From brutal form and no wins from four August games to four out of four in the World Cup and some very positive form. The only downer in what was as accurate and efficient a performance as we’ve seen from Ireland all year was the injury to Rory Best. If body language counts for anything then he’s in trouble. He went for a scan on his shoulder injury after the game but the way he threw down his scrumcap didn’t bode too well. Hopefully he just had the hump about having to leave such a vibrant scene, rather than something worse.
Between the Australia and Italy games the Ireland pack have now put together world class performances. The positive effect of the front five’s work is to allow the back row dictate elsewhere. O’Brien and Ferris were awesome, and at last we’re seeing Ireland use the lineout as an attacking weapon.
Both flankers are capable of generating go-forward off a standing start but if the journey begins on the front foot then they can do all sorts of damage. The benefits are everywhere.
Like the flankers, Conor Murray is big enough to cope when things are static, but if you give him ball going forward then he too will cause havoc. He brings a new dimension to this team, attacking off the back of the lineout and dragging defenders out of position at the ruck. If there is something he needs to sort however it’s his tendency to pick, step and pass – in fairness it’s an accurate, wrist-driven delivery – rather than sweep the ball on those occasions when clearing the ball away from the breakdown is his aim.
As for O’Gara, he was excellent. Top class delivery and excellent shooting stats of six from seven. In the context of a hosing down like this it doesn’t sound like an issue but when Italy were trading equally early on it was vital that O’Gara hit the target.
And, would you believe it, Ireland counter attacked really well. It was a bonus that Semenzato’s box kicking was so poor, but at last Ireland took advantage of a situation like this and the running of the back three was good.
Wales will have a far better kicking game, and they will target Ireland’s maul defence at the lineout which wasn’t great. The problem is not in sacking the jumper when he lands, it’s in treating what happens next as a maul when it’s not. Italy were re-forming after the sack and Ireland should have stood off rather than joined in – by joining in you make it a maul, by standing off it’s an illegal assembly. It’s worth clearing this with the ref in advance however.
Training will be low key during the week but Gert Smal needs to knock Wales back at the lineout. If everything else continues to work as well then it will be a high quality game, with the potential of – for Ireland– a unique outcome.