Sport Rugby

Sunday 18 March 2018

Neil Francis: Maturing Jackson gives Schmidt food for thought

Paddy Jackson and Dave Kearney celebrate at the final whistle
Paddy Jackson and Dave Kearney celebrate at the final whistle
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

A new dawn? A bit of a yawn. The elemental rawness of the exchanges was at the level we expected, but Samoa never had the proficiency to go with Ireland and they were strung out in the second half. The truth is they were beaten off the park at the breakdown and Ireland eased away comfortably as Samoa's spiritual decline finally brought about their end.

What we were looking for was a glimpse of the Schmidt imprint. We might not see it fully until the Six Nations, but as we discussed last week, he's a clever guy and he will feel his way through to the type of game that he succeeded with at Leinster.

The unspoken subtext is that of compromise. The Joe Schmidt I know doesn't compromise. Yet he had to compromise on his playmaker yesterday. Schmidt might not have wanted Paddy Jackson to control his team yesterday but the Ulsterman will have given him something to think about. The impish delinquent of last season was nowhere to be seen. The boy who looked like he saw a ghost has gone and in his place we find a mature and assured performer with predatory instincts and a calmness about him that was reassuring.

Jackson played very well yesterday. His hands were very good and he kicked when the game became loose in the second half, which is the right thing to do. When a team is getting on top, which Ireland did with every moment on the clock, the temptation is to play volleyball. The kicking game was enough to force Samoa back into their own half and in the end they gave up even attempting to counter-attack.

Maybe the South Sea Islanders tried to play a radically different game but they were put to ground pretty well by Ireland from the 25th minute onwards and the hosts' back row and indeed some of their other performers, including Jack McGrath, managed to nick a comfortable share of possession in this area.

The turnovers killed Samoa – that is not to say that they gave the ball up easily, the fight at the breakdown was ferocious and Ireland had to compete vigorously. Sean O'Brien, when he came on, added to this area of dominance and Samoa could no longer trust their phases and that is why they too resorted to kicking in the second half.

There were good performances from Ireland. Brian O'Driscoll's two or three flicks in open play were sublime. In the lead-up to Ireland's second try O'Driscoll's flick through his legs to McFadden took your breath away. The presence of mind – it still shows that whatever might have diminished in his athletic demeanour – his intellect is as sharp as ever. With a scoreline of 40-9 it is hard to reconcile some of Ireland's poorer performers on the field. Gordon D'Arcy with his whiskers looked like King Edward VII but he played like the potato as opposed to the king yesterday.

He fluffed Samoa's kick-off in the third minute and spent the whole match trying to recover from it. The mistakes dried up around the 60th minute but at that stage the game was over. D'Arcy will not get that sort of luxury against Australia and New Zealand. You make simple unforced errors against those sides and you pay.

Fergus McFadden had an outing of energy and enthusiasm but failed miserably with about half a dozen half-chances. I wonder did he even score legally for Ireland's second last try. Our winger missed far too many tackles for my liking. In the second row Devin Toner did exactly what it said on the tin. His second row partner Mike McCarthy was a long way short of where he needed to be. If you are a journeyman, and an undersized one at that, then you must compensate in other areas.

At the very least you would expect 14 or 15 tackles, double figures on the carrying front and impressive industry at the breakdown in terms of clearing – it just didn't happen and yesterday was McCarthy's type of game. I'm not sure what is going on in his head but his performance was a long way off international standard.

The crowd told us in the 29th minute that what was happening on the pitch wasn't really worth getting enthusiastic about and so the Mexican waves began – which I suppose is the public's way of telling the team to sharpen up.

Once again Joe Schmidt figured out what to do at half-time and Ireland were far more cohesive and efficient and their bench had a profound influence as the Samoan fitness diminished. Ireland kept their heads down and their oars in the water and finished the Samoans off with calm detachment and they almost looked at the end like they were flowing.

A good start.

Sunday Independent

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