for manufacturing an off load but these are the risks.

In the last 15 minutes, Trimble made a number of errors and was quite obviously suffering from oxygen depravation. At one stage he didn't look like he knew what he was doing or where he was going - hard to reconcile that with his efforts earlier in the game.

I am convinced this series is still alive and Ireland have a real chance at sea level to take the series.

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