Schmidt sees his team blow hot and cold in the Windy City
Ireland coach reflects on a glass half-empty in the first period, and a glass half-full in the second
Ireland’s Luke McGrath running in to score his side’s second try at Solider Field, Chicago. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
As befitted a half-empty stadium, this could be considered as either a glass half-full or half-empty performance. A slightly curious, relatively low-key game was as much about individuals as the collective. And while it will quickly fade from the memory, it had its value.
Joe Schmidt himself took a glass half-empty verdict from the first period and a half-full one from the second. The relative sluggishness of the recycling in that first period, coupled with the resetting of scrums and injury “time-outs”, added to its stop start nature.
The head coach also cited this in mitigation for the young half-backs Luke McGrath and Joey Carbery, on whom most eyes were trailed in the absence of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton, before they were diverted on to Jordan Larmour.
“I think it’s really hard for halves to inject tempo onto the game if the ball is slow and big pileups are happening and they’re physical defensively. A few of them [Italian players] walked past me on the way out, they’re big square-shouldered men and they are hard to break down if it all slows down. So, I thought in the second half they both really picked up the tempo.”
“I thought they played really well. If anything, maybe a little bit conservatively in the first half. There were times when they could have tried to open the game up a little bit and we took the more conservative options, but those are things that they will look back on and keep learning.”
Carbery’s was a particularly odd display. He missed a couple of first-half tackles, and took the ball both deep and flat. His mind seemed too cluttered in applying the patterns to Ireland’s play, and relied less on instinct.
Work in process
He also provided further evidence that his kicking out of hand is a work in process (although his ability to switch fairly effortless on to his left foot caught the eye) and pressed the envelope when his attempted skip pass was picked off by Giulio Bisegni.
“While we had some numbers there I think we were never going to get the space on the edge. Even if he didn’t pick the pass off he [Bisegni] would have probably hit Jacob into touch if he’d gone for the man instead,” said Schmidt, who nevertheless took comfort in knowing that Carbery will learn from that decision. “He’s a kid that learns well and works hard.”
“Joey didn’t run today,” said Schmidt, “and so I just felt he was trying really hard to bring everyone else into the game, and one of the strengths of Joey’s game is bringing himself to the fore. So, I hope he gets a bit of confidence from what he did today and mixes that up a little bit.”
So, on a day also featuring big shifts from two-try full debutant Tadhg Beirne, Jack McGrath, Andrew Porter, Jack Conan, Rhys Ruddock, Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose, as well as strong impact off the bench, not least from the front-rowers, the stardust came from Jordan Larmour.
The amount of times Larmour left a trail of bamboozled Azzuri opponents on the ground was like something out of a comic sketch. His figures were ridiculous. Three tries, one assist, 245 metres made from just a dozen carries, with six clean line breaks and a dozen defenders beaten (it seemed like much more). Conor O’Shea wasn’t the first, nor will he be the last, to draw comparisons with Christian Cullen.
His timing is innate, and this applies to his arrival on the scene too. The back three cupboard, not so long ago packed with options, suddenly looks relatively bare, with the simultaneous retirements of Jared Payne, Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble, compounded by Simo Zebo’s move to France.
Augmenting Larmour’s stunning full debut was a last-quarter cameo by the debutant 26-year-old Will Addison off the bench. First name-checked by Schmidt around four years ago, Addison admitted that the coach has been on his case for some time.
“It’s a while ago now, I’m struggling to remember, but once you hear that voice down the phone it’s a bit awe-inspiring. I’ve had a bit of contact here or there with him, but the main focus for me after that sort of contact with a man like him is to put the hard work in. Fortunately I’ve got to this stage right now, but it’s only a start and I’ve got to keep kicking on.”
His versatility, running ability and composure on the ball at Ulster, an experience which he describes as “unbelievable”, have been eye-catching, and having first trained with the squad last June for a week in Melbourne, it was no surprise that he seemed to fit in effortlessly here.
“Honestly, it was a huge decision to leave the club I loved at Sale, and I had some great memories from there and close friendships and being captain, it was tough to leave.
But once I made the decision to leave, I put everything into making it the right decision, and luckily I’ve been rewarded with this experience. But I need to do a lot more to make the decision worthwhile.”
If Kearney is ruled out against Argentina, Larmour looks sure to start, and Addison could find himself in the match-day 23 again.
Addison has never faced Larmour before, but maintained: “I’m looking forward to that because it’s going to be interesting when that happens. But the guy has got electric feet and he just pops out of a rabbit hole at times when you think you’ve got him covered.”
“He’s a real talent, and when Ulster come up against Leinster in December time, hopefully he’s going to be pretty well marked because he’s so dangerous.”
Nicely put too.
Scoring sequence: 5 mins Beirne try, Carbery con 7-0; 33 mins L McGrath try, Carbery con 14-0; 39 mins Campagnaro try, Canna con 14-7; (half-time 14-7); 45 mins Beirne try, Carbery con 21-7; 46 mins Larmour try, Carbery con 28-7; 56 mins Cronin try, Carbery con 35-7; 64 mins Larmour try, Byrne con 42-7; 66 mins Ringrose try, Byrne con 49-7; 81 mins Larmour 54-7.
IRELAND: Jordan Larmour (Leinster); Andrew Conway (Munster), Garry Ringrose (Leinster), Bundee Aki (Connacht), Jacob Stockdale (Ulster); Joey Carbery (Munster), Luke McGrath (Leinster); Jack McGrath (Leinster), Niall Scannell (Munster), Andrew Porter (Leinster), Tadhg Beirne (Munster), Quinn Roux (Connacht), Rhys Ruddock (Leinster, capt), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Jack Conan (Leinster). Replacements: Sean Cronin (Leinster) for Scannell (half-time), David Kilcoyne (Munster) for J McGrath (51 mins), Finlay Bealham (Connacht) for Porter (58 mins), Devin Toner (Leinster) for Beirne, Ross Byrne (Leinster) for Carbery, Will Addison (Ulster) for Stockdale (all 60 mins), John Cooney (Ulster) for L McGrath (65 mins), Jordi Murphy (Ulster) for van der Flier (68 mins).
ITALY: Luca Sperandio (Benetton); Matteo Bellini (Zebre), Michele Capagnaro (unattached, capt), Luca Morisi (Benetton), Giulio Bisegni (Zebre); Carlo Canna (Zebre), Tito Tebaldi (Benetton); Nicola Quaglio (Benetton), Luca Bigi (Benetton), Tiziano Pasquali (Benetton), Marco Fuser (Benetton), George Biagi (Zebre), Johan Meyer (Zebre), Abraham Steyn (Benetton), Renato Giammarioli (Zebre). Replacements: Cherif Traore (Benetton) for Quaglio (22 mins), Federico Ruzza (Benetton) for Biagi, Jimmy Tuivaiti (Zebre) for Giammarioli (both 56 mins), Giosue Zilocchi (Zebre) for Pasquali, Ian McKinley (Benetton) for Canna (both 61 mins), Oliviero Fabiani (Zebre) for Bigi, Marco Lazzaroni (Benetton) for Mayer (both 64 mins), Guglieomo Palazzani (Zebre) for Monzi (70 mins).
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).