Thursday 19 September 2019

Mick Galwey: 'Maybe that quarter-final against New Zealand or South Africa is not the massive obstacle it seemed a couple of weeks ago'

7 September 2019; James Ryan of Ireland wins possession from a line-out ahead of Justin Tipuric of Wales during the Guinness Summer Series match between Ireland and Wales at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
7 September 2019; James Ryan of Ireland wins possession from a line-out ahead of Justin Tipuric of Wales during the Guinness Summer Series match between Ireland and Wales at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Mick Galwey

Ireland go to Japan as the number one rugby team in the world – could they possibly return from the Far East in early November with the same distinction?

Certainly, on the back of this nine-point win, Ireland will travel east on Wednesday in optimistic mood.

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Far more optimistic than they would have been after the hammering by England two weeks ago.

I did point out here, immediately after that match, that Ireland had just come back from ten days in the Algarve where they would have done some serious training work in very warm conditions.

So were you surprised if Ireland looked leggy and labouring that day at Twickenham?

Yesterday we looked refreshed and good to go, both mentally and physically.

Remember the horror of missed tackles all over the shop that day?

Well, we got 30 in against Wales yesterday before one was missed.

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And just to show you how vital missed tackles are in Test rugby, Wales got their try off it, with Bundee Aki being blindsided as he attempted to bring off a tackle.

What else impressed me in this 19-10 victory?

Ireland got our combinations right all over the pitch. Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton resumed normal service at half-back and I was really impressed by the pairing of Aki and Robbie Henshaw at centre.

This pair were electric together and they played really well. They broke the Welsh defence time and again, allowing Murray to come onto the ball from the ruck that followed and deliver his pass.

And you could see the effect of Aki and Henshaw's efforts on Garry Ringrose when he came on.

It was ‘hold on a minute here' – as Ringrose strutted his stuff when given the ball on the wing, and pulled off one beautiful turnover.

Our lineout was sound, much better than it had been in London and there were big games from CJ Stander and Josh van der Flier, two lads who might have feared for their starting place after Twickenham.

With Jack Conan playing well too yesterday at number 8, the question is now who doesn’t start in the back row against Scotland in a fortnight’s time.

For Peter O’Mahony has to come back into the team for that game.

After the Devin Toner business, coach Joe Schmidt must be tired of making big selection calls. Now he has another one on his plate in the back row!

Joe's jettisoning of Devin Toner was ruthless. They've been together as coach and key player for a long, long time for Leinster and Ireland.

But dropping a player in that manner is what a coach has to do if he believes it is the best thing for the overall squad.

Devin is a brilliant lineout operator. On this occasion, however,  it was about balancing the loss of that skill for the serious heft and power that Tadhg Beirne and Jean Kleyn bring to the scrum and around the pitch.

And speaking of those pitches, they will be hard out in Japan – very few World Cup matches will be played on old-style Six Nations mudbaths.

You will need to be able to cover the ground, as Ireland's second-row James Ryan did yesterday in a man of the match effort.

Certainly you got the impression that – like Garry Ringrose – Ryan, surely a future Ireland captain, was making a statement on the pitch yesterday.

It went something like, "right, boss, you've dropped a good man, but I can be your lineout leader at the World Cup. Put it on me."

Ryan pulled in one throw after another in a match in which his thrower, Rory Best, had to be a little anxious. He wouldn't be human if he wasn't in the wake of the England debacle.

Ireland’s third-quarter surge was excellent, they came out after half-time and hit the Welsh with two tries, giving our visitors very little room to work in and squeezing the life out of their pack.

The one worry was seeing Keith Earls come off the pitch looking the worse for wear.

Earls is a great man to have on a long trip such as Ireland have ahead of them.

He really lifts the spirits and keeps every one going. And he does his most important job – he scores tries.

It is saying something that the Limerick winger is playing the rugby of his life when you consider that he was a Lion in South Africa in 2009.

If I was Warren Gatland and Wales, I'd be worried heading to the World Cup.

Like us, they've been hammered by England, got a little bit of revenge on an England 'B' team and, in the last fortnight, our second team beats theirs in Cardiff and yesterday our best team beat theirs.

Wales lost the collisions yesterday and they had no answer to Ireland’s second-half surge at the Aviva Stadium.

And, worst of all, an injury suffered against England last month means the Dragons must go to the World Cup without their first-choice out-half, the laid-up Gareth Anscombe.

New Zealand won the World Cup eight years ago without the injured Dan Carter.

I cannot imagine any other country doing it without their main man in the main position on a rugby field.

After the match, Gatland did his usual sniping after he loses a game.

This time, the complaint it was that Ireland didn't go wide with the ball and give the big crowd a spectacle to behold.

And I'm sure if Ireland had flung the ball around at the Aviva, Warren would have had an oul' moan about Ireland not being up for the physical stuff in close.

Yes, he has bigger things to worry about than Ireland’s tactics for one particular World Cup warm-up.

So we head for Japan with our tails up. Are we the best team in the world? No.

Will we win the World Cup?

No, I can’t remotely predict we will.

But maybe, just maybe, that looming quarter-final against New Zealand or South Africa is not the massive obstacle it seemed to be just a couple of weeks ago.

Irish rugby has got its mojo back – and it might take us on a special journey over the next two months.

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