Undercooked Ireland needed this warm-up
Joe Schmidt says his side have to improve after untidy showing against Samoa
Seán O’Brien scores a try against Samoa. The flanker will have benefitted from his game time on Saturday. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
The benefits of Joe Schmidt’s selection policy will see Cian Healy, Paul O’Connell, Seán O’Brien and Johnny Sexton come into the starting line-up and strengthen Ireland’s hand for next Saturday’s assignment against the rejuvenated Wallabies. Which is just as well as, no disrespect to them, but facing the depleted Samoans first up in this month’s Guinness Series was undoubtedly preferable on Saturday’s evidence.
Sexton ought to have benefitted from being rested up for the weekend, as will the other three and the rest of the team for their run-out against Samoa. Having worked so hard for Saturday’s start, the hamstrung Chris Henry was desperately unlucky but to emerge from 80 minutes against Samoa otherwise unscathed – not to mention with a record 31-point, five tries to nil winning margin – should not be sniffed at.
Yet watching the Australians respond to going 10-0 down in Italy with seven tries in their 50-20 win, the thought occurred that this Irish performance would not have been near good enough to beat the revitalised Wallabies, much less the All Blacks. And no one was stating this more bluntly than Schmidt himself.
While Schmidt had yet to see the game in Turin by Saturday evening, he noted that Italy put out a very strong side and deduced: “I would say that we are going to have to be a lot better in the context of looking after the ball. We can’t afford to be making twice as many tackles, in the first half almost three times as many tackles as our opponents – not with the Australians because I think they will be a little bit more cohesive.”
The Samoans tested Ireland with plenty of straight hard running but Australia and New Zealand will attack with far more alacrity, and by dint of attacking space will ask an altogether different, and more threatening, raft of questions.
“They have got an incredible ability to probe around the fringes with the likes of Will Genia and the big loose forwards who run off him and the likes of the wingers who are around him and at the same time they have got a fantastic ability to shift the point of attack particularly with Quade Cooper. ”
“People might think he is an enigma but he has got a fantastic skill set, the variations in his kicking game. I thought they were unlucky against England last week,” added Schmidt.
Countering Cooper will be Sexton, and while the teacher in Schmidt doesn’t do favourites, if any player is close to a pet you sense it is Sexton. “One great thing about Johnny is that he is well known to me and well known to Les (Kiss), and Plum (John Plumtree) doesn’t care because he (Sexton) is not a forward. We would have to strongly consider Johnny coming back in. He does bring that experience and that quality we know. He wasn’t the starting Lions outhalf for no reason.”
‘Bit of depth’
“But you know I would have to take my hat off to Paddy Jackson tonight,” stressed the Ireland coach. “I think he has had to do it pretty tough at times, being thrown in as a very young man.” Also hailing the “spark” which Ian Madigan provided, albeit at inside centre, Schmidt would like to think that Ireland are developing “a little bit of depth” in a position there’s always been quality if not huge reserves.
Strengthened and more match hardened, Schmidt is especially determined to ensure Ireland will not be as untidy in possession next Saturday. “I think we’ll be tidier just by making sure we look after the ball carrier and I don’t think we did either of those things particularly well, whether it was backs or forwards.”
Citing a couple of forced passes, Schmidt added: “I think you’ve got to crawl before you can walk before you can run. We just need to understand that we have to look after the ball first, and I think the other elements of the game can come. And it’s a bit like that with the backline as well, certainly Paddy and Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll and Conor Murray haven’t played a massive amount together.”
“I’d accept that there should be some criticism of the backline, I did think that we did two very nice scrum set plays that resulted in one immediate try and one three phases later. I think we grew during the game and delivered a little bit more toward the end.”
In any event, although his fellow New Zealanders lurk in the distance, Schmidt only has eyes for Australia. “There’s an eight-day turnaround for the All Blacks so I think what we have to do that. Australia are the third ranked team in the world, we’re a fair way off that. For us we’ve got to maximise our performance next week.