Joe Schmidt era begins with comfortable win over Samoa
Replacements play key roles in impressive second half performance from the homeside
Ireland debutant Dave Kearney scores the first of two tries against Samoa. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Ireland players congratulate tryscorer Seán O’Brien at the Aviva Stadium. PhotogJames Crombie
Ireland’s Brian O’Driscoll (l) and Devin Toner (centre) congratulate debutant prop Jack McGrath. Photograph: Colm O’Neill/Inpho
It was about new beginnings at the Aviva Stadium, with Ireland coach Joe Schmidt taking charge of his first test match, so too forwards’ coach John Plumtree, and a couple of debutants in Jack McGrath and Dave Kearney, who’ll remember this game forever and a year.
McGrath was awarded man of the match while Dave Kearney, younger brother of fullback Rob, came on as a second half replacement and crossed for two tries.
The margin of victory was a record for a fixture between these teams – the previous mark was 27 points – and while there is no doubt that the sickening clash of heads that saw Samoan outhalf Tusi Pisi stretchered from the pitch and left wing Brando Vaaulu assisted by two backroom staff badly disrupted the Samoans defensive cohesion, there was much to admire about the way Ireland cut loose in the last 16 minutes.
At that stage they led 21-9 but a brace from Dave Kearney and another from Fergus McFadden, coupled with a couple of conversions from Paddy Jackson – he kicked very well with the place ball, including a couple from on or close to the touchline – allowed the home side to embellish the more blue-collar qualities of the first 60 minutes.
The dog-eared adage about earning the right to go wide was apposite to a degree but it was Ireland’s work ethic and industry in the first three quarters that eventually drained the legs of a tiring Samoan team. The two unfortunate injuries were a contributory factor in making the visitors a little more porous but to focus exclusively on that would do a disservice to the homeside.
The performance in the first half was pockmarked by errors but Ireland gradually found a rhythm. They dominated the scrum and had the edge out of touch too; it was the power and cohesion of the pack – the maul in particular – that enabled them to make inroads that they couldn’t manage further out.
Their work at the breakdown was first class and every single one of the pack contributed in putting the Samoans under huge pressure, slowing down ball and ultimately pilfering it on several occasions.
Ireland’s try in the first half came from the outstanding Peter O’Mahony. Devin Toner won the ball from a lineout 24 metres out, Chris Henry initially took possession of the ball but by the time the pack had reached the Samoan try line, O’Mahony was in possession. Training ground precision executed in a match environment. Plumtree might have been purring in the gantry.
Jackson tagged on three penalties to a brace from Samoan outhalf Tusi Pisi – he hit an upright at 11-6 with the easiest of the three opportunities – to leave Ireland 14-6 ahead at the interval.
Schmidt will have spoken to his backline about being slightly too lateral in possession, and giving the pass a little early and not committing the tackler. There was a noticeable improvement in that area of the game in the final 20 minutes.
While it may have been the dawn of a new era in some respects, there was one player whose contribution was typically exhilarating. Brian O’Driscoll produced half a dozen moments in the match that left the crowd gasping and none more so than his flick between the legs in the build-up to Sean O’Brien’s (he replaced the injured Henry after 34 minutes) try.
His sleight of hand, sharp change of angles, flicks, and ability to make pivotal tackles, saw him move as sprightly as he has done in some time; the layoff hasn’t done him any harm.
The backs all had decent individual moments, led by Rob Kearney who made one slashing break but was very muscular and positive in breaking tackles. Gordon D’Arcy’s feet allowed him to eke out space where there was none and he made McFadden’s try a great deal easier with that footwork. In truth everyone contributed behind the scrum, those that started and those sprung from the bench.
The last person a tiring Samoan team wanted to see was Eoin Reddan because his quicksilver service, with the bigger gaps on offer, caused the visitors huge problems. At that stage the game had been blow wide open and there was much more space. Jackson’s all round game was pretty assured, so too his kicking.
Up front the pack, led superbly by their excellent captain Jamie Heaslip, all contributed. McGrath was aggressive and effective in the scrum, very strong at ruck time and in poaching ball. O’Mahony excelled, while Toner’s contribution all over the pitch demonstrated a maturing asset.
Ireland’s setpiece work was excellent, so too their scavenging at rucks, and the plaudits can be divvied out equally in that respect.
O’Brien featured strongly on his introduction and Paul O’Connell got some game time, too.
People might cavil about aspects of the performance but this was a bright opening, one with flaws but encouraging nonetheless. The route gets steeper from now on but there was enough in that performance to suggest it could be the enjoyable journey most anticipated.
Scoring sequence: 4 mins: Jackson penalty, 3-0; 8: T Pisi penalty, 3-3; 20: Jackson penalty, 6-3; 27: O’Mahony try, 11-3; 31: T Pisi penalty, 11-6; 40 (+1): Jackson penalty, 14-6. Half-time: 14-6. 46: O’Brien try, Jackson conversion, 21-6; 64: Fotuali’i penalty, 21-9; 66: D Kearney try, Jackson conversion, 28-9; 71: McFadden try, Jackson conversion, 35-9; 79: Dave Kearney try, 40-9.
Ireland: Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Fergus McFadden, Paddy Jackson, Conor Murray; Jack McGrath, Rory Best, Mike Ross, Mike McCarthy, Devin Toner, Peter O’Mahony, Chris Henry, Jamie Heaslip (capt). Replacements: S O’Brien for Henry 34 mins; P O’Connell for O’Mahony 53mins; C Healy for McGrath 59 mins; D Fitzpatrick for Ross 59 mins; D Kearney for Bowe 59 mins; E Reddan for Murray 58 mins; O’Mahony for McCarthy 59 mins; Sean Cronin for Best 69 mins; Ian Madigan for O’Driscoll 69 mins.
Samoa: Faatoina Autagavaia; Alapati Leuia, George Pisi, Johnny Leota, Brando Vaaulu; Tusi Pisi, Kahn Fotuali’i; Sakaria Taulafo, Ole Avei, Logovi’i Mulipola; Faatiga Lemalu, Teofilo Paulo, Ofisa Treviranus, Jack Lam, Taiasina Tuifua. Replacements: Viliamu Afatia for Mulipola 8 mins; Tii Paulo for Ole Avei 50 mins; J Tekori for Lemalu 50 mins; Jeremy Sua for T Pisi 56 mins; Fautua Otto for Vaalu 56 mins; F Levave for Tuifua 67 mins; J Johnston for Taulafo 74 mins; I Tuifia for G Pisi 74 mins;
Referee: S Walsh (Australia)
Yellow card: G Pisi (Samoa) 39 mins.