Glass Ceiling

After a mighty impressive victory over Inglaterra, Ireland stand close to a historic achievement – a Grand Slam, just a third ever. What struck us after the game was how .. straightforward .. the tournament has been for Ireland. As against Italy and France, a strong third quarter put control of the game firmly in Ireland’s hands (and for the third time, they ended up on the back foot in the final quarter but then each time the opposition were chasing the game). England were whacked and bagged by the hour and the game was done – and it was closed out fairly efficiently.  Ireland were in England’s half killing the clock for much of the final few minutes, and though England almost ran in a try in the final play it wouldn’t have mattered.

England! Whacked and bagged! England have been tournament favourites since like whenever and were the most impressive team through the first two rounds.  Ireland simply put them away without a fuss. Once we went two scores up, that was it, game over.

Now, for the traditional part where we look at where our forecast of the game went wrong. While some of what we said did in fact come to pass (it would be chess on grass and Deep Blue would outsmart England), our overriding concern going into the match was that we wouldn’t have the scoring power to win if England landed a couple of sucker-punches. We were confident they’d beat France’s haul of 11 points and that Ireland would need to respond in kind. Well, they didn’t because Ireland stopped them at source.

A monumental effort at defensive breakdowns won the match. Rory Best led the assault, letting every rose-clad yeoman know that no ruck would be free from either he, Toner, or some Irish forward bent over double trying to pilfer the ball. If we didn’t win it, we slowed it to a crawl and the pressure resulted in England simply allowing themselves to make errors, which Ireland converted into territory and ultimately points. [Incidentally, one penalty against Peter O’Mahony late in the match was beyond ridiculous. As soon as I heard the referee’s whistle I jumped to the air so sure was I that O’Mahony had won the penalty. Then I looked again and Joubert’s arm was pointing the wrong way!]

Another improvement from the France game was that Ireland were more proactive with the bench. Mike Ross [superb again, it must be said] and Jack McGrath were whipped off before the hour, and Iain Henderson was on for 15 minutes. Two changes had to be made far earlier than was idea, but Tommy O’Donnell was superb. And Zeebs was brilliant too – we sort of said he should be dropped, but he was everywhere.

It was all pretty eerie – even when Ireland have been successful, they haven’t made it easy for the fans. The 2009 team salved a description of us all as “long-suffering” after years of near-misses but even then, the average fan gained 10 years through the tournament. The England and France games went down to the wire, Scotland had us in all sorts of trouble (remember Bob’s intervention on a bouncing ball to deny Chris Paterson a walk-in try?) and as for the Wales game… Paddy Wallace won’t be the only one who won’t forget that sinking feeling. Only Italy were dispatched with ease.

Even last year, we lost to England and rode our luck a bit against France. This time, we’ve beaten both without looking like we needed to go up into fifth gear, although the finale of the France match was pretty stressful. Italy were swatted aside and now there are only two games left. And then… it’s only the World Cup. We’re into new territory here.

The first goal – a Grand Slam – has two more peaks to scale. One, Wales, is Mount Ventoux and one, Scotland, is Mount Merrion. Dealing with Scotland will be simple – luminaries like Rog and Drico have come up with the idea that since Scotland will be facing a wooden spoon when we go to Embra, it becomes something of a tough game, since its a ‘cup final’. I’m sorry, but I’m just not buying it – they just lost at home to Italy, crumbling like that lovely apricot Wensleydale we got on the Lisburn Road in our last trip home. They are about to get a huge can of whoopass opened on them in Twickers, so forgive us for thinking they are not going to suddenly become a threat to Ireland in three weeks time. All we’ll hear about for the next two weeks will be whether we need to put Jonny Sexton in some bubble wrap and keep him under the stairs, and sure, he’a absolutely essential to beating Wales, but Ireland could play Ian Humphreys and still waltz pass Scotland.  Even if Scotland do show up you can almost guarantee they’ll find a way to lose the game.

But Wales – now that’s a different story. The Greatest Team in World Rugby have had their customary slow start and they are rather similar to us – they will belt the ball super-high in the air, tackle until the cows come home, and dare teams to beat them. The team is festooned with leaders – Alun Wyn Jones, Sam Warburton, Dan Lydiate, Dan Biggar, Roberts and Davies, Halfpenny. Perhaps most importantly, they’ve a back three who won’t crumble in the face of forty-plus snow-covered garryowens.  Halfpenny is a match for anyone under the high ball, and Liam Williams has played most of his footie in the 15 jumper.  And the rapidly-emerging Rhys Webb, who offers a little guile and creativity to supplement the Warrenball.

Ireland will be ever-so-slight favourites and Gatty would LOVE IT if he got one over on us, and Joe Schmidt. You can only imagine his face. It’s always tempting to dismiss Wales as one-dimensional bully-boys, and they have their off-days but they remain a good team.  Win, and they’re in the shake-up for the championship, which could conceivably be a three-way tie on match points.

Most beautiful of all this is our draw in the World Cup – we’ve got a shambolic French team (please, FFR, do the decent thing and keep PSA until the World Cup) and Italy, plus some bunnies. It’s hard to see at this stage, with our coach, how we won’t plot a way to win that group. The likely path after that is Argentina followed by the winner of the Pool of Death. Our base assumption has always been that England at home will be a tough nut for the Wobblies and the Greatest Team in World Rugby to crack – Cheika’s probably the most likely to do so, but that’s a debate for September. The way Ireland are playing, Argentina then England looks like a feasible couple of matches – avoiding the Southern Hemisphere big three right through past the semi-finals is pretty fortunate (if its ever even happened).

Despite the Irish glass ceiling at the quarter-finals, it’s hard to escape the feeling the stars are lining up, and it’s pretty frightening really – a lot seems to be coming together and our natural inclination is to ask how it can all go wrong. The first way is underestimating the Greatest Team in World Rugby – we certainly won’t be doing that.

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71 Comments

  1. stephendaly2013

     /  March 2, 2015

    Excellent analysis as usual. However I disagree about Scotland – they will not be a pushover in the last weekend. However, you are correct that we should be more concerned about Wales – they have bags of talent. Let’s hope Sexton is fit by then. He is key to winning in Cardiff.

    Stephen Daly

  2. Joe

     /  March 2, 2015

    The most satisfying performance of the Schmidt era. Huge positives all over the park (the loose last 15/20 mins aside, and they wouldn’t have happened if Sexton had stayed on).

    – Scrum was very good. That third choice Leinster lad is doing ok 😉

    – Dev nicking that lineout was a very big moment. Really killed their momentum

    – I thought TOD played very well again and Jordi did fine (though I would dearly love Heaslip back for Wales)

    – Murray was pure class. I noticed it more when I watched the game after coming home last night. Goes without saying, that there is a big drop off when he or Sexton aren’t there.

    I am relatively confident for 2 weeks time. We are in a very focused zone at the minute and playing in a different fashion to any Ireland team I have ever seen, whereby we are confident from the off and very efficient at building and managing leads.

  3. Getting ahead of yourselves a bit maybe?
    This game again rammed home the point of how lucky we are with our halfbacks and how utterly dependant on them we are.
    I’ll start seriously considering our chances in the world cup at the end of pool stages.
    First up, a tough match in Cardiff.

    • I agree,

      I’m nervously excited for the rest of the champioship/RWC but there is such a drop down from Murray and in paticular Sexton that I end up examining every collision to see if Sexton comes out unhurt,
      Without Sexton we wont win this championship and would be lucky to get out of our group at the RWC,

      Henshaw is really growing as a player, he had an excellent performance, what stood out for me was the number of times he presented himself for the offload, hands out, and when it wasnt given still managed to clear out/protect the ball, you often see players looking for the off load just over running it,

      Payne has now come off injured in 2 out of 3 games, so I do think it is time to have a centre on the bench,
      Which leads me onto provencial level, where I didnt see the Munster game, but I saw alot of comments on FB with a link to Earls try video, For me the try just proves that he is a class winger and finisher, but doesnt do anything to show him as the 13 he had on his back, but as I said above I didnt see the game.

      There were some excellent performances yesterday, The Pack did very well, I did give a little smile for Ross when Moore conceded a penalty straight away, Ross has got alot of stick and played really well,
      Best was hitting rucks like they had slept with his wife, all the back row were poaching, and I think for the second game in a row POC maybe making yards when he goes into contact (not massive yards but go forward ball at least)

      Bowe had an off day, but I’ll get over that.

      Roll on two weeks, Wales will be dangerous but I have faith in Joe, as long as sexton is fit!

      • D6W

         /  March 2, 2015

        I saw 1st half of Munster game, and Earls was outstanding ball in hand. That said, unlike the other Irish #13 contenders, Earls had opportunities during the BOD era, and was found wanting defensively in that partcular position. I would suggest he is making a great case to be included in 23 for WIng/FB cover, and let Madigan cover centre/outhalf as he is currently doing.

        • Peter Daly

           /  March 2, 2015

          Quick question as I don’t want to turn this into an Earls debate but when was he found defensively wanting at 13? I remember Manu Tuilagi making a speed bump out of him but thats the only time I can recall him struggling defensively in the centres. I could be wrong though.

        • Peter Daly

           /  March 2, 2015

          @D6W I reckoned it was high on the list. I personally wouldn’t rule him base entirely on that one game but that’s an arguement for another day

          • My understanding of the Earls can’t defend debate as that he has a talent for missing marquee tackles as the example given above but his defensive stats during that tournament were as far as I recall quite good. Open to correction though!

    • Of course we’re dependent on our halfbacks, but name a team who isn’t reliant on a couple of key leaders? And when has it ever been any different? For Sexton and Murray, see O’Driscoll and O’Connell last time around. There is only one other team in world rugby that would not experience a huge step down if they lost players as good as Sexton and Murray, and we know who they are.

      • SportingBench

         /  March 2, 2015

        To be fair, Italy also seem to be completely unaffected by who plays 10 for them and don’t suffer a drop of in performance when the starter goes off like Ireland did 🙂

        • D6W

           /  March 2, 2015

          Although what would they be like if they lost Parisse? Taking the green tinted glasses off for a moment, his was the outstatnding performance of the weekend.

      • curates_egg

         /  March 2, 2015

        Don’t really agree. O’Driscoll and O’Connell were outstanding players but were they as central to the game plan? OK – O’Driscoll maybe, because of his role coordinating the defence. But both players could be replaced – the problem was more our lack of gameplan and reliance on individual performances.

        Now our whole existence is built around Sexton. God forbid, touch wood etc. but if he is not playing for whatever reason, would you back us to beat any top 6/7 ranked team? It’s hard to see anyone else filling in for Murray either (Reddan the only sub not used on Sunday).

        Like gummi above, I find myself fearing every single collision/tackle Sexton goes into. For that reason, I would prefer to just take each game as it comes.

  4. Various thoughts spring to mind:

    1. Ireland have improved in each game so far. If we can continue that trend against Wales, we should win. (And pity poor Scotland in the last game.)

    2. Best was immense – I think the try was the difference between Henshaw and he for the MoM. Haven’t heard a cheer for a departing player like that in a while – though his Conan the Barbarian look at the end of the first half helped in the PR stakes.

    3. The solidity Schmidt has baked into this team is a wonder to behold. Whether planned or reactive, the subs came on and played their part as well as could be hoped. With one exception…

    4. Madigan is having a torrid year. Replacing Sexton (even a 90% on-form Sexton) is a hard task for anyone, let alone someone who’s been shuffled around the back row at his club. Worryingly, with Sexton returning to Leinster, it’s not like things are going to get more settled for him – the best he can hope for is becoming an apprentice to the master in the coming years.

    I’ll return to my customary cynicism soon, but for now I’m basking…

    • Joe

       /  March 2, 2015

      I wouldn’t agree with “torrid” on the Madigan front. He is playing reasonably well at 12 for Leinster this year and his place kicking, for the most part, has been exemplary. His place (if it is to be in Leinster) will be as a 12 for the foreseeable future. It’s tough on the guy to then come in and control a game from 10 when Sexton goes off when he has little game time there. Does pose the question as to whether he is suitable as a replacement for Jonny, but then his flexibility does push a case for the bench (jack of many, master of few…).

      • SportingBench

         /  March 2, 2015

        Also, to give Madigan the benefit of the doubt, Sexton played really, really well so who ever came on was going to look slightly of pace in comparison. He didn’t seem to make too many flat out mistakes or hand the game to England in any way. Any team in the world losing Sexton yesterday would have noticed a dip in performance.

    • I think torrid is fair enough. It reminds me of the Arctic Monkeys lyric: “And I’m sitting going backwards, and I didn’t want to leave”

      • D6W

         /  March 2, 2015

        He may have had a torrid game (although that seems a bit strong, no game changing mistakes), but his season at Leinster is going well, accepting he is playing at 12. He still has a chance (outside) to win European honours, and all to play for in Pro12.

    • Torrid feels a little harsh. He’s played pretty well with Leinster this year I’d have said.

      Unfortunately for him though, Ireland’s tactics are not at all suited to his skillset. We all know what he’s good at and what he’s not so good at, and tactical kicking from hand is about his biggest weakness. There is a legitimate argument that if we are looking for a Mini-Sexton to fill the bench, Ian Keatley is the better bet. I feel that Madigan is there for his ability to cover first-centre more than as a replacement for Sexton, certainly not with 30 minutes to go.

      • Fair enough – “extremely frustrating” instead of “torrid” then? A role as a backup 10 and a utility 12 in a Leinster team that has struggled to perform all season can’t be what he was hoping for when the season began. That he’s 3rd-choice 10 for Ireland at present (with Jackson out for the foreseeable) is just a continuation of that. It’s part circumstance rather than talent, but nonetheless how is he going to move forward next year? Committing to 12 at Leinster isn’t going to do his Ireland prospects any good.

        • D6W

           /  March 2, 2015

          There is some truth to that, but with Ben Teo proving to be a bit useless (although my other half claims he rivals Rob Kearney on the looks front!), and Noel Reid moving on, the Leinster 12 jersey is there for the taking. And with Henshaw being able to play 13, he is only 1 center injury away potentially from starting 15, accepting he is not only one vying. So not all bad news going forward.

          • Peter Daly

             /  March 2, 2015

            Where’s Noel Reid off too?? I haven’t heard that bit of news.

          • Mary Hinge

             /  March 2, 2015

            It’s not Noel Reid moving on, but Brendan Macken.

          • D6W

             /  March 2, 2015

            Apols, I stand corrected. 😦

        • ehhweasel

           /  March 2, 2015

          Any of ye remember the time Eric Miller came on at first centre in the World Cup? We’ve come a long way baby!

        • Jackson will be back in the next week or 2 .. but not in contention this Six Nations

          • Before his injury Jackson had been playing this season the best rugby I’ve ever seen him play. In the match against Toulon away Ulster had their opponents on the ropes and had scored two tries. To me it looked as if they might manage to pull off a surprise victory. Jackson was playing magnificently. When he had to come off and iHumph came on, the Red Hand crumbled. If PJ can get back to such form by the end of PRO 12 season, he’d be my choice as Sexton understudy (and that’s someone who’s a BIG Madigan fan talking!!!).

    • Xyz

       /  March 2, 2015

      For me the big issue is with Murray and Sexton, and the tactical fragility that Schmidt has introduced through this game plan. The fact is S&M are the best in the world (arguable – individually but as a pair not, I think) at implementing this kick + chase game plan and the whole team is set up to follow this through. If either or both get injured the problem isn’t the general drop in quality to their back ups but that the game plan is so specialised in focusing on their strengths. This is a problem – there is zero chance that one or both won’t be injured between now and the a WC semi.

      On the scrum I ended up winning a bet with colleagues – I reckoned Ross would do really well. My thesis here is that the scrum is a zero-sum lottery and Ross was due some reversion to mean.

      Don’t know how our hosts were so negative on Zebo, I thought he was one of the standout players vs France, and he continued that vein of form here. He has adapted fantastically well to the team-first, work-hungry winger that Schmidt values.

      • rachel685

         /  March 2, 2015

        I see where you’re coming from, but if you have the best kicking halfbacks in the world and a team stacked with GAA-trained fullbacks, wouldn’t it be negligent – at best – NOT to make the most of that? Evidence from Leinster suggests that Schmidt’s gameplan would probably change if he had to work with different players. Obviously that’s a hard thing to do if someone is injured mid-match, but if (baby Jeebus forbid) Sexton or Murray was out for RWC I’d bet my life savings on the coaches coming up with a new plan to make the most of the players they’ve got. It might not be as effective simply because Murray and Sexton are such incredibly good players, but almost every team has a couple of stars for whom the replacements just aren’t as good (sadly there’s probably only one side in the world that can win a world cup with a fourth-choice outhalf, and it’s not Ireland).

        In general I think the emphasis on the kicking game has obscured the more important aspect of Ireland’s victory: the complete domination of the breakdown. If Ireland can maintain that aspect of their game, it provides a foundation for any number of different types of approach, whether you’re box-kicking or providing quick ball for a Madigan or an Earls to run around looking for space.

        • Xyz

           /  March 2, 2015

          Yeah I agree, on the whole. This thing with Sexton looks minor but if it weren’t I’m sure that there would be a different game plan for the Wales game. But we need to have an in-game plan B for when things go against us. Quite obviously Madigan was still playing to the same plan when he wasn’t able to execute it. Maybe we have Keatley on the bench against Wales, but even then can he execute as well as Sexton? No, obviously, and similarly Reddan in case Murray is injured. The slight feeling of unease I have is that we seemed to demonstrate that we had no plan B in the final 15/20 minutes. (This is all a niggley back of the mind feeling – I’m still pretty damn elated after a glorious performance).

          I could be wrong here. Joe is very clever after all. Surely he isn’t doing a Gatty on it?

          Regarding the break down I must admit I was really impressed by the back row, they definitely out performed their counterparts with Best justifying his selection with that facet of the game alone. Having said that, I caught the first few minutes of the Fr V Wales game and saw the French getting pinged a few times for what they had done very successfully against us the other week. Different ref, different outcomes.

  5. There’s always going to be analysis to be done (hence the blog) & differences of opinion (hence the comments) but for me I just have to acknowledge that that was a magic afternoon. Good contest, great performance pretty much across the squad and the best atmosphere in the Aviva since the Game That Shall Not Be Named. Even the weather magically transformed itself. Whatever happens in the next few weeks, and rolling on into the World Cup, it was a great day to be an Irish rugby fan.

    • SportingBench

       /  March 2, 2015

      I was wondering what match you meant and then I realised. Now I feel sad again 😦

    • D6W

       /  March 2, 2015

      Agree it was an amazing atmosphere. Have to hand it to the English, they really belted out God Save the Queen, I thought it was a piped recording of Twickers. Seemed to inspire Irish fans to up our own renditions. And it went from there.

      Regarding above article, it is way to early to infer anything about the World Cup, especially regarding England. We had them yesterday, but there is a good team in there somewhere that just needs some cohesion. Not to mention injuries to our key players would hurt us more than most other teams.

      • I think a huge thing about the World Cup is the fact that England are working with players they probably wouldn’t have had a look at a year ago. If they manage to get players back from injury their depth will be huge, and the impact is much less, whereas as you say, someone like Sexton or Murray or POC getting injured will be a hammerblow to our chances.

        • Hairy Naomh Mhuire

           /  March 2, 2015

          Huge depth but running out of games to pick a strongest 15.

  6. Like any good Irish fan I broke out in a cold sweat when you started talking of semi-finals and the like, and I’ll probably continue to until Joe shepherds us gently kicking and screaming through to the knockout stages.

    The game was certainly one of (if not the) best of the Joe era, but it still wasn’t the best performance, which belongs to the 70-odd minutes vintage against BNZ. While we’ve stopped losing games in the last quarter, we’re not exactly doing anything to finish them off either, and better teams (BNZ, England without 36 and a couple of other players back) will take advantage of that.

    We do currently have a Warrenball-esque gameplan which isn’t exactly pleasing on the eye, but brutally effective and hard to counter until you come up with a gameplan specifically to counter it that’s easy enough for others to replicate. I don’t think it’s as simple as Joe taking out a whiteboard at the start of the tournament and drawing mortar flightpaths ad infinitum (and to do so would be a grave injustice of other aspects of our game yesterday such as the huge improvement at the breakdown and the showing at set piece). I think there’s a few factors:
    1. We still don’t have a huge amount of ball-carriers on the pitch to really start wearing down defenses. Murphy and TOD did good jobs but without quick ball they don’t look like busting a huge hole.
    2. The backs (Payne slowly improving notwithstanding) don’t have enough thrust other than “treat Robbie like a battering ram”. I get that we have a backline of fullbacks who pretty much all have Gaelic experience, but I don’t remember seeing much creativity. Is it necessary? Not right now, but you can’t win a World Cup on just kick chases alone.
    3. The opposition: This is probably the most important one, but is using a whole lot of creative license on my part. Joe is probably looking at each opposition in turn and building out a gameplan for each. It just happens that so far the best response has been to carpet bomb them to oblivion. Obviously we’re in danger of becoming stale and being found out, it’s a gameplan *hugely* dependent on Murray/Sexton AND Gatland & Co could have figured something out in two weeks time, but Joe may just as easily have decided to come up with something new to keep the opposition guessing (probably the bigger focus will be on discipline). This *is* the arch-pragmatist we’re talking about after all.

    All in all, I’m looking forward to a belter of a game in two weeks, but I don’t think Wales are as insurmountable as people imagine. Webb is rightly probably their key man at the minute in open play.

    • SportingBench

       /  March 2, 2015

      I think there is no problem with how Ireland are approaching games at present (not least as we are winning). I think were a problem could arise and what the problem with Warrenball is, when the first set of tactics don’t work.
      Gatland responds to tactics not working by trying plan A again. That is worthy of criticism. I think everyone saying Ireland can’t continue with only one tactic are giving the players or Schmidt the criticism before they have earned it, if you get what I mean. Let’s see what Ireland do if/when someone can compete effectively in the air before saying that we are 1 dimensional.
      I did read something a while back suggestion Ireland were deliberately not producing anything fancy in the backs against Italy and France as they could win those games without giving up information to opposition analysts. While that is a little “secret master plan” sort of thing, given the level of analysis by opposition coaches these days and the fact that we did show a few additional moves on Sunday, it might just be that Ireland do have some more in the locker but Uncle Joe wants them to keep some powder dry for when it really, really matters. Like a RWC semi at Twickenham against the home team…possibly.

      • Yeah, for sure that it’s fine while it’s winning, and it definitely talks to our heightened expectations of fans that we’re doing a Joe-esque analysis on wins and figuring out what needs to happen next. I do think the gameplan has been relatively untested, and I can only hope that there’s a plan B, because if Sexton and/or Murray have to go off we lose a huge amount of accuracy in the air.

      • I agree with you SportingBench – it’s becoming a cliche now to say that “Ireland need to show more” or “Ireland’s game is one-dimensional”, but we’ve won 10 games on the trot including against two of the SH heavies. Since Schmidt took over, we’ve lost only two matches and both were very close (and I don’t think anyone in their right mind would say Ireland were poor against NZ or employed the wrong gameplan for that match). The comparison with Warrenball is misleading. The limitations of that approach have repeatedly been exposed in Welsh defeats to SH sides, by England in the second 40 minutes of their game this year and – quite ruthlessly – by Ireland in the 2014 6N, but Gatland has changed absolutely nothing about the way his side play.

        If Ireland play in a one-dimensional way and start losing, then I think there are real grounds for criticism. But we’re not losing. We’re winning, over and over again. Until we do start losing, all the moaning about the style of play looks a bit like a kind of collective terror to admit we’re doing well lest we bring down some sort of ancient Curse of the Tall Poppies upon ourselves. And while I get the contention that Ireland needs to “show more” especially away from home ground – where we were most severely tested in last year’s 6N – away wins do tend to be built on just the kind of tight, error-free approach Ireland are currently employing providing the execution is solid.

        • Stephen

           /  March 2, 2015

          Minor point – we also lost against the Wallabies in Autumn 2013, and were cack.

          • rachel685

             /  March 2, 2015

            Yes, very good point. I was actually at that game and have completely wiped it from my memory due to how spectacularly cack Ireland were.

  7. Thought that ruck after Zebo’s tackle on Watson (I think it was Watson) was the moment of the game – just a ridiculous lung-busting effort from the pack to win that ball. We focus our aggression so accurately at the moment – it’s easy to get too excited when we win games at a canter.

    We definitely have more capacity to improve as well – it seems strange but this actually feels like just the foundations of a team – Schmidt hasn’t even been there for very long.

    We are blessed to have him working in this country – I like how when the prospect of him coaching NZ comes up, you hear fans saying “we must just make the most of the time he’s here” – like he’s Superman returning to his home planet, or Jesus.

  8. Yossarian

     /  March 2, 2015

    Before it started i felt this was a 6 nations which would have 3 teams finish with 4 wins. This game vs Wales was in a way the one i was most worried about from an irish perspective.(hilariously thinking the French or Welsh would do England)
    We are essentially Argentina 2007 and totally dependent on our half backs kicking for it to work. The welsh have players who can compete in the air as outlined above and i still worry we don’t have the strings to our bow to score more points or make yards when the kick chase doesn’t work.
    That said, on a positive note(from an irish perspective) i think it will take a rule change for the irish game to be nullified.(or heaven forbid an injury to Murray/Sexton) What do you do to play against it?
    Zebo justified his inclusion over Luke and Earls on the simple basis it is his superior kick chase that has him selected rather than his Gerry Thornley non existant “X-Factor”

  9. Rossa

     /  March 2, 2015

    The mad thing about yesterday is that we never looked like losing the match. The hits going in from either side from the off were bone jangling and I’m still a little in shock. Immense game from so many. To bring up your point about the POM penalty, i thought it may have been harsh but it seems to be his technique – get into position and wait for the opposition to dislodge him with the ball. The difference in that instance was no one went near him, and he never made an effort to come away with the ball, which is what he was pinged for. Still, great game from himself.
    As for Madigan…are we all happy now that maybe the boring choice in Keatley is the way to go if Sexmo is out?
    A swift mention for Zeebo, winning two garryowen’s agains a combined number of I think…7 English players. Dang.

    • D6W

       /  March 2, 2015

      Do we really need to continue the Madigan/Keatley debate? Joe has given us his answer, IE Madigan for bench cover, Keatley to start if Sexton out, and I doubt he will be changing his mind before end of this 6 nations at least. And who knows what the form/injuries will be like for WC.

  10. How long will Liam Williams stay on the pitch? Yellow after 25????? Hugely talented player but dirty scrote.

    • I think that’s a little unfair. While he’s definitely not worthy of much praise as a person on the pitch, he’s managed to keep his nose clean recently while keeping his performance standard pretty high. He’ll definitely be a danger, and we certainly shouldn’t gameplan around him getting a card.

      • Amiga500

         /  March 2, 2015

        Yeah your right…
        “a dirty wee fukkin scrote”
        would be more accurate.

        The leopard doesn’t change its spots. When he is under pressure, it’ll come out.

  11. Describing Cardiff in two weeks time as our Mount Ventoux is apt. We underestimate Wales at our peril. They did a very professional job on the French in Paris. Had Lopez gotten his kicks, the game might have turned out different. That said, apart from a ten minute phase at the start of the second half, when they were making huge ground, going through the phases and putting Wales under fierce pressure, France lacked intensity. The Biggar try was a beauty. Sure they used Roberts to smash at the ramparts again and again, but give their backs half a chance, and they’ll conjure up something out of nothing. WAL v IRL is going to be titanic. I’m intrigued to see what Gatland and Schmidt conjure up. If we manage to win, it’ll be amazing!!!!

    • On the back of that, you have to give credit to Lydiate for his magic trick to move the ball away for Biggar’s try. I thought it was Davies linking between the two initially and could hardly believe the big man was there to take the pass in the first place! The man’s developing into more than just a chopping axe.

  12. locho

     /  March 2, 2015

    Agree with all of the above, it was a great game won with a solid tactical plan, Wales will be a much tougher task as they can compete in the air. While I thought Alex Goode did reasonably well, i think Mike Brown was a big loss to them in the back 3 as he has caused us problems in the last couple of years.

    On the POM penalty, Joubert called him for resting on his elbows, probably right but rarely enforced.
    I thought the one aginst Murphy in the first half was worse, He was 2nd man in got his hands on the ball had clearly won it, only then was he rucked off his feet and with the ball still in hand, and got blown for being on the wrong side!! Joubert should have spotted the turnover and allowed the play continue. Anyway just nitpicking as i think we got most of the decisions throughout the game.

  13. kevin

     /  March 2, 2015

    While we are unbelievably efficient and well driven, we probably don’t have a plan B (not that we’ve needed one so far). I think despite what Schmidt says, we are too robotic. Overlaps and promising positions are continuously ignored for us to kick the ball in the air. However, we have a great structure and platform for us to add another dimension of attack to. Our rucks, lineout, scrum and kicking were all top class yesterday and hopefully we can add the extras as we go along. I fear we’ll come unstuck against one of the big tri nations ( I don’t think SA can ever play as bad again) but I can’t see Wales doing us. They were dreadful against France. It’s all set up nicely for us to apply our patented ‘grind them down, shut up the crowd, death by a thousand cuts’ strategy! Scotland will have the better of us in the anthems but that’s all they have to offer really.

  14. andrew097

     /  March 2, 2015

    Really surprised that more people don’t point how poor our end game management is. When we scored the try concentration went off and we started to make mistakes. Toner in a line out Madigan with some kicks. There were a number of big turnovers won after many English phases then Murray kicks the ball away instantly, a la poor length box kick, chasers didn’t even have a chance to see the turn over. Very poor decision making at that stage of the game. Even if he had found a good length touch then at least we have more depth to defend from and the English forwards have that sapping feeling of jogging thirty meters backwards for a line out. He did it a few times and to instantly give back ball without at least taking a little time off the clock is poor. Followed by the Irish team going side to side running down the clock. Refs are always going to find a penalty for this, trust me they do. ( re Ire v NZ )
    For the first 60 excellent for the lat 20 middling to plain dumb. Learning to manage this part of the game better is a must because it will be the difference between contenders and a brave loser.

    • aoifehamill

       /  March 2, 2015

      I don’t agree with this. Sure we had a little bit of a loose period after the try but Ireland spent a lot of time in the English half in the last 10 minutes professionally closing out the game. Tell me honestly, did you ever think we were about to have it snatched from us? I didn’t & this is precisely because they did a good job in closing it out.

      • SportingBench

         /  March 2, 2015

        You know Scotland would kill to be as bad at closing games out as we are. I know what you mean as fan watching Ireland but neutrals watching both the France and England games tell me from their perspective in both games Ireland were easing up over the line and kept both teams at arm’s length rather than choking. I think as fans we (me included) are too involved and naturally pessimistic to appreciate that.
        If it is was the ABs we’d be praising how they got Sexton off the field ASAP and kept stuff in the tank for later in the tournament. Not saying that is the correct analysis of how we end games but I think your perspective does change what you think happened.

        • Riocard Ó Tiarnaigh

           /  March 2, 2015

          Actually I think many of us in such situations suffer attacks of Crotty-in-corner-itis. In Ireland’s last matches – barring v Georgia – I’ve spent the last 20 minutes paying less attention to the play on the pitch but instead continuously comparing time left on clock to the point differential, praying for the point to be reached when the opposition realistically can’t overtake us.

  15. Bkelly39

     /  March 2, 2015

    I really think Wales is going to be the most difficult game of the tournament. I think they were caught napping against England.
    The media are going on like the next two games are formalities…maybe Scotland is but Wales are a serious side and they have everything to play for. Would be more confident of a slam if Wales were beaten by the French. As they would have less to play for

  16. “The first goal – a Grand Slam – has two more peaks to scale. One, Wales, is Mount Ventoux and one, Scotland, is Mount Merrion.”

    Brilliant!

  17. andrew097

     /  March 2, 2015

    Wales is a huge ask, that’s a good Welsh side and they have a championship to play for. Scotland are not far away from becoming a handy side plus I can still remember losing to crap Scottish sides for ten straight years.

  18. Hairy Naomh Mhuire

     /  March 2, 2015

    Based on what I’m reading (on both sides of Irish Sea) I may be alone in not buying the ‘never looked like losing the match’ line. 72 minutes. England battering away at our line. Sexton off injured. Bench pretty much emptied – in a number of cases earlier than planned and a lot of very tired Irish bodies. I’m sorry – but if England had crossed for a try (and converted) having taken a 16 point lead back to 3 with memories of Cardiff fresh on their minds, then I think we absolutely could have lost – or drawn – this game. Thank the Lord for 36’s brain fart. I’m not being critical – I think the one of the positives from this 6N’s for Ireland has been the ability to overcome adversity – but I was certainly scared sh1tless.

  19. The scrapping at the breakdown was an absolute joy to watch. The try we scored was a thing of real beauty, some of the clearing out was incredible considering a couple of times in that phase of play England were in prime position to steal the ball.

    The penalty against POM was a farce I thought. I realise it seemed he wasn’t actually attempting to poach the ball but he was over it and wrestling for a good 4/5 seconds before the whistle was blown. I couldn’t believe the call and felt it just built a bit more momentum for England at that time as well to keep the scoreboard ticking as they were chasing the game. I don’t think the final 15 would have been as loose if that call is made correctly.

    But that’s cribbing over minor details. What a win!

  20. Is “Exit strategy” the buzz word of the championship?

    I’ve been watching the games on BBC, and i think they are flogging the term to death.

  21. The Lisburn Road has obviously changed a lot since I grew up there…

  22. Fergal

     /  March 3, 2015

    “avoiding the Southern Hemisphere big three right through past the semi-finals is pretty fortunate”
    England 1991 – in fairness, South Africa weren’t playing.
    France 2011 – beat England and Wales to reach the final.

  23. MOC must be sickened that his gameplan is working so much better at international level than provincial. At least Leinster fans will know what to expect next season when sexton returns :p

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