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So we arrived in Chicago, left with a score line but did we leave with the performance? Did we leave with players putting the match day squad under pressure and did we see any improvement in the Italians?
Well the answer to those questions are …. Kind of.
The game finished 54-7 to Ireland, so let’s look at the stats.
Ireland had 57% possession for 55% territory at 54 points. Not a bad return for possession minutes. It felt like a lot more than that while watching. Ireland ran 649 metres in total (Larmour ran for 211 of that total). Ireland made 86% of 152 tackles, Italy made 171 of 209, so they really had a lot of work to do. Ireland conceded 3 penalties to Italy’s 5. Which is a fantastic stat considering the pressure they were under.
Ireland had 4 players with over 40 metres run. Larmour excluded there was Ringrose with 58 metres, Ruddock with 48 and Stockdale with 58. There were a lot of miles put in the boots in Chicago. It shows that the game is being played all over the pitch, it is not just the same trick every time. The game is hard to read from Ireland which is important. The proof of this is that the amount of tackles made by the Italians is also spread across the pitch, they fronted up which was great to see. Irelands biggest tackle conceder was Carbery with 5, but he had a really strong game and was a big part of frightening the inexperienced Italians.
Any time you put 50 plus points on the board then it is a good day at the office, but (and it is important to have a but), it was 14-7 at half time. Ireland did a similar thing for 15 minutes in the first half that Leinster did against Wasps and Exeter did against Munster in Sandy park. They switched off and coasted. Against Argentina and obviously the All Blacks, Ireland cannot afford to do that. The Italian try from Campaganaro was sublime to watch and I think we were all nearly expecting an intercept at some point. A great read and it would have upped the amount of curse words flung at the team from an expectant coach.
Whatever happened at half time it worked. Ireland got on the board at 43 minutes followed by Larmour at 46. The game was over at that stage so the important thing was to be ruthless and put a score on the Italians. That they did, and that is massively positive. Instead of coasting, Ireland put the foot down and butchered the opposite. Maybe the half time team talk put the fear of god into them enough to keep the foot down, but it was a glossy end to a ‘meh’ game.
So who came out of the game with credit? Who put their name down for a tracksuit or even a starting jersey in the coming weeks? Tadhg Beirne is the first, a monster performance. He played like a 50 capper and was near unstoppable. 7 tackles with 0 missed and a couple of tries on his debut. He even ran for 33 metres and smashed 5 defenders. The Toner/Ryan starting second row will have 1 eye over their shoulder.
Larmour obviously. There are people wondering if he can do it against top teams, well he has done it at every level so far. If you want to test him then now is the time. 20 minutes against Argentina and then more time against the All Blacks. If Kearney isn’t fit then start him, why not? You have to take advantage of a player who is on a streak like he is.
Aki is the third player who is putting pressure on the starting Ringrose and Henshaw midfield. A big shift from Aki and it was great to see. He got through a massive amount of work. 22 runs for 33 metres, 2 clean breaks, 2 defenders beaten and 2 offload mixed with 13 tackles with only 4 missed. He played hungry and will be sniffing around the match day squad after that.
Lastly, Ross Byrne. Finally got his cap after being brought to Australia and left minute-less. He slipped on without fuss and was in the game straight away. The job he has done in Leinster has transferred into the big jersey and he looked like he had been there forever. He had 12 passes in 20 minutes of play with 3 tackles and none missed. A very strong outing from the lad and a performance that has Carbery knowing he is not a shoe in for backup 10.
Special mention for Will Addison was introduced at the same time and got busy. 4 runs for 14 metres. But he did concede a turnover. He looked a bit over excited, you can’t blame him. He has been moved into the jersey very quickly. He will be fine. More minutes against America will do him good.
In closing it wasn’t a bad day at the office, it was the rugby equivalent of the office being given a half day when you have already booked it off for annual leave. Not a huge amount changes.
We march home to the Aviva and welcome the other other old enemy of Argentina. It is time to start taking scalps on the march to the RWC.