Wow, that was quite a day of rugby! Just the thing to get you in the mood for the World Cup. With the 3 matches in the one day, it was also like the Six Nations. Firstly Ireland’s match against France: Ireland started off quite badly. It was almost like the Scotland game, where the Irish started on the back foot and were forced to defend the opposition’s onslaught. The French were dominant in their attacking and managed to put 10 points on the board, without reply, in the first 15 minutes. To the Irish team’s credit, the score could have been higher, and Ireland did well to keep the French team out as they threatened the Irish line several times. But the first half was all France really, and Ireland went into the break looking like they would be put to the sword in the 2nd half. Although the scrum was solid, the line-out was a disaster, with Ireland losing several of its own throws. Without this important platform to work from, it was difficult for the Irish team to threaten the French, and whatever possession they did have was needlessly kicked away. Amazingly, like Leinster’s Heineken Cup final performance earlier in the year, the Irish team were able to turn it around in the second half and put the scare on France. The Irish backs started to run the ball, finding gaps in the French defence, and the tables were turned. O’Gara gave some great passes to the outside backs, and Trimble and Kearney, especially, made some great runs. Like the Scotland match last week, when both players had been the only ones to really challenge the Scots. Trimble has certainly booked his seat on the plane going to New Zealand (i.e. being picked for the squad, possibly as first choice wing) with his second great performance in as many games (Kearney was already a certainty if he could prove his fitness). Unfortunately, and despite all the great running, the Irish team never managed to break through the French line and score. The French managed to hold on to their lead, and ended up winning the game 19-12.
All in all, I have to say that it was a disappointing game. Ireland did well to come back after such a disastrous start, and played some enterprising rugby, but it wasn’t good enough. We were lucky, really. France seemed to take the foot off the pedal, and seemed to get worse as we improved. When we look at the teams we’ll be facing in the World Cup (especially Australia, and possibly South Africa), we know that we won’t be as lucky against them. Like New Zealand, if we start off on the back foot against these teams (A and SA) they won’t let us back into the game. We need to start well and build from that to have any chance of beating the Southern Hemisphere giants. ‘Moral Victories’ won’t cut it on the big stage. I’ve said it before, especially during last years autumn series, that we need to front up to theses big teams. We played our best match against England this year, at the end of the Six Nations. All the hype was about them winning the Grand Slam after having had a great tournament up ‘til then, and they came to Lansdowne Rd, and we embarrassed them. We completely played them off the park. We need to play with that spirit to have any chance of doing well in the World Cup. So far, our performances won’t have made any of our opponents concerned, and more importantly, they won’t have made any of our players particularly hopeful. Luckily, we have a return game against France this coming week, and England the following week, to redeem ourselves. Hopefully in these matches we can put in better performances, and maybe even win a game. Even though the warm-up games aren’t particularly relevant results wise, it still wouldn’t be great preparation for the World Cup to have a record of played 4, lost 4 (I’m not including the Connacht game here, which is also this week.), for morale or confidence. On a good note, both O’Connell and Heaslip made a big difference when they came on in the second half (O’Connell especially was inspirational) and should start either of the next games. Also, Sean O’Brien had a storming game and should be a first choice back-row in the World Cup. In the backs, I would bring on Murphy to start against France. Kearney has done enough to get himself on the World Cup squad and now it’s Murphy’s turn to show his worth. I would also pick Earls on the wing (he didn’t look very comfortable at centre). In the forwards, I would also start Flannery. Best had a poor game against France so Flannery has a chance to overtake him on the list of hookers. Hopefully, with some new blood, and closer to our best team, we can have a better result. We need it at the moment.
Wales were also playing on Saturday, and put in a great performance to beat England. Their defence was superb, stopping England 8 or 9 times from scoring a try. Also, when the Welsh finally got the ball they managed to score after only one or two attempts. This was Wales’s best performance of the year and should help their morale. They had outscored England, 4 tries to 3, in the last game, but couldn’t win in the end. This time around they managed to get it right. Gavin Henson, especially, had a very good game, after a long lay-off. Heartbreakingly he suffered a bad injury and had to go off and looks now like he won’t be playing in the World Cup at all. Very unfortunate for both him and the Welsh side. He is a good player, especially his defensive work, and Wales need all the good players they have. Especially after losing full-back Matthew Stoddart last week (the warm-up games have resulted in quite a few injuries now). Wales play their last warm-up game against Argentina, which should be a hard game for them. Wales, don’t forget have a very tough pool. Not only are they playing South Africa in the World Cup, but also Fiji and Samoa, 2 teams that have knocked them out of previous World Cup’s. England, on the other hand, won’t be happy with their performance against Wales. They never really got a grip on the game, and were mostly on the back foot. They’ll have to try to redeem themselves in their final warm-up game, against us, in a fortnight. They have a tough World Cup pool as well, facing Argentina and Scotland. On a final note, watching that match (W v E), and last week’s counterpart, it was interesting to see the contrast in the tactics of the sides. Both Wales and England were a lot more enterprising in their style of play, than Ireland. Both teams were much more adventurous in running the ball and taking risks. Ireland seemed to prefer playing low risk rugby, and concentrating on defence. The result was pretty plain. Both England and Wales managed a victory each in their games, while Ireland lost both games they played. Ireland showed that it could do damage with the ball in hand, and had an immediate reversal in fortunes when they elected to run the ball instead of kicking. Hopefully they’ll have learned their lesson for next week.
In the 3rd match of the day, Australia managed to once again defeat South Africa, in their return match of the Tri-Nations. In the last match they played, South Africa were forced to put out a much weakened side (because of injury) and were beaten rather handily. This time, they put out a much better team, and still managed to lose, despite leading in the first half. Australia were dominated by New Zealand in their match last week, so this victory over Australia will have helped revitalise the team. South Africa will face New Zealand next week, and will try to reclaim some pride. It has been a very poor Tri-Nations for them and their performances so far it doesn’t well for them successfully defending of the World Cup (they won the last one in 2007).
Next Saturday will host another rugby marathon, as Ireland face France, Wales take on Argentina and New Zealand face South Africa. Another great series of games to look forward to, even more enticing than last Saturday’s games.