Gilroy explodes into contention on a good day out in Limerick


RUGBY ANALYST:Coming away from Thomond Park on Saturday night I was struck by the recurring question; what was the purpose of this “international” match. Was it to fine-tune a style? Tick. Was it to expose new combinations? Tick. Or was it to win? Tick. Obviously all three were crucial but what about selection for the Pumas? Most players waking up this morning will feel they have enhanced their reputation; some (Springbok selection) will be feeling the heat.

I have long been an admirer of all things Fijian. Maybe it’s their Sevens culture or the stories that emanated back from Irish troops in Lebanon. Returning soldiers always brought back a common story: they are massive, athletic and so skilled that their secondrows would outsprint backs.

Watching Saturday’s game unfold I couldn’t help wonder how such beautifully talented athletes with so many gifts are so often clueless when the simplest of systems are required. This of course was the big threat to the Ireland XV. How do you combat such opposition who can barely get beyond three phases, misfire lineouts, have a poor kicking game but contrast all that with brilliant broken field play and the deftest of touches?

Ireland managed to impose their style on the Fijians and in doing so negotiated a very tough scrum and a very difficult breakdown zone. In order to achieve this Ireland had to be very sure of their style.

From the off, both Paddy Jackson and inside him Conor Murray continually took the sting out of Fiji with their pinpoint kicking utilising free space or affording great battles for the chasing runners. Jackson had a very competent performance, clearly prioritising control over the Fijians. To this end he rarely forced himself into the fixture as a running threat, which was understandable. The combination of Murray’s superb box kicking and Craig Gilroy’s fielding was worth the price alone. For comparisons check out “David Mead’s one-handed pick-up try” on YouTube.

The Irish kicking game was ably supported by strong chasing lines but also by powerful running on the ball. Luke Marshall at inside centre brought very direct, hard running lines which straightened up the attack, affording real decoy options. In carrying the ball in two hands Marshall created much-needed indecision and confusion in the Fiji defence. Most impressively, with his powerful core, he got his shoulders through the tackle, allowing him to twist either way, making an accurate offload on his terms – even one-handed.

Positive momentum

Were there any negatives to the fixture? Fijis ability to test Ireland was so limited that management selection for the Pumas will have to account for spiked performances. That said, professional athletes are no different to us mortal humans and positive momentum breeds confidence and when matched with youth a spark can flame. Gilroy exploded on Saturday. I especially enjoyed how he tested everything; kicked balls, dead balls, Fiji defence, tight corners.

The scrum looked untidy throughout the fixture but Fiji were strong in this department. The protagonists offered much around the pitch where I continually watched Michael Bent on his arrival. He certainly appeared comfortable in general play, filling into the system in attack and defence. He made five tackles, all of which were in tight quarters and therefore not over stretching him. He bounced around from ruck to ruck surveying the threats around him and reacted accordingly.

Solid performance

All that said there was no big hit, no big carry, no big play or support line. It was a very solid performance that’s expected from any tight head in AIL Division 1A and above. Dave Kilcoyne for instance was every bit as active/effective. Keep watching him.

As expected with so many new faces certain aspects were rusty. The breakdown was asking too much of Murray where Fiji scragged him far too easily, causing him to carry around the fringe too often. Reading of the referee’s interpretation is an ongoing skill and Leighton Hodges was happy to allow Fiji through. The knock-on effect for next Saturday is it sucks in far too many Irish to repair the damage, which stunts future plays.

At blindside Iain Henderson brings a lovely lineout option, and when on the ball asks real questions of defenders. He carried beautifully in both hands while stretching his legs to create Marshalls try out wide. Although he battled throughout I am stuck on what’s his best position.

He can certainly mix it up where he carried in tight corners but his speed over five metres may expose him to difficult tackles. Too often he peeled away from his scrummaging duties, exposing his prop. I sensed it was to prepare for the upcoming defence. This is a dangerous habit. At 6’ 6 he can be beaten to the punch at the breakdown where the law of the lever burns vital seconds in getting the requisite height to protect the ball. Secondrows have longer to prepare for that hit but backrows require speed over the ground and body height adjusted simultaneously.

Notwithstanding Murray’s fine points, and with style, pace and leadership of the forwards in mind, Eoin Reddan to start next week and regardless of the natural wing positions available. If Gilroy were make the team against Argentina then the Fiji game was worth its weight in gold.

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