Joe Schmidt era begins with comfortable win over Samoa
Replacements play key roles in impressive second half performance from the homeside
Ireland debutant Dave Kearney scores the first of two tries against Samoa. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Ireland players congratulate tryscorer Seán O’Brien at the Aviva Stadium. PhotogJames Crombie
Ireland’s Brian O’Driscoll (l) and Devin Toner (centre) congratulate debutant prop Jack McGrath. Photograph: Colm O’Neill/Inpho
It was about new beginnings at the Aviva Stadium, with Ireland coach Joe Schmidt taking charge of his first test match, so too forwards’ coach John Plumtree, and a couple of debutants in Jack McGrath and Dave Kearney, who’ll remember this game forever and a year.
McGrath was awarded man of the match while Dave Kearney, younger brother of fullback Rob, came on as a second half replacement and crossed for two tries.
The margin of victory was a record for a fixture between these teams – the previous mark was 27 points – and while there is no doubt that the sickening clash of heads that saw Samoan outhalf Tusi Pisi stretchered from the pitch and left wing Brando Vaaulu assisted by two backroom staff badly disrupted the Samoans defensive cohesion, there was much to admire about the way Ireland cut loose in the last 16 minutes.
At that stage they led 21-9 but a brace from Dave Kearney and another from Fergus McFadden, coupled with a couple of conversions from Paddy Jackson – he kicked very well with the place ball, including a couple from on or close to the touchline – allowed the home side to embellish the more blue-collar qualities of the first 60 minutes.
The dog-eared adage about earning the right to go wide was apposite to a degree but it was Ireland’s work ethic and industry in the first three quarters that eventually drained the legs of a tiring Samoan team. The two unfortunate injuries were a contributory factor in making the visitors a little more porous but to focus exclusively on that would do a disservice to the homeside.
The performance in the first half was pockmarked by errors but Ireland gradually found a rhythm. They dominated the scrum and had the edge out of touch too; it was the power and cohesion of the pack – the maul in particular – that enabled them to make inroads that they couldn’t manage further out.
Their work at the breakdown was first class and every single one of the pack contributed in putting the Samoans under huge pressure, slowing down ball and ultimately pilfering it on several occasions.
Ireland’s try in the first half came from the outstanding Peter O’Mahony. Devin Toner won the ball from a lineout 24 metres out, Chris Henry initially took possession of the ball but by the time the pack had reached the Samoan try line, O’Mahony was in possession. Training ground precision executed in a match environment. Plumtree might have been purring in the gantry.
Jackson tagged on three penalties to a brace from Samoan outhalf Tusi Pisi – he hit an upright at 11-6 with the easiest of the three opportunities – to leave Ireland 14-6 ahead at the interval.
Schmidt will have spoken to his backline about being slightly too lateral in possession, and giving the pass a little early and not committing the tackler. There was a noticeable improvement in that area of the game in the final 20 minutes.
While it may have been the dawn of a new era in some respects, there was one player whose contribution was typically exhilarating. Brian O’Driscoll produced half a dozen moments in the match that left the crowd gasping and none more so than his flick between the legs in the build-up to Sean O’Brien’s (he replaced the injured Henry after 34 minutes) try.