So now the trick is not getting carried away, even though it is really hard not to get carried away after the last 12 months. Coming into the match on Sunday morning, we all were sitting on the fence. Supporters wondered if Ireland still had it, would they be able to execute and strangle the Scots? Or would Ireland choke under the pressure?
The answer was overwhelmingly positive.
Ireland arrived and started confidently, aggressively and constructively and the Scots (who had talked themselves up no end in the last month), wilted under the pressure.
Ireland busted a few myths on Sunday; let’s look at a few of them before looking at the match itself.
First myth: Rory Best is past it, shouldn’t be captain and shouldn’t be picked. This was the narrative posed by some (lazy people) ahead of the competition. Going into the world cup, Rory and his captaincy was questioned more than any other captain in Irish history. So let’s look at Rory’s game on Sunday. Firstly, this is the game that counts, so when you look at a hooker it is about the lineout, the scrum and the tackle count. All other play is a bonus that being the runs Cronin can provide etc. But let’s look at the nuts and bolts of Rory’s game. Firstly, he played 80 minutes for the first time since 1902, and looked as fresh at minute 80 as he did at minute 1 – hugely impressive. 10 from 10 scrums 12 from 12 lineouts. There was one lineout where the timing was off, but thankfully Andrew Porter was standing between the 2 lines of players (let’s not talk about that) and caught the throw. So now that the lineout worked under pressure, especially early on, are people going to say the lack of lineout success previously is due to bad calls and bad lifts? Of course not, that would make too much sense. Rory 1, silly people’s opinions 0.
So let’s look at the work around the pitch, he ran the same amount of metres as Healy. He had 8 tackles with 1 miss. In comparison to his front row partners, Healy had 7 with 0 missed and Furlong had the same. So another big day for the front row who bossed Scotland backwards. Rory 2, silly people’s opinions 0.
As a captain, Rory was able to keep the team going and making quick and concise decisions throughout the game. Any time there was a call for posts or up the line; he made the call quickly and decisively. That has never been an issue with Rory, but this was business as usual. So this was a clean sweep for Captain Best. 3-0 in his favour against the lazy opinions of silly people.
So let’s move into the game itself. Firstly people are wondering if Scotland where very bad or where Ireland just too good. The answer is that Scotland where very bad because they weren’t allowed to play any ball. Scotland wants a dry day to try and play their expansive game, which is great to watch when it works. But they do not have a plan B. As soon as the rain came down on an already wet day, they were cooked. Ireland strangled Scotland, took any positive decisions away from them and put a mental shot in between their eyes that they couldn’t recover from. The equivalent of this in my life was in week 2 of my 3 week jiu jitzu career where I had a plan during sparring, but found myself quickly under a far more experienced opponent who began choking me with my own t-shirt; I had no answers, much like Scotland.
Scotland appeared to want to go wide as quickly as possible, instead of doing the work to earn the right to go wide, they went wide quickly. Ireland where able to control that easily. Whenever Scotland got a sniff, Ireland where able to marshal it well. There were always at least 2 players on the outside of the last Scottish player to move them either in field or off the pitch. Larmour wasn’t tested, but played like a 50 capper here. Reading the game well and working well with his wing and centre partners from FB. This is great for him. He only had to make 2 tackles, but he had 78 metres in the boots off 11 runs and broke Scotland twice really well.
Ireland’s big stats where with Ryan at 14 tackles 0 missed, Stander and JVDF with 10 and 0 missed and Conan with 14 and 0 missed. A really massive defensive display that put confidence in the machine. When the pack works like this, it opens the game for the rest of the team.
The only worry on the day, injuries etc. aside, was the missed kicks. As the competition grows, Ireland will need to take every single point available and there were too many kicks missed. That will be addressed. But that also has to be balanced with some players appearing to play with freedom. There was a passage of play where Carty dinked over the Scottish defensive line, picked up by Chris Farrell (his best game in green ever) and he passed it backhanded to a teammate. All off the cuff and played as the game is moving, great to see. Hopefully we can see a mix of that when the game is in flow with the structure that Joe likes.
Lastly, there was a moment where Andy Farrell celebrated (Furlong I think) try and Joe shot him a look I haven’t seen since I didn’t do the hovering. It shut him down quickly and while Farrell might be the next coach, Joe is the King of his domain and will not stand for any foolishness. Great to see him in such cutting form.
Ireland opened the RWC strongly without letting too many cats out of the bag. Japan now have their eyes on Scotland, I still think it is Ireland and Japan out of this group. Ireland take on the hosts on Saturday, what an event that will be!