Liam Toland: Joe Schmidt will be happy with manner of victory
Ireland get World Cup show on the road with display of patience and power
Luke Fitzgerald was impressive for Ireland at 12 against Canada. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
What a start. Twickenham was bursting at the seams on Friday night. Standing pitchside, the Fijians swarmed around taking pictures of the crowd, engaging totally in the festivities; and boy did they engage with England. Ireland too engaged in a solid beginning but I must start at the end before any beginning.
In the South Africa-Japan game, the score stood 32-29 on 75:49. World-class Springbok replacement scrumhalf Fourie Du Preez kicked long; not in desperation but in an educated exit. Ayumu Goromaru gathered on his 22 and off Japan went. Nineteen phases of brilliance later, Japan were brought down on the Springboks’ line. Coenie Oosthuizen was sin-binned and with 80 seconds remaining Japan had a kickable penalty to draw it all.
Against the ‘best’ lineout in the world, and with supreme confidence, Takeshi Kizu, ignoring Victor Matfield, stitches the tail and off Japan go again. Against that backdrop, anything is possible. I’ve never been happier; Japan, a million phases later score in the corner and deep in the bowels of the Millennium Stadium we go wild.
RWC has begun and with it a whole new raft of stars and dreams have been born. Can Japan top their pool? Can Ireland beat France? Can England make pressure decisions akin to Japan and simply get out of their group?
Back in Cardiff, Johnny Sexton was a deserved man of the match, controlling field position and the 56 per cent of possession Ireland enjoyed. As suggested on Friday, there was never going to be a threat on Ireland’s lineout with Canada limited to their three-man speciality.
The scrum also provided an excellent platform, affording Joe Schmidt’s team to flirt with starter plays that have thus far been hidden. In truth, this was a fixture against limited opposition and in raking in seven tries Ireland remained patient, full of power and were extremely precise when opportunities presented themselves. At no stage, even with the odd dropped ball, did Ireland venture too far from the play-book, which will no doubt please Schmidt.
Inside Sexton were many fine performances, but in Iain Henderson Ireland have the complete player. He tackles, he rips ball, he carries, he ploughs through heavy traffic and he dances whilst unloading his big arm fend. He also scrummages. Has Devin Toner done anything wrong? Certainly not but he may find himself starting next week’s game in the ‘B’ side.
Ireland 50 Canada 7
Furthermore, due to Ireland’s 50-pointer Schmidt can really dilute his team and still win the Romania game, with those coming in having an opportunity to dent ‘Test’ hopefuls. Henderson was Ireland’s second highest ball-carrier behind Rob Kearney and third highest tackler behind Jared Payne and Jamie Heaslip.
That all said, Luke Fitzgerald provided a fulcrum of variety in his play that will exercise selection should Robbie Henshaw require more time. Brad Barritt struggled for England at 12 on Saturday, albeit against far better Fijian opposition, but he failed to get go forward when his outhalf George Ford really needed him most. Barritt also distributed poorly, limiting the quality front-foot ball his outside backs received.
Fitzgerald managed his brief brilliantly. His depth at times was perfect for sucking up Canadian jerseys but his timing of pass afforded the well-disciplined outside backs front-foot ball. Dave Kearney profited off such a play in the 35th minute. It looks easy in real time but England struggled to accomplish the same. That flow came from left to right with the Sexton loop on Peter O’Mahony. Fitzgerald has oft times a tendency to rush his line putting himself ahead of the pass. This time he timed it perfectly, taking from Sexton with perfect depth.
That’s the bit that looks easy but in essence it takes months of training and playing to get right. Fitzgerald did, fixed two Canadian defenders and Kearney scored (with two fatties outside him!). Later, when options were limited, Fitzgerald targeted weak shoulders in old-fashioned trucking-up style.
With old-fashioned style in mind, Jamie Cudmore and Paul O’Connell were always going to provide a side show. Both capped in 2002, O’Connell with 105 Ireland caps versus Cudmore’s 36 tells its own story of the Canadian challenge of getting games with their best player on the field. Had Cudmore stayed on the Millennium field who knows what might have happened? He didn’t, and it was a terrible effort from him, not just killing the ball but also playing it, and in the time he was off Canada crumbled. To Ireland’s credit, they remained focused on the process; going through their play-book, with Sexton controlling and building points.
Ten penalties conceded will irk the Irish management but that five were inside their own half will be a massive stick for Schmidt to beat his team. Against better opposition these five penalties represent 15 points which will lose Tests down the track.
Some of the Canadians deserve special mention, such as openside John Moonlight who battled in green grass with a continuous flow of Irish jerseys. Likewise Nick Blevins, his inside centre, who played at wing forward and beyond.
In summary, Canada were poor, Ireland stayed on message, scoring tries with key combinations gelling as the Irish half backs brimmed with control. Cian Healy was sucking oxygen big time but got valuable pitch-time getting his eye in – and then Japan accepted nothing but outright victory!