Monday, 11 November 2013

Schmidt happens

We are constantly reminded that Joe Schmidt demands accuracy from his teams. Which is why it's refreshing to hear Schmidt's post match interview deliver a 100% accurate appraisal of the game he had just witnessed.

This new dawn of Irish rugby will demand accuracy from our players, but I think we should take this opportunity to improve the accuracy of the expectation placed on our teams. Too many times in the past a 31 point victory, regardless of opposition, sparks wild ideas and fanciful expectations in the eyes of the supporters.

If we have 100% faith in Joe Schmidt, we need to listen when he tells us that yes we were good, but we need to be a whole lot better if we want to win next week. 

There were many positives from that game, not least the margin of victory against a previously higher ranked side, but there are also many things that better sides, (or sides we want to be beating regularly), would expose.


The Breakdown was one of the few positives in the first half, with Peter O'Mahony especially leading the way, and Jack McGrath enjoying a fine debut. Rory Best continued his good work after the break, and while ESPN haven't attributed any turnovers to him, I have him down as the main cause of at least three. Ireland started to get isolated in the second half, in what was one of the few poor points in the second half.

Backline Play

Overall, the backline play was more threatening than Ireland in recent years, but it wasn't without its faults. Too often, the ball was shoveled wide and aimlessly grubbered up the line surrendering possession cheaply. This is something that Leinster used to do under Schmidt, and O'Driscoll seems guilty of it again. I don't understand the appeal of it, as it gives the opposition the ball is good field position with no chance of recovering the ball.

Paddy Jackson is standing at least 15 - 20m back from the scrum.

Jackson stood very far back in this game, and despite this, Ireland looked good with ball in hand, on the few occasions that they didn't kick it away.

Heads Up Rugby

Brian O'Driscoll fails to spot the space outside him, and pops inside for McFadden.
Joe Schmidt encourages intelligent "heads up" rugby. He wants his players to play what is in front of them and take advantage. There were a few occasions were this occurred, and a few occasions where better options were ignored. The scrumhalves changed the direction of attack intelligent, with Murray in the first half switching to the side where Ireland had an overlap, and Reddan switching so Ireland could exploit the space for McFadden's try. There was also an example of D'Arcy cutting back inside with extra men outside him, and O'Driscoll popping it back inside, when there was a lot of space for the men outside him to run into.

Defensive line

O'Driscoll and D'Arcy leave a huge gap between them. More analysis here:
By and large it was good for Ireland, they didn't commit too many numbers to defensive breakdowns, unless they sensed an opportunity for the turnover, and when they committed numbers, they usually came away with the ball. Their linespeed was good, but their tackling wasn't up to scratch, with 18 missed tackles overall. That's just not good enough for international standard. Samoa were also able to make use of overlaps to gain big yards, and the normally reliable centre partnership of D'Arcy and O'Driscoll were caught out twice, first when O'Driscoll shot up to no success, and second when he failed to come inside before Leiua sprinted through the gap created between the old partnership.

Mike Ross

This was the first glimpse that Mike Ross was back to his old self. The scrum went really well, and a large part of that is, as always, down to the tighthead. He finally seems to have adjusted well to the new scrum sequence, and lead the drive on a number of strong scrums.


Speaking of scrums, the scrum was fantastic at the weekend, and there was a real sense of a collective effort as Ireland timed their second shove extremely well time after time. John Plumtree has brought the pack on in the short time he has had with them, and this was most evident in the brilliant maul in the first half that set up Peter O'Mahony's opening try.

Old heads

The biggest cheer of the afternoon was when Paul O'Connell came on. The big man didn't disappoint as he stole two lineouts, and hinted that he's getting back to his gargantuan form. O'Driscoll had a mixed bag, with a few bad reads in defense, but he looked more threatening then I've seen him in attack, and the wonderful skill in the build up to O'Brien's try shows that his speed of thought is still there. D'Arcy was able to rescue an overlap for McFadden, and had a turnover at the breakdown, but had a few too many errors with ball in hand and in defense, with 3 missed tackles.

Bench Impact

The bench had a big impact as was expected. Eoin Reddan in particular upped the pace of the game, and highlighted how Conor Murray didn't have a fantastic game. O'Connell stole two lineouts as mentioned, and O'Brien scored a try and created turnovers. Just as Reddan noticeably speed things up, there was an increase in attacking threat when Ian Madigan came on. That's not to take away from Paddy Jackson, who was very tidy, alert in his play, and a return of 6 from 8 was very good.

The only bench players who didn't show up as well were the front row, where the scrum seemed to return to a balance as opposed to the dominance Ireland showed with Jack McGrath and Mike Ross on the pitch.

New blood

This game showed that Ireland have a number of new players that are capable of stepping up, with the likes of Jackson, McGrath, Toner and Dave Kearney now no longer filling Irish fans with fear with the regulars cry ill. There is a lot of depth developing which will help Ireland, and Schmidt will use this.

New leaders

This game was not just a new dawn for Irish rugby under Joe Schmidt, but also the first time we saw Peter O'Mahony bring the leadership he shows in a Munster jersey onto the national stage. He looks very comfortable at this level, and lead the way at the breakdown with two fantastic turnovers in the first half, carried well, and was seen berating his teammates for not giving him sufficient support after his lovely break. If he continues like this, it would be hard to look past him as captain once O'Connell hangs up his boots.


Restarts were a mixed bag, as we seemed to be all at sea when receiving kick-offs, and ready to recover any kick-offs we made. A quick restart from Jackson after Pisi brought it back to 11-6 showed Ireland were always looking to play what was in front of them. Restarts will be very important against Australia, as New Zealand showed how they can be exposed both in receiving and taking the kick-offs. That being said, Australia finally looked to have fixed their recent problem from receiving restarts, with Joe Tomane's try direct from an Italian restart.

Going Forward

A few points of concern from the Kidney era are already gone, with Ireland able to finish strongly, and use their bench effectively. A problem with Kidney's reign was that big performances were all too often in isolation, and generally only once a series.

There was plenty of positives in this game, and many things to work on as Schmidt has already mentioned, and the big difference everyone wants to see is the consistency of performance.

In my eyes, Schmidt has already had a good November series, but with two tough games ahead, expectations should remain in check, and two losses shouldn't dampen things too much either.

Quietly confident about some good times ahead.

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