Tuesday 26 March 2019

One week for Irish to get it right on the second night

Australia 18 Ireland 9

OUTFOUGHT: Jordi Murphy is tackled by Kurtley Beale of Australia during the first Test between Australia and Ireland in Brisbane. Photo: SPORTSFILE
OUTFOUGHT: Jordi Murphy is tackled by Kurtley Beale of Australia during the first Test between Australia and Ireland in Brisbane. Photo: SPORTSFILE

They say that Albert Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results".

Well, the theoretical physicist never met Joe Schmidt.

The Ireland coach will take his barely disguised frustration from Brisbane to the review room, where the emphasis will undoubtedly be on doing the same things, just better, in the second Test in Melbourne this Saturday.

First and foremost rugby is a game of physicality, where the loudest statements are made when bodies crash into each other.

If you don't dominate with and without the ball, the best-laid plans will be compromised - and probably ruined.

Ireland had control of the ball (60 per cent to 40 per cent) and the field position (61 per cent to 39 per cent) without ever really cracking the Wallabies on the fringes.

It is one thing to win and keep possession; it is another to turn it into the kind of ball that hurts defences.

The presence of David Pocock and Michael Hooper at the breakdown slowed up Ireland's recycle to a trickle.

Now, Schmidt was clearly exercised at how baby-faced referee Marius van der Westhuizen - just 34 years of age - allowed Australia to dwell and hang around on the wrong side of the ruck with stray arms and legs getting in the way of Conor Murray's core duty.

The level of the anger felt by the scrum-half eventually cost Ireland a penalty for backchat to an unsympathetic referee.


It was noticeable how Van der Westhuizen took time to instruct defenders on the rules of the game at the ruck - a la Nigel Owens - when the only language any professional understands is that of punishment.

Any time taken to explain the game steals away the speed of attack ball and allows defences to get set.

It is one of the great injustices of the game.

If any man in green or gold doesn't know, or heed, the rules he doesn't deserve leniency for transgressing them.

However, Ireland were too often guilty of coming too slowly to the 'breakdown party', where Peter O'Mahony had his moments.

The ability of Dan Leavy to contest there and to pump his legs for carries straight through the middle of the ruck was sorely missed.

Ireland's capacity to squeeze points when inside the 22, outstanding in the Six Nations, was not nearly good enough when it mattered.

They came away from Suncorp Stadium with nothing more than three penalties, an unacceptable return.

It was little wonder Michael Cheika praised Australia's physical presence in the first Test.

"We spoke in the lead-up about work ethic," said the former Leinster leader.

"We think Ireland are probably where they are because they're such a hard-working team.

"If we were to compete, we needed to have a work ethic that was at least the same, if not better, just to have a foothold in the game.

"It proved to be a bit of a slugfest, one team going and then the other team going.

"I was really proud of that effort on work ethic and I just liked the character we showed."

From here on, Schmidt will surely dispense with sharing the shirts in the name of development for the World Cup.

Jonathan Sexton, Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong, Dan Leavy and Garry Ringrose will probably come straight into the XV on the presumption of full fitness for all.

The fine form shown by hooker Rob Herring and the perfect return from a dozen lineouts mitigates against promotion for Sean Cronin and Devin Toner.

Cheika has already started to talk up the expected improvement from Ireland and the reasons why.

"The Irish system is pretty good. Their players are well-managed and they came out here really well-drilled," he said.

"That was a tight match, a very tight match, and we know how good they are.

"We know that it's going to get harder," he stated.

"They're getting over arrival, jet lag, they mixed a few of their players.

"They didn't start Johnny Sexton. They didn't start Tadhg Furlong and Cian Healy.

"They're going to change their look next week and we need to change our look as well because we will all have seen each other.

"That's the best part about the three-match series concept.

"It's like we're jousting one week and it's on another week and we've got to change the tactics and keep the same dynamics in there.

"They're very capable of lifting it a level next week."

The element of surprise will not be there from Australia in the second Test.

It is one thing to know what is coming; quite another to deal with it.

"It is nothing we didn't expect," said Schmidt.

"They are an unbelievably athletic and talented team.


"That's the level and we've got to be able to compete at that level and get the margins to fall our way.

"With 14 minutes left, I think, we led 9-8, but you've got to lead after 80 minutes."

The temptation to throw the baby out with the bathwater is simply not an option.

"I don't think we can afford to change some of the plans that we've got.

"We now have 11 Test matches before the lead-in to the World Cup.

"As much as I'm incredibly frustrated about the four-year cycle that everyone talks about, we've had a pretty good run since the last World Cup.

"We've capped 33 players. We've probably capped the guys that we're interested in.

"We now need to give them opportunity because we can't be caught with guys who don't have that experience and haven't been in that white-hot atmosphere."

The pace and physicality of the game was "off the charts," according to Ireland's Peter O'Mahony.

"We'll be the ones putting pressure on ourselves to get ahead of where we need to be," he said.

"We'll have a look and there are things for us to work on.

"But, it's not all just thrown out the window. We stick to our process, our plan.

"We're hugely disappointed, but that's the beauty of a three-match tour that you get back on the horse, whoever is selected, and get another shot.

"A chance to put it right."

Ireland can do that by sticking to the plan.

Just do it better.

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