Last Saturday Ireland concluded their Six Nations journey with an excellent win over Scotland reminding their supporters of what might have been had some of their injured stars been available during the campaign
Last Saturday Ireland concluded their Six Nations journey with an excellent win over Scotland reminding their supporters of what might have been had some of their injured stars been available during the campaign. Joe Schmidt was a more relaxed and satisfied coach after Saturday’s win over an emerging Scottish team.
He has endured the slings and arrows of a demanding media and public whose recent expectations of success have been in no small part the result of the New Zealander’s input.
Scotland were fresh from their emphatic win over France and had high hopes of finishing their season on a high. If the truth be told they never looked like troubling an impressive Irish side.
The Irish backrow were outstanding with CJ Stander coming of age as an international player and star of the future. His performance, particularly in the first half will have given Peter O’Mahony some concern as to how he will fit back in the team. Jamie Heaslip whose form of late had raised some questions, gave his best performance for Ireland for a number of years.
Tommy O’Donnell also justified his surprise selection over Josh van der Flier, with a tireless performance in the loose, clearing out effectively and creating quick ball for the Irish backs to exploit. Ireland took command of the game from the outset and Scotland were reminded that their rehabilitation still has some way to go.
Schmidt said after the game, “The win wasn’t just wanted, it was needed.” He believes they can now look forward with confidence towards the demanding prospect of a three test series against South Africa in June.
Schmidt admitted to being relieved after the win but added, “I’m also excited to have guys like Iain Henderson and Peter O’Mahony coming back because they’ll hopefully be looking over their shoulder.” He was particularly complimentary of Stander, “CJ has come in and got better with every game, Pete’s probably been looking at that going ‘Well I better roll up my sleeves and keep working hard.’” In fact the depth of backrow talent is impressive and in modern rugby quality at 6,7 and 8 is crucial.
The loose is the most attritional area of the game and strength in depth there is vital in order to succeed at the highest level. Captain Rory Best insisted that Ireland can “create history” by returning with a series win for the first time against the Springboks. “We’ll sign off tomorrow and look forward to knocking lumps out of each other back with our provinces for the next two months.
“Then we can go to South Africa and try to create history by winning a test series.”
On reflection the loss of Mike Ross for the first two matches of the Six Nations campaign probably cost Ireland those two games.
There were two crucial scrums against Wales and then France which cost us the victories. Since his return Ross has been immovable at scrum time and shown how much he will be missed when he retires.
Marty Moore needs to get back to full fitness and Tadgh Furlong needs to step up to fulfil the promise he has shown. A dependable tight head prop is indispensable at all levels of rugby, so much of a team’s success depends on a solid scrum. Last Saturday the scrum didn’t give an inch and Jack McGrath continued his impressive form against the tough scrummaging WD Nel.
The most refreshing part of the past two weeks has been the demonstration by Ireland that they can play at a fast tempo and can offload and get real momentum. They need to prove they can do this against the best teams and will have that opportunity in June. This season has been draining for Schmidt and the relief of finishing strongly was palpable on Saturday. He will be deciding after the South African tour whether he will extend his contract to the 2019 World Cup.
Rory Best spoke for all Irish supporters when he said “We need to keep Joe, he needs to take us to the next World Cup.”