Friday 24 November 2017

Neil Francis: Ireland were a couple of leagues below in skill levels

16 November 2013; Quade Cooper, Australia, goes over to score his side's third try. Guinness Series International, Ireland v Australia, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
16 November 2013; Quade Cooper, Australia, goes over to score his side's third try. Guinness Series International, Ireland v Australia, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

Albert Pierrepoint, the English hangman, is credited with executing 435 people. The ultimate professional, emotionally detached and assuredly calm, he gave succour to his victims before he dispatched them.

There was a touch of Pierrepoint's modus operandi in Australia's chillingly efficient disposal of Ireland yesterday. It must have been a very gratifying and reassuring performance for the Australians. They were clinical and nonchalantly professional and way too good for an Irish side hopelessly out of their depth and a couple of leagues below in skill levels.

We win one in five matches against Australia, what made us think that yesterday would be our day? It is true that the Australians are further up the curve on their development under their new coach Ewen McKenzie.

Under Robbie Deans, Australia's tactical and spiritual dipstick was about two drops short of bone dry. You could see yesterday that if this Australian side played against the Lions the whole series would have been dramatically different.

How did Australia win this one? Why was there such a dramatic difference between the two sides? We don't need to phone a friend on that one. It was obvious in even the most basic skills, primarily in their passing, the quality and execution of passing in the Australian ranks was sublime. It might not have been noticed by most of yesterday's crowd but Australia barely put a ball down all day.

The accuracy of their long passing was telling and quite often they out-flanked Ireland on the wide outside. In those tight channels in the tramlines when they scored two tries in the first half the difference between the sides was that the Australians could make their passes stick under pressure or while they were being crowded toward the touchline.

On a hard pitch and with perfect weather Australia were always going to be hard to beat. Who were there prime instigators? Well it was the Hooper and Cooper show. Quade Cooper was simply sublime yesterday and his passing was sumptuous and he has paid back in spades McKenzie's faith in him. Australia have had quite a number of high-profile bad boys – James O'Connor, Kurtley Beale and Cooper. Some will recover and play for the Wallabies again, some might not.

The last mosquito that bit O'Connor had to check into the Betty Ford Clinic. Australia at this moment in time don't miss O'Connor and Nick Cummins, who from his performances in the Rugby Championship looked like just a journeyman, expunged that legend yesterday. Cummins was quite a handful but he benefited enormously from what was going on inside of him.

Cooper has this mesmeric effect when in possession – everybody stops and suddenly a hitch kick later he's accelerated through the gap, as he did for Australia's third try, or he has got a pass away to his outfield runners. Either way this is not the Australian team we saw during the summer which was beset by saucy doubts captained by O'Connor.

Ireland's back row expended a huge amount of energy and Sean O'Brien must have carried at least 20 times but they were outplayed by a much-maligned and much underestimated Australian back row. Ben Mowen, we knew, was a powerhouse against the Lions, but the unheralded Scott Fardy didn't give an inch. Hooper was very good, particularly at the breakdown where he had this coagulative effect in the contact zone and Ireland always had to wait an extra second or two for the ball to come back. Hooper got binned for not rolling away but that was seen as a badge of honour and his compadre Liam Gill sustained the excellence on the Aussie openside.

Defensively too Australia were far surer and they gang tackled with effect. It was like a queue at a Hollister clothing store, masses of them queuing for the next tackle. Their kick chase was precise and punishing – all of our players got hit after just coming down from the air. Even areas that Ireland thought that they could nick an advantage never materialised and all the macho bullshit about what we were going to do to the Australians – well that was all just macho bullshit.

The last scrum in the 80th minute told you all about Australia's dominance in this area as they pushed Ireland back six or seven metres from their own five-metre line. It was hard to fathom how mediocre Ireland were. At outhalf, grumpy had a poor game and we did not get the level of general-ship we expected, from his first missed touch to some of his abstract passing.

It is rare that a fit and healthy player pulls a hamstring and not at full pace. Sexton's hamstring pull is in my opinion down to fatigue and he does not get a chance to redeem himself against the All Blacks next week. Rob Kearney too looks like he is in danger of missing that game. Robbie Henshaw missed the crucial tackle for the Australian's second try – would you dare try him out against the All Blacks? Luke Marshall, despite being caught cold for Australia's third and decisive try, played well and will play next week.

After an error-ridden first half I expected Joe Schmidt to marshal his troops to a strong second-half performance but it didn't happen and now Ireland will be one from three for the November series.

Before they invented drawing boards what did they go back to?

Sunday Independent

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