Plenty of pain for Ireland and Joe Schmidt with very little gain
Jonathan Sexton could be out for six weeks with suspected Grade Two hamstring tear
Devin Toner challenges Australia’s Ben Mowen in a lineout during Ireland’s 32-15 loss at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday. Photograph: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters.
Stopping the All Blacks from completing a perfect year with their 14th win in 14 matches next Sunday was always going to be daunting. Now, after this, even more so.
The impetus from the appointment of Joe Schmidt has been eroded virtually in one Australian fell swoop, and aside from the mental damage there is the physical toll.
Confirmation of Johnny Sexton’s absence for a likely minimum of six weeks with a suspected Grade Two hamstring tear will probably come today or tomorrow, while there must also be some concern about the rib injury which Rob Kearney picked up late on in Saturday’s dispiriting 32-15 defeat to Australia.
Sexton’s second hamstring injury for Ireland in his last two appearances had the same seismic affect, the last one ending his involvement against England in the 32nd minute and for the remaining three games of the Six Nations against Scotland, France and Italy.
Again you have to wonder how much this is stress related after a ridiculously over-demanding period in his career and his life. Sexton was always an injury waiting to happen after his curtailed post-Lions off-season and pre-season and Sod’s Law decreed that it was half a game into one game for Ireland after 13 games in 13 weeks for Racing Metro.
It looked an ill-advised move at the time and it looks even more ill-advised now.
There seem sure to be changes, with Conor Murray most likely restored, and now Schmidt must decide on whether to choose Paddy Jackson or Ian Madigan in the number 10 slot, with potential implications for his choice at inside centre given his preference for the more experienced Gordon D’Arcy alongside Jackson against Samoa.
Judging by his post-match comments, it seems likely that he’ll revert to Jackson, and inferred that D’Arcy’s experience might be called upon, which would be tough on Luke Marshall as his performance provided one of Ireland’s few bright sparks. Sadly for the fixture, the All Blacks are liable to be without the hamstrung Dan Carter; the difference being the experience of his likely replacement, Aaron Cruden, and those around him.
As Schmidt noted: “Aaron Cruden has accumulated 30-plus Tests [28 to be precise], Paddy Jackson [five] and Ian Madigan [six] have a handful each, that’s a fair big gap in terms of learning and experience and opportunity to make some errors and learn from them.
“They [the All Blacks] will be surrounded by some really experienced players so it is important for us to get the right players around whoever goes into number 10 if it is not Johnny.”
Akin to his early days at Leinster, there was always likely to be pain before gain under Schmidt, although we never imagined a game against the resurgent Wallabies could be this wounding.
As Even McKenzie himself noted sympathetically from recent, bitter experience, namely shipping 47 points in their first outing under his command at home to the All Blacks, “it’s hard to put together a lot in a short space of time”.
“I’ve been in this position before and it’s a really uncomfortable position to be in, when you first start with a team and you’re trying to get everyone together and on the same page,” admitted Schmidt.
“It takes a while. I just feel you don’t really have a while in a Test match arena. You’ve got three trainings and a captain’s run in a week, and within that amount of time everyone’s got to know where they’re going and what they’re doing and how they deliver.”
“Then they have to deliver it with energy and aggression. There were times when I felt we could have gone up another level and delivered a bit more but those are things we’ll look at in the early part of the week.”
Schmidt conceded that Ireland “were a bit passive in defence”, adding: “and I think we were a little bit naive a few times as well. We turned in on players when we could have stayed in a line and other times we gave them more space to play with than we should have.”
The problem is that Ireland have a very short space of time to pick up their bruised bodies and egos before facing the ultimate test global rugby can currently provide this Sunday.
“It was already daunting,” said Schmidt, and he admitted Saturday’s defeat “is going to make it very tough for us. At the same time I would implore the public to hang in there, that we will be working as hard as we can.
“I have got a lot of time for this group of young men who will try to deliver something a bit special next week. Again for us it will be performance related. I don’t think you can pick results.”
“I think we just have to get some things right, you guys saw enough wrong there to know we have got enough on our hands from as Paul mentioned, set-piece, our kicking game, our defensive line, there is a lot of things to work on and unfortunately there is no magic fix.
“I would love if there is a panacea to work all ills there. It is going to be gradual but we will certainly be working as hard next week.
“There is something about the psyche of these guys that the more daunting it will be the deeper they’ll dig and if people can support us we will see what we can get there and try to represent them as good as we can.”