The warm-ups were a bad dream, Ireland's bench strength and Iain Henderson's big future are all covered
By Whiff of Cordite
Ireland opened their World Cup 2015 campaign with a comprehensive and sparky hit out over Canada. Ireland were never expected to lose the game, but then we said that about Georgia in 2007!
Warm ups…are just warm ups
Turns out that warm ups are…um…warm ups after all. Ireland had shown uncharacteristic fragility in defence and more characteristically, an inability to score tries in their summer outings. The nation fretted if the team were undercooked, or whether certain players were carrying injuries. It led to spurious rumour upon spurious rumour, but it turns out they were actually just warming up. Yesterday’s game played at a much higher intensity than in August. Ireland even rolled out a few attacking moves and scored some aesthetically pleasing tries – I know, the horror!
Iain Henderson has spent the last two seasons knocking on the door of the Ireland XV without managing to displace Big Dev or Peter O’Mahony, while creating an impact off the bench. In Saturday’s game Henderson announced himself to the world with a barnstorming performance, turning over, hitting hard, carrying with venom, before stepping up and scoring a try. Henderson has few obvious weaknesses and you could see him being one of the breakout stars of the tournament.
Unlike, say, the French, Ireland’s bench made a big impact with Sean Cronin, Cian Healy and Ian Madigan particularly bright eyed and bushy-tailed. The game itself was tailor-made for Madigan – coming on against tiring, second-tier opponents with lots of space to give the box of tricks the full outing. Tougher tests lie ahead, but Schmidt has stuck with Madigan as his game-changing closer despite some pretty average form for Leinster, and he continues to produce the goods for Ireland.
Taking centre stage
When Joe Schmidt finalised his RWC squad, Darren Cave was a surprise inclusion – he had an eye-catching warm up series, but has never quite convinced at international level. It turns out Joe Schmidt’s logic was sound – of the specialised centre in the training squad, Gordon D’Arcy was too old, Noel Reid wasn’t ready and other alternatives (Stuart McCloskey, Luke Marshall) were not selected for the audition, so Cave would go as cover for Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne. All clear? Well, not so much, for when Henshaw got injured, it was Luke Fitzgerald who stepped into the vacant 12 shirt. Fitzgerald’s stop-start international career and his lack of recent game time in that shirt had many worried but he had a sound game, particularly in defence. Fitzgerald is undoubtedly a player with more potential to influence a game at this level, but you have to wonder why a valuable squad choice was spent on Cave if he wasn’t going to be pressed into action.
Worry. There’s always a worry
Ireland’s path to the semi-finals has become a national obsession. Our RWC high water mark. The becomes clearer through winning our pool and avoiding the All Blacks in the quarter-finals. There was both bad and good news from the other tournament games over the weekend. The France-Italy game was the poorest of the weekend, with a litany of errors, no structure or flowing rugby shown by either of the backlines. Both teams look extremely vulnerable to Schmidt-ball with loads of tackles, accurate ruck ball and pre-packaged attacking structures. That, however, would bring up Argentina, who had the All Blacks on the rack for 45 minutes and looked extremely comfortable in their rarefied company. The benefits of four years in the Rugby Championship looked obvious, and Juan Martin-Hernandez picked up where he left off in 2007. While the path to the pool top spot looks solid, for that reason, progressing further just got more precarious.
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