Five things we learned from Ireland’s resounding win over Canada
Seven tries and fine performance for Ireland as they vanquished Canada 50-7 in Cardiff but what did we glean from the game.
1) Ireland get the mental pitch right
Canada are obviously at a lower standard than the teams Ireland hope to turn over later in the tournament, but Ireland’s recent record when beginning the World Cup against minnows is underwhelming, and in that context the game was a success.
Granted, Ireland first pool game against USA in 2011 was waterlogged, but the turgid performance was substantially worse than the one Joe Schmidt’s men turned in today, and only yielded a 12-point win. Likewise, Ireland laboured against Namibia for long periods when starting the 2007 World Cup.
Today Ireland were sharp, clinical and tried things without showing carelessness or a lack of respect to the opposition. The players, coaches and fans couldn’t have asked for more.
The second half showed a drop-off in intensity, but only because Ireland had pulled away so significantly after the first 40.
2) Schmidt shows his hand (slightly)
One big positive for the Irish team was the unveiling of a few of Joe Schmidt’s patented strike plays. Johnny Sexton executed that loop move to perfection on a few occasions including in the build-up to Dave Kearney’s well taken first-half try.
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There was also a concerted effort to run decoys line in the opposition 22 to create confusion within the Canadian defence, and Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald both made good ground in the opening exchanges as a result. Ian Madigan continued this trend with a beautiful dummy to a decoy runner just before Sean Cronin's score.
Ireland were criticised during the warm-up games for their narrow attack but today showed that they have been working to expand their game plan going forward.
3) Sexton hits top form
If there was any doubt that Johnny Sexton was swaggering after 20 minutes of flawless rugby, then we knew for sure after he received a ball in his own 22 and pinged a cross-kick right into the hands of Jared Payne.
Before then, the out-half had shown all the skills necessary for Ireland to win this tournament. He executed the aforementioned backline moves with razor-sharp handling, he pinned the Canadians on their own line with some pinpoint tactical kicking and he even got on the score-sheet after sprinting into the left corner.
Ireland will live and die by Sexton’s performances. In the warm-up games he struggled, and Ireland couldn’t overcome it. Today’s return to form could not have been more timely as the World Cup continues to ramp up.
4) Henderson takes his chance
At this stage, the only sure-fire way to get Iain Henderson to ground is with a strong dose of elephant tranquilizer. Just like he did against Wales in the warm-up game at the Aviva, Henderson took a short-range ball and blasted over three tacklers to score. His carrying isn’t just a big asset for Ireland to have; it is quickly developing into one of the strongest parts of the attack.
Sean O’Brien isn’t having the same gain line success that we have been accustomed to, so it is crucial that Henderson remains in the team to ensure Ireland maintain that robustness in attack.
The big question for Schmidt is whether to play him at second row in place of Toner or at flanker, possibly in place of Peter O’Mahony.
5) Leave the kicking to the experts
Sexton and Conor Murray kicked excellently throughout but the same can’t be said for some of the other backs. Jared Payne was guilty of a few poor grubber kicks, one in the first half as Sexton sprinted clear in support and another late on that was ran back for a try by DTH Van der Merwe.
Brian O’Driscoll's deft grubbers were massive for Ireland and his successor needs to tidy up that portion of his game or abandoned it completely.
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