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.
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.