Saturday 16 December 2017

Tony Ward: Schmidt's straight talking highlight of promising day

Tony Ward

Tony Ward

The highlight of Saturday's comprehensive mauling of the committed, but luckless Samoans? Brian O'Driscoll's flick through the legs to Fergus McFadden at full tilt or maybe the opening Irish try of five, courtesy of a superbly engineered and equally well-executed rolling maul from fully 20 metres?

Or what about Paddy Jackson's first assertive performance for his country?

Or what about the scrum (dare we mention that dirty word) and specifically the input of new kid on the block Jack McGrath?

Could it have been the work at the breakdown, where Rory Best, McGrath, Peter O'Mahony and Gordon D'Arcy excelled?

All undoubted positives, but, for me, the unequivocal highlight came in the post-match interview given by Joe Schmidt in which he gave his gut reaction to the match.


Here was Schmidt wearing his rugby heart on his sleeve and calling it as it was and as only he can. No false modesty or coach spin aimed at protecting the lads. No hatchet job on his players either.

It was just an honest assessment of the play as he saw it – and where we need to go from here.

If some people out there still wonder why we in the media, specifically former players, have welcomed Schmidt's appointment in the manner we have, then I suggest you have a listen to Schmidt's post-match analysis.

In a poor and extremely fragmented first half, the side were all at sea defensively. The eight-point lead going into the break was a travesty given what had gone in the 40 minutes before.

It wasn't just the defensive alignment – breached three times by way of clean line breaks that will be punished by both of the juggernauts coming our way – but there were other fundamental failings too.

I'll leave it to the new head coach to articulate it best: "Our ball security wasn't great, we turned over at least six in the first half from poor handling. We failed to deliver the level of accuracy we set out to achieve."

To that he might have added loose and, at times, indiscriminate kicking.

I find it particularly galling when we endeavour to shift the ball from inside our '22' and then kick the thing aimlessly downfield when clearly retaining possession and building some meaningful phases would have been the logical and more energy effective way to go.

Even allowing for the Samoans being reduced to 14 men for the opening 10 minutes of the second half, there was a visible change in tactical approach and with it a marked increase in tempo and intensity – helped by the introduction of one Sean O'Brien.

Chris Henry had a good opening half until injury forced him off on 35 minutes and, though clearly the more classic openside in that roving brief, the Tullow Tank is simply irreplaceable in a back-row alongside O'Mahony and Jamie Heaslip.

O'Brien is well capable of mixing it with Liam Messam, Richie McCaw and Kieran Read when that challenge comes around.

While one could not but have sympathy for the Samoans, given the pre and mid-match list of casualties, you can only put away the opposition as it is presented and that Ireland did convincingly.

It was, in the new head coach's first game in charge, a record win in the fixture over a nation one place ahead of us in the world rankings.

This performance would not suffice to get the better of the Wallabies, but as an opening blow- out, the end product – a win of some second-half substance – is as good as it gets.

The scrum was solid, the line-out dominant, with the breakdown, despite those early turnovers referred to by the head coach, the outstanding physical feature as the game progressed.

In individual terms, there were big performances from McFadden, Jackson, Devin Toner, O'Mahony, Best and O'Brien, while both newcomers – McGrath and David Kearney – experienced a game and a day neither will ever forget.


For Clongowes Wood College, it was a remarkable achievement in the professional era, given that four of the finishing backline – the Kearney brothers, D'Arcy and McFadden at full-back, right wing, inside centre and left wing respectively – learned their rugby at the Clane school.

Beyond that, the message is clear – much done, but a lot more to do as the quality of opposition increases incrementally over the next two November weekends.

The Schmidt era is under way with the first hurdle overcome and bottom-line objective achieved. We are a work in progress, but with a good man at the helm.

The Wallabies, fresh from a big win in Turin, will come with all guns blazing, but we're ready and waiting.

Irish Independent

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