Wednesday 17 January 2018

Alan Quinlan: Iain Henderson stands tall in perfect start

Ireland lock Iain Henderson is tackled by Kyle Gilmour of Canada during their World Cup Pool D opener in Cardiff on Saturday
Ireland lock Iain Henderson is tackled by Kyle Gilmour of Canada during their World Cup Pool D opener in Cardiff on Saturday

Alan Quinlan

That was almost the perfect way for Ireland to start their World Cup campaign. A convincing win, loads of tries, big individual and team performances, and a clean bill of health has ticked all the boxes.

For sure, it will get better in the weeks ahead, but Ireland confirmed that they mean business and they will have to be respected by teams.

Individually the Irish lads looked a lot sharper in their execution, albeit against a team that haven't won a lot of games and don't have that winning mentality that the top teams possess.

We were streets ahead of Canada. We bossed the physical battle, had better basic skills, ran some great lines in attack, and were more efficient than in recent games when the chances came our way.

I'm struggling to remember Conor Murray having to dig for ball in a ruck and that's a real plus. Quick, clean ball is the foundation that this team has built its success on in recent times and I'd say they would have been pretty pleased with that performance at the breakdown. It was a big improvement from Wales and England in the warm-ups, but it was against weaker opposition.

To qualify all the glee around their display, it has to be pointed out that Canada are the lowest ranked team we'll face in this competition. You won't score seven or eight tries against better teams, but we'd be slating them if they didn't do the business.


I was delighted to see how Ireland went for the kill when Jamie Cudmore was sin-binned. They were really in the zone there for that ten minutes and by the time he came back on it was job done for Ireland. The signs were good.

They were forced to soak up that bit of pressure when Paul O'Connell was harshly sin-binned, but it was a great plus to see the resolve and fight that Ireland put in when things weren't going their way.

In the end you could see that the players were happy with their start, but most of all Joe Schmidt will be pleased to get a convincing win and to come away without any serious injuries from a game. It's a massive boost to have all of your key figures in good health and finding improving form in time for the big matches to come.

When you consider the bruising encounter that France and Italy have just gone through and the injuries that they've picked up, Ireland will be mighty relieved to still have 31 lads standing.


Date / Time Teams

It was hard to pick out a player that underperformed for Ireland, with a much-improved team performance, but I was particularly impressed with Iain Henderson - yet again. His workrate, ball carrying ability and his eagerness to disrupt the opposition's ball is incredible.

Peter O'Mahony will be delighted too to have put in his best display in an Ireland shirt in recent times. He really performed well, made a lot of big carries and big tackles, as did Sean O'Brien. Some of the big-name players really upped their performances and are starting to improve their match fitness at the right time.

But I'd still like to see as many of the squad as possible get a run next weekend against Romania. It's tough on guys when they go to the World Cup and they don't get any involvement at all in the competition. I was one of four in '07 that didn't get a run.

This is the chance for Schmidt to look at other faces and give all of his squad a run out. I'd even go as far as making a dozen changes to the starting team with a very strong bench to complement that. If lads are in the 31 they should be trusted to go out and do a job against Romania like we were in 2003 when everyone got game-time.

Elsewhere in the group, France were pretty dominant against Italy. They physically bossed them, and while they were not as clinical as they'd like, their power is key. But we saw nothing to be overly scared of from an Ireland of view.


I said that I expected a massive shock at this World Cup, but I didn't think I'd see it come against the Springboks. Japan's win over South Africa will give a lot of heart and hope to the tier-two nations, and the way they went for the win was a real breath of fresh air.

At the start of the competition I backed South Africa as possible winners of this World Cup, but they'll have to create history if they are to achieve that. No team has ever won the competition after losing a pool game, although France came close last time out when they got to the final.

It looks like there is something not right about this group though, the spark and togetherness seems to be missing. I still think they can bounce back if they get their house in order, but if they continue to play like they did against Japan they won't even get out of their pool.

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