Back three shine bright on satisfactory day for Joe Schmidt
John O’Sullivan looks at five talking points from Ireland’s 44-10 win over Romania
Keith Earls and Simon Zebo were two of Ireland’s standout performers in their 44-10 win over Romania at Wembley. Photograph: Reuters
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt expressed his satisfaction with the general performance in the win over the Romanians before a world record crowd for a rugby match at Wembley and also singled out a number of individuals for commendation.
Romania were strong at the breakdown and solid in the scrum but there was no real subtlety to their back-play where they tended to drift laterally or career into the nearest tackler. They provided a physical rather than technical challenge.
Cian Healy’s 54-minutes on the pitch confirmed both his fitness and the contribution he makes to the team in a pretty good all-round performance from the Irish pack.
Individually Simon Zebo, Tommy Bowe and Keith Earls excelled but it was also that collective, their ability to link intuitively in attack, that gave Ireland a razor-sharp edge when it came to converting opportunities. Bowe looks fit and this performance was representative of his ability. His first try of two took some finishing as neither Jared Payne nor Zebo straightened sufficiently to preserve the space and so Bowe had to ride a heavy tackle to ground the ball; perhaps he alone of the wings in the Irish squad is capable of that strength. His aerial work was excellent as was the case with Keith Earls, whose acceleration and footwork not only helped him to a couple of tries but also added value every time he touched the ball. Zebo’s handsome contribution included one moment of supreme footballing skill, three try scoring passes, one of which was a gorgeous 25-yard cut out effort, and an impressive game awareness.
For a second straight match this Ireland team were strong in scrum and lineout and Devin Toner, on foot of a fine individual display, deserves credit, along with Donnacha Ryan for the way they ran the lineout. Romania’s scrum had France in trouble and although they made some changes, it is an aspect of the game where they are traditionally strong but it was the Irish eight that had the advantage in this area on the afternoon, and that bodes well as Joe Schmidt’s team face into the challenges posed first by Italy and then France.
Ireland took a while to find a rhythm in the game and part of this was overcommitting numbers to rucks. Romania have physically strong forwards but their opponents were prone to sending more players than required to win possession. It effectively neutered Ireland’s attacking options from time to time as there were considerably more defenders than attackers. So even through Joe Schmidt’s side won quick ruck ball, after four or five phases they had no choice but to launch a Garryowen or else risk have a player isolated if he got tackled in the wider channels.
COMPETITION FOR PLACES
A feature of the opening two matches has been the fact that all bar the injured Robbie Henshaw have got a run and how to a player they have grasped for the opportunity. A classic example is the display of Richardt Strauss on Sunday at Wembley. The lineout was pitch perfect, his link play was eye catching and his work at the breakdown was typically tenacious. It applied right through from the now seriously competitive tussle for back three places right to the composition of the back five in the pack. Even those who got very limited time like Paddy Jackson made a difference. His ability to play flat and his range of passing gave the team momentum in attack. Those previously out of form have played their way back in while others have stated a case for inclusion. Joe Schmidt and his coaching team will appreciate the headaches.
ATTACK AND DEFENCE
There’s still work to be done to fine tune these two areas of the game. In attack Ireland were a little too reliant on the long cut-out passes that telegraphed the intended receiver and made it reasonably easy for the Romanian defence to drift in that direction. There were examples of Ireland not attacking the inside shoulder when they had the advantage numerically and simply executing the draw-and-pass; Tommy Bowe’s first try a case in point. Against Romania there needed to be a greater variety of options running off the outhalf. In defence, Romania were afford many soft gain-lines as Ireland’s line speed was a little conservative at times. When they did get off the line, so to speak - Devin Toner gave one excellent example late-on - they were able to arrest their opponent’s momentum. That’s something that will definitely be required over the next two weekends.