Ireland came emerged from a charged Millennium Stadium atmosphere to win a bruising battle with France ready for a quarter-final against Argentina
By Whiff of Cordite
What about that? Ireland finally exploded into this tournament in a game that encompassed every positive from the Schmidt era – strong processes, disciplined defence and accurate rugby, all allied to proper old-school emotional highs of days of yore.
Systems, systems, systems…
Joe Schmidt’s Ireland are built on a strong systemic foundation – when players step into the team, they know exactly what their role will be and what needs to happen. When Johnny Sexton went off, Ian Madigan came in and ran the game excellently, in his best performance in green. When O’Connell went off, Iain Henderson was a force of nature. When Peter O’Mahony left the fray, Chris Henry was a seemless replacement. Compare that to France, who became more and more shapeless as the game went on – Ireland, despite losing key men, had a foundation to fall back on. France had rien.
Ireland have ressembled something like a chess-playing computer under Joe Schmidt. The second-half of this game heralded a return to something like (cover your eyes) more traditional values of huge emotional energy driving a performance. The cold detatchment of the Six Nations was abandoned as Ireland responded to adversity by putting more and more energy into the game. It was spectacular to watch and be part of – and one can only hope that it hasn’t taken too much from the team.
Replacements doing their job. Well.
Ireland took a while to get into their groove with 23-man rugby, but it’s been a critical part of their success under Schmidt – bench options have been trusted and have delivered – a fact hammered home by Brian O’Driscoll in the post-match analysis. When team leaders were leaving the pitch, there was never a sense that Ireland would be unable to cope – and, indeed, were taken to a higher level by the majority of the replacements.
Ian Madigan. Take a bow.
Madigan’s on-pitch emotions at the end of the game struck a chord with Irish fans (he’d spotted his parents in the crowd) – he has spent the last two years stuck behind an All Black journeyman at provincial level and had to listen to everyone telling you that he’s the ‘poor man’s Carlos Spencer’ – an extravagantly talented player who cannot control a game. No longer can that be levelled at the bequiffed one. It was his a game where he came of age in the green shirt.
Ireland ruthlessly controlled the endgame against France, making Philippe Saint-Andre’s poorly coached rabble look like…a poorly coached rabble. The challenge against Argentina is going to be replicating that while missing 252 caps of experience (Paul O’Connell, Johnny Sexton, Peter O’Mahony and potentially Sean O’Brien). The emotion-driven finale against France is likely to give way to something more calculated – that’s when the loss might really be felt