O'Driscoll keen to focus on the positives

 

Rugby:Brian O’Driscoll is pleased Ireland will enter Saturday’s clash with New Zealand with a much-needed victory in the bank. A 20-10 triumph over Samoa yesterday ended the team’s six-match losing streak.

However, the performance against opposition ranked 11th in the world reinforced the concern Ireland have significant problems that must be addressed. The All Blacks are next Saturday’s visitors to Lansdowne Road and while O’Driscoll refuses to panic at the team’s downward trajectory, he admits the win was well-timed.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a relief to have won because in the end I’d say we were worth our win,” said the captain. “It’s nice to get back to winning ways and remind ourselves of what that feeling is like. There’s no better week to do that than before a Test against the All Blacks.”

Ireland used the conditions — incessant drizzle swept Lansdowne Road all afternoon — to explain another disjointed outing. But the inability to break Samoa ran far deeper and the confidence that is suffering amid a dramatic loss in form since last November clearly remains low.

Samoa dominated the second half until Ronan O’Gara, who finished with 15 points, scampered over for a 66th-minute try created by Peter Stringer’s quickly-taken free-kick. That the Pacific Nations Cup holders were undone by opportunism rather than a moment of brilliance summed up the feeling Ireland had enjoyed a lucky escape.

Until O’Gara crossed, Samoa were camped in the home 22 and looked well placed to register a stunning upset against opponents who started as 1/66 favourites. But for all their toil, they failed to trouble the scoreboard and the Irish scrambled to safety from a scrum that came shortly before O’Gara’s try.

O’Driscoll and Kidney tried to remain upbeat but their words sounded hollow after a disappointing 30,955 crowd had been subjected to another dismal spectacle.

“There was a realisation early on that it wasn’t a day for playing,” said O’Driscoll “We adapted pretty well to the conditions and there was no point playing any ball in our own half. They gave us some scares but I’m glad we had the control to see out the game. I’m glad Samoa are not in our World Cup group.”

Ireland’s scrum suffered terribly until the arrival of Cian Healy and Rory Best from the bench, though O’Driscoll revealed the timing of the calls from referee Keith Brown caused confusion. The All Blacks, who have never lost in the fixture, will be licking their lips at the prospect of next Saturday.

Barring a seismic upset, Ireland will enter the autumn finale against Argentina needing victory to avoid a disastrous month with the World Cup then just nine games away. Luke Fitzgerald, who made an accomplished switch from wing to full-back, admits they must improve against New Zealand and hinted the team are starting to feel the pressure.

“We have to take it up a notch against New Zealand because they’ve consistently been the best side in the world,” said Fitzgerald “It’s no disrespect to Samoa but you have to step it up. Please let it be dry weather against New Zealand. We’ve played the conditions quite well but it’s frustrating from an outside back’s perspective.

“You only have to look at our strike runners and playmakers to know that when it clicks....maybe then you’ll get off our backs.”

The game appeared to be going according to plan when Ireland raced 10-0 ahead with Jamie Heaslip finishing a series of pick and goes and O’Gara hitting the target, but when Samoa struck back through winger Alesana Tuilagi in the 22nd minute it was game on.

“We have a lot to work on but are happy with the win. The conditions hampered a lot of what we wanted to do and we had to play them,” said Heaslip. “Samoan boys are big boys, they hit hard and run hard. It was a good game to get under our belts.”