Ireland greenhorns take flight after finding their feet
Seán O’Brien makes big play for inclusion against New Zealand at Aviva next week
Ireland fullback Tiernan O’Halloran scores the first of his two tries in the game against Canada at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Ireland 52 Canada 21
All in all it cannot be a bad state of affairs when a team changes its entire starting line-up, which had less than 200 full caps between them, and ultimately pulls away to win by eight tries to three. This is all the truer when five debutants were introduced off the bench to make for eight in total.
What’s more, a near sell-out attendance (no doubt swelled by thousands who would not normally access tickets to Irish test matches) and thus in keeping with the remodelled new team, clearly enjoyed the show, and the way Ireland kept pushing for more tries, right up to one of the debutants, James Tracy, with the last play.
That the performance was not without its flaws and lack of cohesion was to be expected. That said, the heightened intensity and accuracy at the breakdown and work-rate on and off the ball from the start of the second half was perhaps adequate commentary on Joe Schmidt’s view of the first-half.
In particular, after a bright opening which yielded tries by Keith Earls and Luke Marshall, Schmidt was clearly annoyed by the “access” Canada were then given into the match by Marshall’s long pass from the restart which that known Scarlet, ex-Edinburgh poacher, DTH van der Merwe then picked off. An all-in maul try suddenly had the scores level.
That said, there was much to admire in the way Ireland responded with the pick of their eight tries when Jack O’Donoghue’s tip-on pass and Finlay Bealham’s lovely offload enabled Tiernan O’Halloran to produce a superb line and the acceleration to score from almost half-way. The pick of the bunch.
Ultan Dillane marked his stand-out performance, 13 carries and nine tackles, with a try on his first Test start, as did Kieran Marmion. With Niyi Adeolokun also making his test debut off the bench, Connacht emulated last season’s landmark of having five players in the win over Italy by repeating the feat here, and this despite the loss of Robbie Henshaw and retirement of Nathan White.
As is his wont, remember the third test in Port Elizabeth, Marshall gave a wild and whacky mixed bag of a performance. While there was his try, a couple of nice passes, good work-rate off the ball and high tackle count, on the debit column aside from his intercept there was a knock-on and kick out on the full. He’s a talent, and a footballer, but he needs to iron out the errors.
Outside him, Garry Ringrose benefitted from Marshall’s distribution game and underlining his ability to beat a man on the outside, while equally Keith Earls was full of running.
Their day will come again but whether he will dislodge the incumbents, Jared Payne and Simon Zebo, seems unlikely, leaving them vying for that number 23 jersey. For of course, this game was largely viewed in the prism of the selection for next Saturday’s re-match with the All Blacks, and an historic five tries to win made a fairly compelling case for all bar the injured Jordi Murphy.
That does create one vacancy, albeit with Josh van der Flier have made his case by being Ireland’s leading tackler despite being less than an hour on the pitch.
It may have been significant that Sean O’Brien was removed from the fray for the last quarter whereas Peter O’Mahony was kept on for the entirety of an impressive 80 minutes. Such are Ireland’s typically deep resources in the back-row that, despite now back to near their best and full fitness, neither might make the starting team next week and one or other might well not make the 23.
But it’s hard to see how CJ Stander can be demoted, much less Jamie Heaslip after his run of 16 successive Test starts came to an end last Saturday. Similarly, Josh van der Flier deserved his respite after being Ireland’s leading tackler in Chicago despite only playing the last 56 minutes.
Indeed, further down the track, O’Donoghue looked like a player who has the rangy athleticism, ball skills and work-rate to play at Test level, but when will opportunity knock again? And ditto Dan Leavy.
Dillane’s tour de force alongside the unstinting and deserving Bily Holland also gives food for thought, and certainly demonstrated that his power and ballast, and good defensive line speed, make for more than just an impact replacement.
Perhaps, curiously, the strength in depth on this day was most pronounced on the once problematic front-row. Cian Healy ran himself to exhaustion (the stats attributed him with 17 carries) whereupon David Kilcoyne charged into the match and anything in red with seven, mostly monstrous, carries.
Bealham’s try-scoring offload to O’Halloran was the high point of a good night’s work and after long his footing at the first put-in, had a solid night’s work at the set-piece. Even then, the introduction of John Ryan for his debut only seemed to strengthen Ireland’s scrum further. Effectively, each was part of a scrum which yielded a try, for if Marmion hadn’t dotted down the second, Marius van der Westhuizen would have awarded a second penalty try.
Paddy Jackson assuredly did enough to force his way back into the match-day 23 as Johnny Sexton’s understudy, not least in landing six conversions from six before Joey Carbery missed his two, albeit in an otherwise engaging cameo.
All of this also has to be viewed in the context of the opposition, whose defensive naivety was best demonstrated by their curious defensive set-up for the opening try, when Marmion sniped blind off a maul and put Keith Earls over.
For some reason, the corner flag was defended by openside Lucas Rumball rather than the absent DTH van der Merwe, and Rumball came off his wing to leave Earls an unfettered touchdown.
Still, they showed their usual gusto, and in a heart-warming and remarkable story gave a test debut to their Bosnian refugee and sevens international Admir Cejvanovic.
Scoring sequence: 6 mins Earls try, Jackson con 7-0; 22 mins Marshall try, Jackson con 14-0; 24 mins Van der Merwe try, McRorie con 14-7; 29 mins Paris try, McRorie con 14-14; 38 mins O’Halloran try, Jackson con 21-14; (half-time 21-14); 45 mins penalty try, Jackson con 28-14; 57 mins Evans try, McRorie 28-21; 60 mins Dillane try, Jackson con 35-21; 66 mins Marmion try, Jackson con 42-21; 78 mins O’Halloran try 47-21; 80 (+1) mins Tracy try 52-21.
IRELAND: Tiernan O’Halloran (Buccaneers/Connacht); Craig Gilroy (Bangor/Ulster), Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster), Luke Marshall (Ballymena/Ulster), Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster); Paddy Jackson (Dungannon/Ulster), Kieran Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht); Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), Sean Cronin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Finlay Bealham (Buccaneers/Connacht), Ultan Dillane (Corinthians/Connacht), Billy Holland (Cork Constitution/Munster), Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster) (capt), Sean O’Brien (UCD/Leinster), Jack O’Donoghue (UL Bohemians/Munster).
Replacements: John Ryan (Cork Constitution/Munster) for Bealham (48 mins), Dave Kilcoyne (UL Bohemians/Munster) for Healy (58 mins), James Tracy (UCD/Leinster) for Cronin (60 mins), Luke McGrath (UCD/Leinster), Niyi Adeolokun (Galwegians/Connacht) for Gilroy (both 66 mins), Dan Leavy (UCD/Leinster) for O’Brien, Joey Carbery (Clontarf/Leinster) for Jackson (both 68 mins), Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster) for D Ryan (73 mins).
CANADA: Matt Evans (Cornish Pirates); DTH van der Merwe (Scarlets), Conor Trainor (RC Vannes/BC Bears), Ciaran Hearn (London Irish), Taylor Paris (Agen); Connor Braid (James Bay AA/BC Bears), Gordon McRorie (Calgary Hornets/Prairie Wolf Pack); Djustice Sears -Duru (Glasgow Warriors/Ontario Blues), Ray Barkwill (Castaway Wanderers/Ontario Blues), Jake Ilnicki (Manawatu Turbos/BC Bears); Brett Beukeboom (Cornish Pirates), Evan Olmstead (Newcastle Falcons/Prairie Wolf Pack); Kyle Baillie (Westshore RFC/Atlantic Rock), Lucas Rumball (Ontario Blues), Aaron Carpenter (Cornish Pirates/Ontario Blues, capt).
Replacements: Admir Cejvanovic (Burnaby Lake RFC/BC Bears) for Carpenter, Eric Howard (Brantford Harlequins/Ontario Blues) for Barkwill (62-68 mins), Rob Brouwer (Lindsay RFC/Ontario Blues) for Sears-Duru, Phil Mack (James Bay AA/BC Bears) for McRorie (both 70 mins), Matt Heaton (Darlington Mowden Park/Atlantic Rock) for Rumball (67 mins), Nick Blevins (Calgary Hornets/Prairie Wolf Pack) for Hearn (68 mins), Matt Tierney (Section Paloise/Ontario Blues) for Ilnicki (80 mins). Not used: Patrick Parfrey (James Bay AA/Atlantic Rock),
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)