Friday 19 January 2018

'Passive and naive – we have lot to learn' - Schmidt


Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

WHEN he described last week's win over Samoa as the "appetiser" Joe Schmidt could not have envisaged that Ireland would be served up as the main course seven days later.

His side came into Saturday evening's clash undercooked but Australia didn't mind. They might prefer barbeque, but Ireland tartare did them just fine on Saturday.

Playing their 13th Test since June, they happily savaged Ireland raw, tearing the home pack limb from limb and savouring the tenderness of the outside channels.

You can be sure they washed it down with a few cold ones afterwards. This was a night to remember for Ewen McKenzie and Co.

Their goal coming to Dublin was to put back-to-back wins together and they head to Scotland in high spirits, looking for three in a row. Ireland, meanwhile, have less than a week to prepare for the world's greatest rugby team. Dessert.

It is, perhaps, time to ditch the stats-book. For the second week running the team who came out on top of all the relevant counts ended up on the wrong end of a four-tries-to-nil defeat.

What the numbers didn't tell us is what the capacity crowd at Lansdowne Road saw with their own eyes. Ireland defended too narrowly, their line-speed was negligible and they barely laid a glove on the breakdown.

There was no bite, no menace, none of the hallmarks you associate with great Ireland wins over southern hemisphere sides – or even the near misses.

Losing Johnny Sexton was a big blow at half-time and, after staying on the field for the entirety of the break, the Australians went for the jugular in the first 10 minutes of the second half. Despite Ireland starting with a numerical advantage, the ball stayed in gold possession and eventually the excellent Quade Cooper ghosted between Ian Madigan and Luke Marshall. That was the game.

"I think we were a bit passive in defence and I think we were a little bit naive a few times as well," Schmidt said. "You can't afford to give them too much space to play with; they are very talented players. At the same time, (with) aggression, you need to channel it and sometimes confidence adds a bit of aggression, adds a bit of excitement to players.

"Just before half-time I felt we were very close to scoring a try. If we could have built that score and actually got over the line I felt we would have had a little bit more momentum. We didn't get that but we got very close to being equal with them; we were only three points off them at half-time.

"My feeling then was we could ramp it up and actually get back in front, but a number of things conspired against us, including our own inaccuracy. I think there was genuine effort out there. I certainly wouldn't point the finger at players not trying to give as much as they could."

Wallaby captain Ben Mowen praised his side for their "desperation", and his Irish equivalent Paul O'Connell couldn't disagree.

"Joe talks about the inches in rugby matches and I think they won a lot of them out there," the skipper said.

"They won a few scrum turnovers, a few turnovers at breakdown and you could see how high their emotion was in comparison to ours when we got our turnovers, and that's what's disappointing.

"You could see for a few of us we have a little bit to learn under Joe; there is technical stuff we need to get right, but you can't lose track of that intensity that is required at Test level as well."

Schmidt has looked to introduce much since taking over and his players have talked repeatedly about the accuracy needed to implement the New Zealander's game plan, but the basics let them down from the start.

They had spoken of learning from their loose kicking to the Samoans, of improving their defensive line and of taking the game to Australia. They did none of those things.

Cooper and Sexton had exchanged penalties before Ireland paid for their passive defence with a first Wallaby trip under their posts in the 10th minute.

Australia were probing for gaps when James Horwill bounced off Mike Ross' tackle and fed the looping Cooper; he sent Stephen Moore racing outside Cian Healy and the hooker off-loaded from Tommy Bowe's tackle to Nick Cummins, who stepped inside Eoin Reddan to score.

If it looked simple, that's because it was. The Australians were a joy to watch, but they were being allowed to play and it wasn't long before they were celebrating again as they countered a loose Bowe kick and Scott Fardy handed off Peter O'Mahony and stayed upright long enough to deliver a stunning off-load to Michael Hooper, who sailed over.

The openside was making a nuisance of himself at the breakdown and eventually saw yellow as Ireland clawed their way back to three points at half-time with a succession of Sexton penalties, but even though there were opportunities for tries, they couldn't get over the line.

When he reflects, O'Connell might regret going for the points when presented with a penalty under the posts, but still they had clawed their way back into the game and went in 15-12 down and a man up at the break.

The problem was, Sexton would not reappear for the second half after he injured his hamstring trailing a Fergus McFadden break on the cusp of half-time. It seemed to deflate his team-mates.

Ian Madigan's lack of game time appeared to tell and he kicked his first two balls to the Wallabies, who needed no invitation to play.

The superb Israel Folau shifted the point of attack and they went for the jugular, marching their way to the Irish line, where Cummins knocked on as he tried to touch down.

The visiting pack managed to turn the scrum 90 degrees and from the re-set, Mowen picked and fed Will Genia, and he found Cooper, who used his runners as decoys to fool Madigan and Marshall and step his way over. The Ulsterman, who had a fine game in other departments, put his hand up afterwards.

"We were really well matched up but you can't account for a guy who's a little bit young and still learning," Schmidt said. "That was pretty clear if you look at the video. But the thing about that is that he'll learn from it. The worst thing about it is he's learning from it in the Test arena where everything counts, where it's a final and you only get one shot at it and you have to deliver it."

Madigan was then penalised for holding on after Rob Kearney had fumbled a high ball and Cooper extended the lead, but Madigan narrowed the gap with a penalty, before O'Connell went in search of seven by going for touch with the next opportunity.

The resultant maul summed up the day for Ireland as the transfer from the captain to Sean O'Brien went to ground. It was compounded at the other end minutes later where a 10-man Australian maul marched over from 10 metres for Hooper to score his second.

Tevita Kuridrani saw red for picking O'Mahony up at a ruck and dumping him on his neck, but Ireland couldn't make the numbers pay for a consolation, with Sean Cronin's score ruled out because of a Conor Murray knock-on.

On course for their first perfect season in the professional age, the All Blacks will be relishing their Sunday lunch.

IRELAND – R Kearney (R Henshaw 74); T Bowe, B O'Driscoll (R Henshaw 23-30 blood), L Marshall, F McFadden; J Sexton (I Madigan h-t), E Reddan (C Murray 57); C Healy (J McGrath 69), R Best (S Cronin 66), M Ross (S Archer 66); D Toner (M McCarthy 69), P O'Connell (capt); P O'Mahony, S O'Brien (K McLaughlin 71), J Heaslip.

AUSTRALIA – I Folau; AA Cooper (J Tomane 58), T Kuridrani, M Toomua, N Cummins; Q Cooper (C Leali'ifano 69), W Genia (N White 67); J Slipper ( B Robinson 68), S Moore (T Polota Nau 68), S Kepu (P Ryan 66); R Simmons, J Horwill (S Timani 57); S Fardy, M Hooper (L Gill 73), B Mowen (capt).

Ref – C Pollock (NZRU)

Irish Independent

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