Saturday 18 August 2018

Tourists must find spark or they'll be dead in water

Australia 18 Ireland 9

James Ryan is tackled by Australia’s Sekope Kepu in the first Test at Suncorp Stadium. Photo: Brendan Moran. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
James Ryan is tackled by Australia’s Sekope Kepu in the first Test at Suncorp Stadium. Photo: Brendan Moran. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

We took a spin up the Daintree River in northern Queensland the other day. En route, the pilot of the boat, a font of knowledge on every creature and plant in its environs, explained to us how crocodiles don't attack intelligent people. It's not that these predators would look you up and down and somehow assess your IQ before deciding on their next move, rather they are sheer opportunists. If you are dim enough to get into the water, or hang around within roughly 10 metres of its edge, you're fair game. And intelligent people would be found in neither position.

A seven-metre long male croc was gliding along close to the boat, no more than a good spit away, as the info was delivered. "Would he not be afraid of us being this close?" the pilot was asked. "Nah," came the reply. "What's he got to be afraid of?"

Suncorp Stadium in downtown Brisbane is well removed from the tropical north of this beautiful state, but we thought of the Daintree as Australia and Ireland pitted their wits and opportunism against each other here yesterday. On a balmy evening and in front of a crowd of 46,273, Ireland - a high-achieving and bright bunch - got caught thrashing about in the water. With 60 per cent of the ball in the second half, and virtually the same in territory, maybe they thought that through sheer effort they could work their way to safety.

But they needed a better escape route. Instead they carried and carried, playing a dangerous game between winning penalties at the ruck against Michael Hooper and David Pocock, and conceding either a turnover or a penalty to the same pair. The only bit of daylight they created in that second period saw James Ryan - as ever a huge worker, and with 18 carries he was by a distance the leading forward on that chart - knocking Bernard Foley out of the way, to open a hole for CJ Stander.

Ireland's Bundee Aki is tackled during the match against Australia. Photo:Tertius Pickard/AP
Ireland's Bundee Aki is tackled during the match against Australia. Photo:Tertius Pickard/AP

Stander might feel that he should have looked to connect with support instead of pinning his ears back and going for home. He got to the line but couldn't get the ball down.

There was a lot of stuff sent upstairs for review. And a lot of heat for referee Marius van der Westhuizen and his team to deal with. The Aussies were apoplectic that an Israel Folau try was called back just after the hour for what was deemed an illegal tackle by Adam Coleman on Ryan. Ireland's delight at that one turned to anger over a couple of decisions.

First, on 71 minutes, there was a bad call against Jacob Stockdale who seemed to do everything by the book in releasing the ball, getting to his feet, and playing it, close to the Ireland line. It was from there that the Wallabies bravely opted to run it rather than tap over the points. They were 11-9 ahead at the time. And a Pocock try in the sequence that followed put them two scores clear, which had been the object of the exercise.

Then, with Ireland having got in a great position under Australia's sticks, Van der Westhuizen penalised Conor Murray for a knock-on when the movement seemed to have been caused by the boot of a prone player. Murray and Johnny Sexton protested. The ref turned a penalty into a scrum and Australia knew they were home and hosed.

It was an absorbing Test match. Australia were intent on burying Ireland behind the gain line and often succeeded, getting the crowd involved and putting the tourists under pressure.

For Joey Carbery it was a valuable, if painful, experience. At one point in the first half Hooper caught him in the ribs with a spot tackle in one of those moments flankers love and out-halves hate.

Israel Folau dives over to score a try for Australia. Photo: Darren England/Reuters
Israel Folau dives over to score a try for Australia. Photo: Darren England/Reuters

It meant the tourists were often starting from scratch. They often got caught out the back; then shifted to carrying and suddenly were fighting off Hooper and Pocock. There has to be a better way to use all the ball they win, and it will need to be unveiled in Melbourne.

There will be changes for that Test, one of which will be the introduction of Garry Ringrose. He has a great ability to step out of tackles but he won't be changing the complexion of things single-handedly. And he will need to have a lower error count than a few of the lads who started last night.

Rob Kearney and Robbie Henshaw - he opened the door for the only try of the first half, for Bernard Foley - had a few moments to forget, as did Stockdale who made a try-saving tackle on Marika Koroibete but was loose with some basic stuff that he is expected get right, regardless of his lack of experience.

Up front the set-piece was a mix: they got good pressure on the Wallaby lineout, forcing 3-0 on turnovers, but couldn't do the same to their scrum. And conceding a scrum penalty, close to their own line, on 69 minutes, was a massive moment that allowed Foley to regain a lead Australia wouldn't lose.

The Wallabies were 8-6 ahead on the changeover with Foley's try in the first half the only score aside from a penalty from himself and two from Carbery.

The home team had done enough in that first period to lay down a clear marker, not least the aerial ability of Folau. He is a phenomenal rugby player, and any Australian game plan has him front and centre - or central, wide and aerial, as here.

Ireland's Rob Kearney is tackled by Australia's Will Genia. Photo: Tertius Pickard/PA
Ireland's Rob Kearney is tackled by Australia's Will Genia. Photo: Tertius Pickard/PA

The knock-back of Stander's missed try attempt early in the second half denied Ireland the lead, and then Carbery missed a handy enough kick before finding his range on 56 minutes when Pocock was done at a tackle. That put the tourists 9-8 up, and with Folau's try going south a few minutes later you could see another one of those shifts where massive industry and belief would get Ireland over the line.

Instead they went behind from that scrum penalty on 69 minutes, and then Australia made that huge call after the Stockdale penalty. They got their reward with the Pocock try, and a win that is massive for them in every way. Perhaps top of that list is fitness, for they were concerned about living with the sheer industry of Ireland. We'll see in Melbourne just how big a chunk they have taken out of the tourists. Ireland's appetite is beyond question, but if they don't bring something extra to that contest they will be dead in the water.

Scorers - Australia: Foley try, 2 pens, con, Pocock try. Ireland: Carbery 3 pens

Australia: I Folau; M Koroibete, S Kerevi, K Beale, D Haylett-Petty; B Foley, W Genia (N Phipps 74); S Sio (T Robertson 63), B Paenga-Amosa (T Latu 55), S Kepu (T Tupou 55), I Rodda (R Simmons 55), A Coleman, D Pocock (L Tui 75), C Timu (P Samu 50-58; 63), M Hooper (capt).

Ireland: R Kearney; K Earls (HIA, J Larmour 26), R Henshaw, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Carbery (J Sexton 56), C Murray (K Marmion 78); J McGrath (C Healy 48), R Herring (S Cronin 56), John Ryan (T Furlong 48), I Henderson (Q Roux 65), J Ryan, P O'Mahony (capt)(J Conan 69), CJ Stander, J Murphy.

Referee: M van der Westhuizen (SA).

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