Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Tyrone Howe: When a draw tastes just like a victory

Tyrone Howe

You don’t get too many draws in rugby union and when you do, invariably there is last-minute drama.

If body language is anything to go by, last Sunday’s result between Ireland and Australia had an equal but completely different effect on the players involved.

For Australia, it was akin to defeat, as they have now missed out on their Grand Slam objective.

Having started the second half so brightly, they put themselves into a winning position and would have hoped for a repeat of their win against England a week earlier.

Thank goodness, however, that this Irish team is not England.

With game-breaking players and an abundance of experience, the Irish side demonstrated their resilience by not pressing the panic button, scrapping their way back into the game and coming up with quality and execution right at the death.

By denying Australia further progress to a potential Grand Slam, the smiles on the Irish faces showed how a draw can sometimes feel like a victory.

With the Springboks in town in 10 days time and licking their wounds from what was close to GBH in their defeat to France, there is plenty to work on.

Ronan O’Gara confounded his critics with his best performance of the season so far, although some of his game-management was hard to fathom.

I can understand the idea of wanting to make an early statement of intent, but running the ball from just outside your 22 metres line less than two minutes into the game is high-risk stuff, rather than taking a bit of time to settle into the game.

Furthermore, it was a misguided decision to punt a speculative crossfield kick for Tommy Bowe instead of taking a gift-wrapped three-point penalty.

I am all for ambition and width, but Ireland should have been leaving the pitch at halftime one point down rather than four.

Nonetheless, it was impressive how Ireland dragged themselves back into the game.

It would have been easier to wilt under that early second half pressure, as England did a week earlier.

Remember, this was Ireland’s first proper outing as a team since the Six Nations, while Australia had the advantage of having been together for months.

Players and coaches alike must take credit — they stepped up to the tempo of international rugby and finished by far the stronger team.

The one area of weakness in the Australia side was the relative inexperience of their midfield centre partnership and the Irish backs exposed it ruthlessly.

The final move for Brian O’Driscoll’s try was a coach’s dream.

Tomas O’Leary, running wide of the scrum, held the 10 channel. Keith Earls, coming off his blindside wing made sure that the midfield checked further. Paddy Wallace, ran a great line inside BOD to cause further confusion and O’Gara ran flat and wide to make sure that they had to watch the wide channel.

O’Driscoll, the most dangerous man from that distance hit a beautiful line, the defence didn’t know where to look or who to defend, and he sauntered through.

Everyone did their job and actually gave O’Leary four different options in terms of who he could hit with his pass.

It was the sort of move that gets discussed and constructed off the pitch, practised in training and usually you only get one chance at it in a match.

Thank goodness for Ireland that it worked.

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