Blood, Sweat and Tears

Well. What about that? Ireland finally exploded into life in this tournament and it had everything great about the Schmidt era – strong systems, disciplined defending and accurate rugby – allied to the old school emotional highs of previous glory days. As Ireland’s players dropped like flies, the team, every time, stepped it up another level – the collective desire reaching higher and higher pitch. The so-called replacements managed to make the team even better, and the controlled fury displayed by the likes of NWJMB and Chris Henry would do the stricken O’Connell proud.

As the game went on, Ireland somehow got better and better – what started out with Peter O’Mahony continued throughout the game with Besty and Sean O’Brien, and was picked up and returned with interest by the replacements. The most incredible thing was the response to losing 2 gold-plated Irreplaceables and our best player of the tournament was how we didn’t collapse, but took the adversity, and turned it around on the French. By full time, Ireland had their fourth biggest victory over France of all time, their first double digit win in 40 years, and it could have been more.

The Mole opined on this forum a few weeks ago that he thought Henderson was better than Fez – certainly his tackle on Bernard le Roux was Ferris-esque, and on a big man too. He was truly unstoppable, as was Chris Henry in his cameo. With O’Connell, Henderson’s level of play is clearly now on a different and higher level, but its the intangibles you would worry about replacing. Munster and Ireland are typically 30% better (we’ve done the science) with O’Connell on the pitch – while the team has a strong leadership corps, O’Connell is still the heartbeat. By the same token, despite O’Mahony being our best player for the first 50 minutes, we lost nothing with Chris Henry. With Henry, its more of a step sideways to a different kind of player than a step down. Yet O’Mahony is Munster captain, and we have lost that.

And a word for Ian Madigan – you are coming on to replace Jonny Sexton – a Test Lion starter, one of the best outhalves on the planet. You’ve spent the last two years stuck behind a Kiwi journeyman at provincial level and had to listen to everyone telling you that you are the poor mans Carlos Spencer – and extravagantly talented player who cannot control a game. Well, way to answer them – the second half was bossed by Madigan in a performance we would be hailing as world class if was produced by Sexton, or Carter, or Sanchez. His emotions at the end of the game reflected how we all felt – immense pride, and definitely a few tears.

The mid-game losses were severe – Sexton was vomiting on the pitch, and it looked to us like a whiplash injury. With his history of head trauma, this is very bad news. There official story is that it was muscular, and we really hope that is the case. The alternative could be career-threatening .. as O’Connell’s injury looked to be. Tearing a muscle off the bone requires long-term rehabilitation, and one wonders if his Toulon adventure is still on the cards. Finally, up to the point he went off, O’Mahony was everywhere – the rock of our defensive lineout, he’s a massive loss.

The French, as *ahem* predicted by us, were atrocious  – Picamoles was a force of nature in the first half but in attacked they offered nothing bar speculative Scott Spedding penalties. We saw Flaky Freddie, and even Dusautoir was mishandling. This, of course, was entirely predictable – anyone with a set of functioning eyes could have seen Saint-Andre’s (lack of) coaching leading the team to this point. The team was unstructured, directionless and shapeless for four years, and chickens are coming home to roost. Despite all the claptrap we read last week about them, France were as bad as expected:

  • They have never been in better shape. Really? I would hate to see them in worse shape – wilting after an hour, they had nothing in the tank at the end
  • They are a united camp after spending months together. They were a collection of individuals, like they have been for the entire PSA reign
  • You never know what team will turn up. You do – they haven’t beaten Ireland or Wales in this RWC cycle
  • They prefer World Cups to Six Nations. Another cracker – this must be why they won the 6N in 2007 before crashing out of the RWC to a rubbish England team and then finished runners-up in 2011 before enduring a miserable RWC in which they made the final almost by default.

Thankfully, Barnesy never bought into this rubbish and stated unequivocally France were hopeless. He was in a sad minority. They will lose to a spluttering BNZ by 20 points.

The flip side of this is that, while we’ve beaten them so comprehensively, we have paid a massive price for doing so. When the emotional high dies down, you wonder would you have preferred to have played as badly as we did against Italy and lost, but have Sexton, O’Connell, O’Mahony and O’Brien (following his reaction to Pascal Pape, a dirty dirty player, giving him an impromptu prostate massage) for the quarter final. That’s a loss of 252 Test caps and 3 Test Lions – a huge price to pay. And, indeed, the successive highs were themselves driven by the losses – a counterfactual with O’Connell and Sexton present for 80 minutes could well end with a similar result without such a huge investment of emotional energy.

That experience is what we’ll struggle to replace. Joe Schmidt’s systems are so strong that the likes of Madigan, Henry, Henderson and McGrath can come straight off the bench with no negative impact on team performance. But it will be very different with upheaval in the camp (minimum three players being replaced), a diminished bench and the loss of 252 caps from managing the endgame. Factor in the investment in emotional energy expended and this will be a long tough tiring week for the squad, ahead of a really hard game. But for the moment, we’re still on a high.

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  1. ORiordan

     /  October 12, 2015

    Could the support have been a factor? I wasn’t at the game but it seemed to be an amazing atmosphere and with the roof closed in Cardiff, it gets LOUD.

    I wonder if there will be as many Irish fans for the QF? I don’t think the bookies will give any odds about Jezza Thornley having his usual moan about Sunday lunchtime fixtures lacking in atmosphere…

  2. curates_egg

     /  October 12, 2015

    Almost every one of the 23 played at or close to their peaks: an astonishingly good team performance. However, France, despite looking like an uncoached rabble, were still in the game until Murray’s try and should have gone in ahead at half time, were it not for poor kicks and a helping hand from Nigel. So, I would still disagree with your emphatic dismissal of them.

    It is worth enjoying for a while but you have to wonder if it was our Australia 2011 high point. We gave it our all to avoid the All Blacks but will face a seriously tasty and nicely primed Argentina side with a major hole in our squad.

    I think we could have survived losing POC and POM. Of course you cannot replace POC’s leadership but Ryan is a phenomenal rugby player, so you gain something too. But the addition of O’Brien (stupid, regardless of Pape being a tool) will leave us stretched. Getting your best players on the pitch might mean starting with Henderson at 6 and Ryan and Toner. But Schmidt is a Murphy fan and I can’t remember Henderson playing at 6 in this cycle. It’s a pity Ruddock never trained with the squad (and is only just back) because he would mean very little drop off in playing quality.

    As for Sexton, I really think you guys should not speculate on his career being over! Punters in comment sections can do that…but I am not sure you should. The official update states it as groin but he looked very rattled.

    The loss of Sexton and O’Brien, in addition to POC and POM would be a huge, huge obstacle. We can only say novenas.

    • Vedrafjord

       /  October 12, 2015

      In the post-match interview, Schmidt said that before the O’Connell injury he was intending to bring on Henderson at 6.

      • curates_egg

         /  October 12, 2015

        I don’t believe anything any coach says publicly but the back row did put in a huge shift, so quite possible. We will find out soon enough I guess.

        Certainly, Ryan-Toner-Henderson-Henry-Heaslip would be the strongest formation of the players currently in the squad. I’m a huge Ruddock fan but I think it is a couple of leaps too far for a guy just back from injury and was never with this squad. Schmidt has backed Murphy on really big occasions when it was easier to pick other players before though.

    • Listen, if its a head injury, you have to be concerned about what the path back looks like. Officially, it isn’t, but it certainly looked like it

      • curates_egg

         /  October 12, 2015

        He looked like someone who had taken a big hit. He was winded, rattled and puking…a big hit can do that to you without concussion being a factor. Even a bit of a sprint can (if you had a tummy bug), as BOD will tell you

        You can’t tell much more without actually being there beside him.

        Regardless, while it might be ‘ok’ to speculate about concussion…and we all know the existential doubts being raised about his injury last year…it is alarmist to speculate about it being a career-ending concussion lads. Leave that the keyboard warriors below the line.

        • toro toro

           /  October 12, 2015

          Yeah, I’d be reasonably optimistic that the official story is the right story here.

    • The comparison to Australia 2011 is very apt and sums up my worries. Seeing how physically and emotionally drained all the players were after the match has given me major FEAR for next week and reminded me of all the great performances followed by flops. Argentina are a better side than France, and given the injuries the rest of the squad will need to re-focus very, very fast to be ready for yet another, and in many ways more difficult, bruiser. Best and Heaslip are going to have to show serious leadership credentials now, as will Murray.

      Even without POC, POM and SOB, our starting pack is still pretty strong. However, the drop off to the bench will be much bigger, and if we’re not in front at 60 minutes I’d imagine we won’t be able to chase the game. I’d leave Healy on the bench and bring Cronin back just to keep a bit of ball-carrying power for the second half, but I don’t think that will be enough to rescue us if we’re struggling.

      As you say regarding novenas: it’s probably safe to assume this will be a bumper week for mass attendance across the nation.

      • mikerob2015

         /  October 12, 2015

        However in 2011 Ireland had two games after the win against Australia, so the performance against Wales can’t be put down to being emotionally drained. I heard Steven Ferris talk about that RWC in a pre-match event (while plugging his book…) and he said perhaps there was a degree of complacency about Wales as he could remember talking with other players along the lines of “two games and we’re in the final…”.

        • rachel685

           /  October 12, 2015

          That’s true. This is also a different team with a different coach who, from everything we know about him, would come down very hard on any perceived complacency. Add to that the injury count, which can help to focus minds and foster determination among the rest of the team. Still, the comparison is close enough to make me a little nervous!

        • Depending on who you ask we lost in 2011 either because we were complacent about Wales or because Deccie did a Lancaster and player the “safe” outhalf option (and boy was Gatland waiting for ROG), most likely a little of both.

          I don’t expect this coaching team to make basic selection mistakes – a lot of people, myself included, were second guessing Sunday’s selection; don’t we look silly now? – and I don’t expect us to take Argentina lightly.

          For all the talk about how good Argentina are, they were in by far the weakest group, and this weekend shipped 3 tries to Namibia, one more than Ireland conceded in 4 games.

          • rachel685

             /  October 12, 2015

            That’s a really good point about Argentina’s porous defence. In fairness, if we do have to be without Sexton, a 10-12-13 of Madigan-Henshaw-Earls/Fitzgerald would have incredible ball-in-hand attacking potential.

          • curates_egg

             /  October 12, 2015

            Not sure our pool wasn’t weaker. Georgia are the best second tier European team (and have been for a decade) and better than Romania or Canada (and, with a full hand, would probably give the current Italy a run) and Tonga are clearly better than Canada and Romania (and were ranked higher than Italy up until today).

            It is all moot. We have a great defence and they look like a side that will be good for a couple of tries at least. You could argue that they have a stronger XV but we definitely had a stronger squad than them but that squad has now been filleted. With Sexton and SOB, I would still make us favourites.

          • Our pool was significantly weaker. And even if it wasn’t, they’ve got a game against BNZ under their belts – which is worth many victories over France

          • D6W

             /  October 12, 2015

            Not worried at all about 2011, different coach, different team (especially after yesterday).

            Argentina pack is not a patch on the 2007 edition (whose heart has been transplanted into Ozzie pack), but they have Hernandez and a pretty speedy left wing.

          • I wouldn’t read too much into tries conceded in those cake walks SC. I think Argentina will actually want to make it a game of ‘come and try to break our defence down lads’ and they’ll try to make hay from turnovers and any Irish mistakes they can force. They are good at it, it’s their usual template and their coach after the Namibia hiding was saying ‘we can win a few different ways.’ It implied to me a tightening up by them. They remind me of my sister playing connect 4 when we were kids. All she tried to do was stop anything you were trying to do, but she always managed to end up winning.

            It’ll be a real challenge for Schmidt to plan for them and for the Irish attack to create any order when Argentina will just want chaos. They’ll be patternless at times and helter skelter. What a clash of styles?! They will repeatedly be giving a half penalty away and will just be such a nuisance.

            I also think they’ve had the outstanding scrum half of the tournament and when they do sniff a turnover they will all pile through the gap and away up the field. Its comfortably the best Argentina team I’ve ever seen, but then that was possibly the best Irish performance I’ve seen….

  3. outstanding.
    Madigan, Henderson dominated that 2nd half. Henshaw was unbelievable. The bench was super.
    but fear another quarter final exit beckons.(is the benches bench up to it??)

    • SportingBench

       /  October 12, 2015

      Not sure that the Argentinian bench is that super mind you. In fact, I have no opinion on their bench but making the assumption that their bench is the equivalent to their starting XV is a big jump since yesterday is the first time in the long history of Irish rugby that the bench really provided both depth and options. We will miss the injured players but remember players like Trimble, Tuohy, Ruddock etc were all close to the original selection but missed out for one reason or another. And they have all played at the require level for Ireland in the very recent past. The injuries are not ideal (to say the least but we do have depth so it is not all doom and gloom.

  4. Joe

     /  October 12, 2015

    Yesterday showed we have never had a squad as strong, as the replacements came on and we were not diminished. However, now we are into the second tier subs and that is the worrying aspect. Instead of bringing on Henderson, Madigan and Henry, you’re into Murphy, Jackson and… Tuohy?

    Tuohy on the assumption that Ryan and Toner will be the second rows, with a backrow of Henderson, Henry & Heaslip (assuming SOB is out).

    If by some miracle SOB doesn’t get banned, do you put SOB at 6 and Henry in, or do you leave SOB at 7 and play Henderson at 6 (with Ryan in).

    • I reckon Schmidt’ll call up Rhys Ruddock to replace PO’M. That would leave Hendo to stay second row. Ruddock could possibly even leapfrog Jordi. SO’B’s a goner for the Argie match. We’ll be doing well, if the ban is only for one match.

      • Xyz

         /  October 12, 2015

        I’d be more comfortable with Ruddock in the 23 ahead of Murphy but I can’t see Schmidt choosing someone who hasn’t been in the training squad to go straight in, even someone who “knows the system” as Ruddock does.

      • D6W

         /  October 12, 2015

        My money would be on Tommy O’Donnell. And I don’t think Henderson will be put in at 6, I think the Toner Hendo 2nd row pairing will be kept. I reckon it will be a Heaslip, Henry, Murphy backrow.

        Also, assuming Sexton and O@brien out for Argie game, subs I would think are, 16,17,18 as you are, Ryan, O’Donnell(?), Reddan, Jackson, FItzgerald. And I suspect Jackson and Reddan will not be used unless complete emergency.

        • toro toro

           /  October 12, 2015

          Isn’t Tommy O’Donnell broken?

          • curates_egg

             /  October 12, 2015

            Out for 6 months I thought…but we should have stayed quiet and taken his money.

          • D6W

             /  October 12, 2015

            Damn, you are right. Apologies. Then I concur, Ruddock is next in line.

  5. It was a genuinely massive team performance – wish I’d been there. The loss of O’Mahony and almost certainly O’Connell (did anyone else get flashbacks to Triple-H tearing his quad? No? Just me then) is a blow, but their replacements are genuine quality.
    While we can hope for Sexton to return, I’d even be less worried about having Madigan step up than I would have before yesterday’s match. In the second half, he toned down his desire to do something amazing every other time he got the ball and looked a much better player for it.

  6. Sterling performance. Delighted for Madigan of course, but in that particular context one has to give credit to Joe for keeping the faith in him, despite the carry-on at Leinster during the MO’C era. This match against France had been looming for over two years. It was a given, that were anything to happen to Sexton, we’d be in difficult circumstances. From when MO’C made Madigan carry the can for Leinster’s loss to Munster down in Thomond in November 2013 for getting binned – in a 50/50 offside at the ruck situation, where the ball is/isn’t out and it’s the type of thing Richie McCaw always goes for and is acclaimed as greatest player on the planet for – until the same MO’C got the deserved boot, I’d been pulling my hair out at the lack of opportunity given to Ireland’s number two outhalf to work on the weaknesses in his game. I imagine the Milky Bar Kid was similarly driven demented. Whether or which, the kid survived his tribulations and came good when it mattered. Fair play to him. In Joe we trust!

  7. rachel685

     /  October 12, 2015

    I keep thinking that with the injuries Ireland must be doomed, but then I remember: the bleedin’ Welsh are still in this thing. A team so desperate they’ve called up a player (Hook) whom the coach had clearly sworn would never wear the national kit again. A team on the verge of putting out a general call for any man of Welsh ancestry between the ages of 18 and 35 who can still lace up a pair of boots. If they can still somehow be in this competition, then so can we.

  8. toro toro

     /  October 12, 2015

    Magnificent stuff, iron in the soul. The second half was as good as I’ve ever seen us play.

    In limited defense of Papé – while he’s a big dirty lunk, and a serial gives-it-but-can’t-take-it merchant, there’s at least one angle of the incident I’ve seen which makes it look unlikely he was , uh, digitally intruding. His hand is definitely on O’Brien’s arse, but moves across it fairly swiftly, and nowhere near either the top or bottom of the shorts. The mechanics of performing “the Chilean manoeuvre” would have been very difficult.

    Yes, I’ve examined this in far more detail than I’m comfortable with. WiFi + pub = silliness.

  9. HappyDays

     /  October 12, 2015

    Being based in Sydney it’s interesting to observe the local mentality. The Aussies really enjoyed their own team heroics too but they all just mentally move on quickly. They expect and believe (not hope and fret) that it’ll happen next week and beyond. They equally don’t worry too much about losing players and they have had much less preparation for building squad depth than we have had.
    This Aussie team have the mental strength to win this. It’s in their dna when they get onto a good thing. Whatever about the Irish public, the Irish team need to have the right mentality if they have any aspirations of winning this. Joe will enable, but the lads must make the mental leap – focused resolute intensity and real real belief

    • I don’t think Aussie mental strength would win much – these are the same lads that were embroiled in one booze and sexting scandal after another 12 short months ago.

      They’ve responded brilliantly to a disciplinarian coach (parallels with Leinster of 7/8 years ago?) and are red hot favourites because their talent is finally being directed properly, they’ve peaked at the right time, and they’re in by far the easier half of the draw.

  10. I do worry that this is our Aussie 2011 moment, but even from a dispassionate point of view (I was in Gloucester for the Japan game and resorted to text commentary and peeping at TVs in corporate boxes through a camera zoom to catch the second half) this is still not the worst result or price to pay. We’ve avoided BNZ, and the need for another emotionally draining performance to get to our best WC finish.

    Yes, the losses are many in both caps and stature and leadership, but i don’t think they’re terminal. Madigan (and Jackson) are able deputies, and a worst case starting 4-8 of Toner, Ryan, NWJMB, Henry and Heaslip against Argentina isn’t exactly bad. One game at a time from here on out. I doubt Joe would have it any other way.

  11. connachtexile

     /  October 12, 2015

    I’m hearing a lot about loss of leadership (which is true) BUT we still have Rory Best (Captain of Ulster), Jamie Heaslip (Captain of Leinster and former Ireland Captain) along with Chris Henry who has captained every Irish underage squad he was a part of, Nathan White who has captained Connacht on numerous occasions as well as Rob Kearney a well known locker room leader. Joe could also bring in Rhys Ruddock another player with massive experience captaining bit Ireland under age teams as well as Leinster. Tommy Bowe once mentioned that every single Irish player had captained before at some level but himself. That is not a bad level of experience and I’m sure Joe will be telling these guys to step up.

  12. scrumdog

     /  October 12, 2015

    If Pape stuck his thumb up O’Brien then its Pape who should get the citing and the ban!

    • SportingBench

       /  October 12, 2015

      I’ve heard a few people pondered that if Pape did what is alleged then it is likely the citing commissioner will not get involved as it becomes too messy a legal affair so better to see nothing and move along.
      I guess we’ll see very shortly

  13. andrew097

     /  October 13, 2015

    That Irish performance was more about methodical then emoton everybody knew their part and played it . Im sick of Irish emotional performances a good win then a big anti climax. Hopefully they just move on and get better and more accurate concentrating on the process.
    As for the injuries its unfortunate but they happen, anyway, there is no subsitute for a bit of youth in any side

  14. Michael Hooper got a week for something similar earlier in the Summer.
    You tube the Hooper punch on Sanchez to see for yourselves
    Anyhow the Judgement summary:

    ‘Hooper’s described as a push with the open hand, similar to a fend, rather than a punch. This was not accepted, as Hampton rules that despite mitigating factors (Sanchez holding him back), the game cannot allow players to retaliate in such a manner.
    Hooper’s good disciplinary record resulted in a reduced suspension from 2 weeks to 1 week’

    Mike McCarthy into the squad -I assume for his Autumn 2014 involvement…bit of a kick in the gut for Tuohy mind. Anyhow -who am I to argue with Schmidt.

    • Thing is – to our mind Tuohy actually brings something (good handling, eye for the tryline, occasional indiscipline) whereas McCarthy brings only good scrummaging .. an area in which Argentina and Australia excel.

      But, as you say, its a losing trade to pick holes in Schmidt’s selections

      • Really missing Tommy O Donnell right now. Henderson, Henry and O’Donnell would have all been straight swaps that we could have 100% convidence in for this weekend.

        • curates_egg

           /  October 13, 2015

          Match fit, Ruddock is ahead of all of them at 6, which is his actual position. Ruddock is a different player to O’Mahony but he is an excellent blindside. Played very well in the November internationals and has stepped up whenever asked on the national stage e.g. vs France in 2014 Six Nations. The question is match fitness.

  15. Henderson and Toner locked well together for a full 40 last weekend -I really wouldn’t go messing with that engine. I don’t think we need to bulk up any more -Henderson and Toner are our biggest ever second row.
    Ryan provides great ballast from the bench and could cover during game with Henderson moving back a row.
    Murphy was a poor 7 in the warm ups but has gone well otherwise in pressure pot games -Twickenham 2014. Murphy, Henry and Heaslip it will be. Ryan and Ruddock straight onto bench. I think Cronin gets replacement spot to counter running loss of O’ Brien.

  16. Kevin

     /  October 14, 2015

    Does anyone know why Strauss was on the bench on Sunday ahead of Cronin? Seemed an odd selection given Cronin has been backup for years, and hadn’t suffered a loss of form (and Strauss hasn’t been tearing up trees either).

    • IMO Strauss has given a very good account of himself in the warm-up and group matches. He looks at pretty much close to top form, which it would seem got him the shout ahead of Nugget.

      • Kevin

         /  October 15, 2015

        Fair enough. Was on holidays so didn’t see the Canada match but he was great in the warmup vs Wales allright. Not as if he weakens the team and it sends out a good message to the squad too I suppose

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