By Claire Glancy
Beforehand Joe Schmidt would have probably settled for a five try to nil haul for his first game in charge but the new Ireland coach is a perfectionist and while he admitted it was a relief to be facing the press with a ‘first up win’ he summed up the performance as ‘a bit untidy’ and lacking cohesion.
Ireland has big expectations
It was a strange night at the Aviva Stadium. Schmidt’s appointment has re-energised Irish rugby but with that comes the weight of expectation. How many times in the build up to this series did we read about the ‘dawning of a new era’? The All-Blacks match sold out weeks ago, tickets for Australia are scarce and around 40,000 fans flocked to the Aviva to see Samoa.
It was never billed as a headline act but given Samoa sat a place above Ireland in the IRB world rankings and have proven themselves capable of beating those above that, a closer contest was anticipated. However if the fans were expecting edge-of-you-seat rugby then they’ll have been disappointed, at least for the first half.
The visitors had 60 per cent of the possession and territory before the break as Ireland looked determined to kick the ball away – another criticism made by their new taskmaster. Despite all that, they still led by eight points at the half time and when George Pisi was sin binned for a tip tackle on Tommy Bowe, Ireland made the most of the man advantage, scoring ten points and putting the game to bed early in the third quarter. Throw in the injuries Samoa sustained and they never looked like coming back into the game.
There is room for improvement
Despite Schmidt’s insistence that there is work to be done and ‘nothing is easily rectifiable’ there are certainly positives for Ireland in this performance. Everyone knows it will take time for the players to hit their stride under this new regime. After such a disappointing Six Nations, perhaps some of them were simply trying too hard.
There were highlights
So let’s cut to the good bits:
Ireland won all their line outs. This will be particularly pleasing to Rory Best who has bounced back from his Lions disappointment and with his work around the park cemented his place as Ireland’s first choice hooker.
They lost just one of their own scrums from 13 and dominated the Samoans in an area where they should have been challenged.
The breakdown worked well and they won 19 turnovers. But they also conceded 14 which will come with a hefty punishment should that be repeated against Australia and New Zealand.
The future’s bright
The debutants certainly chose their time to shine, with Jack McGrath putting a man-of-the-match winning display in at loose-head and replacement winger Dave Kearney crossed the whitewash twice. Ireland has no shortage of talented young wingers recently, with Simon Zebo and Craig Gilroy among those unavailable due to injury, but the search for the next generation of front rowers has usually proved more difficult. So there will be a collective sigh of relief that twenty-four year old McGrath’s scrummaging has so far proved up to international level. His defence was also impressive with only Mike McCarthy and Jamie Heaslip putting in more tackles.
Paddy Jackson came under fire during the Six Nations with many questioning whether he had the makings of an international fly-half. On Saturday he stepped up to the mark and although Jonathan Sexton will probably start against Australia given all his experience, the young Ulsterman laid down a gauntlet for the green 10 jersey.
The old fellas still do a job
Not to be outdone, the old guard also stood up. The biggest roar of the night was reserved for Paul O’Connell when he came on from the bench. The crowd went wild at the sight of seeing the Munsterman back in Ireland colours for the first time since March 2012. Brian O’Driscoll produced a customary moment of magic with a between-the-legs pass in the run up to Sean O’Brien’s try. Both of these men, along with Heaslip, Healy and Best, have unfinished business against Australia after the Lions tour.
With the very public support of his more experienced players and talented youngsters desperate to make their mark across the field, the future looks bright for the Schmidt era.
Some coaches would have hidden behind the score line and more favourable statistics but the New Zealander is focused on improvement. His is a mindset that won four trophies in three seasons at Leinster and exactly what Ireland need for the next fortnight, not to mention the Rugby World Cup in two years time.