Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Ireland must cut out errors or risk being blown away by big guns

Ireland's Fergus McFadden scores his side's fourth try at the Aviva Stadium
Ireland's Fergus McFadden scores his side's fourth try at the Aviva Stadium

Ireland 40 Samoa 9: The Joe Schmidt era is off to a winning start with Ireland having decimated Samoa on Saturday night at the Aviva Stadium.

But while a 40-9 victory – five tries to nil – in the new Irish coach's first match in charge sounds highly impressive, that result must be assessed more closely.

Ireland had six of the 2013 Lions in their starting line-up plus three more on the bench. Compare that with the hand dealt to Schmidt's counterpart, Steve Betham, who was without first-choice players in captain David Lemi, Gavin Williams, Maurie Fa'asavalu, Daniel Leo and Census Johnston, the Toulouse tight-head.

In Johnston's absence, the number three jersey passed to Leicester loose-head Logovi'i Mulipola and in the circumstances it was hardly surprising that Ireland dominated the set-pieces, thereby denying Samoa foundations on which to build their hard-running, off-loading game.

The John Plumtree-coached home eight put down a marker from the outset, with debutant loose-head Jack McGrath taking to the international stage like the proverbial duck to water.

The first scrum saw the Samoans turned. McGrath earned a penalty from second, with Paddy Jackson dispatching it from straight in front and 25 metres out, to open his and Ireland's account.

The third scrum left Mulipola in a heap before exiting with a calf injury after eight minutes in which McGrath subjected him to a torrid time. Saracens' James Johnston – like his older brother, Census, a genuine number three – entered the fray, but Ireland's scrum-time superiority continued.

It was augmented by predominance in the line-out where Devin Toner took responsibility for the calls and with Best's throwing pretty much spot-on, Schmidt's side held all the aces there, too.

Yet despite that, the opening half was error-strewn with the Irish backs guilty of kicking cheap ball to the Samoans. Rob Kearney, Jackson, Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll in turn hoisted kicks that were far too long to offer the chasers any prospect of challenging.

In view of what Australia did to Italy at the weekend, any repetition of Ireland's lax out-of-hand kicking could cost them dearly against the Wallabies this Saturday.

The Pisi brothers, Tusi and George, asked questions when invited to attack from deep, with Mike McCarthy's intervention in halting an Alapat Leiua run coming at the cost of a penalty from which fly-half Pisi was able to level the scores.

Even then the lesson was not learned and it required a great tackle by Tommy Bowe to halt a charge by the other Pisi sibling. And the ground Samoan hooker Wayne Ole Avie was able to make as a result of his impressive work-rate as a carrier was another concern.

But two more Jackson penalties proved telling. The first – a 43-metres effort at the start of the second quarter – restored the three-point lead.

The second, five minutes later – for another scrum-time infringement, this time by Johnston – was kicked into touch and with Toner having won the line-out the Irish pack drove for 20 metres before O'Mahony, who was at the back of that maul, applied the finish.

But Jackson was unable to land the difficult conversion and five minutes later Tusi Pisi cut the lead to five points by kicking his second goal. And had his third attempt gone between the posts rather than rebounding off one of them three minutes later, that would have made the score 11-9.

Instead it was 14-6 at the break, Jackson having nailed his third from four attempts right on half-time when George Pisi's tip-tackle on Bowe cost him a yellow card, leaving Ireland facing 14 men for the opening 10 minutes of the second period.

By that stage the injured Chris Henry had departed, with Sean O'Brien taking over at open-side on the half-hour mark. And it was the replacement who got Ireland's second try five minutes after the resumption when, from a well-judged Jackson kick and a fortuitous bounce, O'Driscoll produced a moment of typically impudent creative genius to find Fergus McFadden with a pass between his legs. Heaslip arrived in support and moments later O'Brien was in.

Jackson conversion opened up a 15-point gap with 34 minutes remaining and the already-demoralised Samoans were dealt a double-blow with the loss of out-half Pisi and wing Brando Vaaulu following a clash of heads which saw the former receiving on-field treatment before being driven off on a mobile stretcher.

Nevertheless, Samoan scrum-half and captain Kahn Fotuali'i – who switched to 10 following Pisi's demise – kicked a penalty for his side before the floodgates opened in the final 15 minutes.

Replacement Dave Kearney marked his debut with two tries either side of a McFadden score, the second of the brace a classic all-Leinster gem following an O'Brien-forced turn-over developed by Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan and the finisher's brother, Rob.

The icing on the cake was captain-proper Paul O'Connell's return for his first Irish appearance since March 2012.

A promising start for Schmidt and Ireland, but do not be under any illusions; Australia and New Zealand will exact punishment on November 16 and 24 respectively if the hosts are as loose as they were in the opening 40 minutes here.

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