Sunday 8 December 2019

Monday breakdown: Five things we’ve learned

Struggles at scrum time, Stander arrives and Schmidt switches focus to Paris trip

Conor Murray and Dan Biggar battle for a high ball. Photo: PA
Conor Murray and Dan Biggar battle for a high ball. Photo: PA
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

1 Scrum still over-reliant on veteran Ross

For years now, Irish rugby has been heavily reliant on Mike Ross and on the rare occasions that the tighthead prop is absent, Ireland struggle badly at scrum time.

Nathan White was singled out a couple of occasions by Jerome Garces as Ireland were regularly driven back.

It’s extremely concerning to be still so reliant on a 36-year-old and with Schmidt confirming afterwards that Ross would play for either Leinster or Ireland this weekend, if the coach feels that the Cork native’s hamstring can hold up for even just a half, it’s a risk that is probably worth taking against a bruising French front-row.

2 Stander was born for the international stage

In a Munster team that has so often failed to fire this season, CJ Stander has been outstanding and it was always going to be fascinating to see how he fared under Schmidt’s tutelage.

Stander began the game like a man possessed and the crowd seemed to feed off the sight of him bellowing out Amhrán na bhFiann on the big screen.

23 carries, 16 tackles have almost become the normal kind of stats for a player who continues to deliver when making the step up. His performance also appeared to bring out the best in Jamie Heaslip, who was immense.

The South African was named man of the match and although he made a couple of sloppy errors, it was certainly a performance worthy enough of maintaining his starting place for France and beyond.

3 Ireland live to regret decision not to take shot

When Ireland look back on it, they will know that opting against taking a shot at goal after 55 minutes with the score level at 13-13 was the wrong call.

It seemed a strange decision at the time, especially with Johnny Sexton striking the ball so well, and that was compounded when he fired over a penalty (with some distance to spare) from almost the same position 20 minutes later.

Schmidt was understandably reluctant to point the blame at his players but deep down, you couldn’t help but wonder if he was as surprised as the majority in the stadium.

“The players lead those decisions,” Schmidt maintained. “I wasn’t surprised and I wasn’t unpleased. I just felt that if was a good decision if we get something off the back of it and we very nearly did.

“If you can’t have the confidence in your playmakers to make the decisions

. . . it’s a time for a coach to take a little bit of a back seat and let them drive us around the pitch.”

In a game of few opportunities, that was one that left Wales off the hook.

4 Heavy price paid for lengthy barren spell

This was a game that was eminently winnable for Ireland but going 46 minutes without scoring a single point is going to cost you at any level.

Ireland had started the game well enough to suggest that they could puncture holes in the Welsh defence but instead they had to rely on Sexton holding his nerve to slot a late penalty.

5 Opportunity missed for Zebo to stake his claim

Having been left out the squad for Ireland’s World Cup quarter-final defeat, Simon Zebo was handed an ideal chance to put pressure on Rob Kearney and although he was a serious threat going forward, defensively, the Munster player was found wanting.

Zebo’s form has been inconsistent this season and when he was beaten by Dan Biggar for a high ball early on, the tone was set. He was badly exposed when Liam Williams threatened down the left wing, with Wales targeting him.

Schmidt delivered positive news on Kearney’s hamstring injury in saying that he was “very confident” that he would be fit to face France. The coach is likely to be doing all he can to be able to pick his first choice full-back.

Kearney may not be the attacking threat from a few years ago and although Zebo offers that, if he can’t do the basics well, he won’t fit into Schmidt’s plans.

Kearney will start if fit. A massive missed opportunity for Zebo.

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