Satisfying feeling, but more work required
SATISFACTION at the result, reasonable contentment about many elements of the Ireland performance and an awareness that work is still required to be done on certain areas before the opening match of the International Championship against Scotland on Saturday week.
That was the reaction of the Ireland team management to the win in Atlanta on Saturday. The comments were, understandably prefaced by reference to the weather. "The only place I have experienced worse conditions was in Pa Healy's field in Limerick," said Ireland manager Pat Whelan.
The side to meet Scotland will be chosen tomorrow night and referring to that task, Whelan said "We will be selecting that side from the basis of some very useful information we got from this match. It was tar better that the players experienced that type of challenge than winning by 30 or 40 points and concealing possible deficiencies.
"I was especially pleased with aspects of our play in the second half. We controlled that second period and it was very good to see the play of the mature and experienced forwards." Whelan singled out Neil Francis and Nick Popplewell in particular. "They were outstanding." And on the performance of new cap Victor Costello, Whelan added "That match will have done him a power of good."
The only injury of consequence was sustained by Eric Elwood, who hurt an ankle. He had been treated during the week for tendinitis and that, allied to a knock he sustained early in the match, forced him to retire in the 49th minute. But Elwood is likely to be fit for the match against the Scots. He was replaced by Paul Burke and Burke certainly grabbed the opportunity. "He did very well when he came on, "said coach Murray Kidd.
"The conditions were such that we could not play the type of game we had hoped, but we dug in very well, especially in the second half even if we did not avail of a few very good attacking opportunities near their line. But it was a very useful preparatory match for the championship. The Americans are a strong side and good defensively.
"The very hard week of training maybe left some of our players a little tired, but the benefits of that will be felt against the Scots. We had a lot to do in the six days we were here but we still have some hard work to do next weekend," said Kidd.
Whelan emphasised the strong tackling and good defence of the Americans. "We knew their strength in the tackle. They have improved a lot since we last met them and the indications are that they are building a very formidable side."
The level of improvement was acknowledged by the American coach Jack Clark. He agreed that Ireland controlled the second half. "The kicking exchanges went very much in Ireland's favour. The ball was very well placed down the line into good positions, forcing us to kick to touch a lot in the second period. While we countered Ireland's first half superiority in the maul in the second period, we were beaten in the line out, where we had done well initially. Neil Francis is as good as there is in the game in that area. The match in the second period was played in our territory."
Clark added "Ireland are on an upward curve. They are a better side than when we last met them."
With the East Coast of America caught in the grip of ice and snow, the Ireland rugby party was unable to fly as scheduled yesterday afternoon from Atlanta to Kennedy Airport as the airport in New York was closed.
Efforts were, however, being made yesterday evening to re route the party by flying from Atlanta to Copenhagen and Copenhagen to Dublin this morning. After protracted negotiations those efforts succeeded and the party was scheduled to fly out last night from Atlanta.
When the party left their hotel in Atlanta earlier, Kennedy was still open but on arrival at the airport in Atlanta, Kennedy had closed down because of the adverse weather. Initially, the indications were that the party would not be able to fly back to Ireland until tomorrow, but then came the strenuous efforts to seek alternative routes.