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Irish reserves run very low against Georgia's strength

Georgians shows strength in depth is lacking ahead of bigger battles

By George Hook

It was a predictable victory but perhaps not like the crowd imagined. Georgia are ranked 15th in the world and the USA one place below. Two weeks ago the All Black reserves destroyed the Americans with a display of pace and power, while this weekend the second strings of Wales and Ireland struggled against much lower-ranked teams. The big difference is in the strike power when the coaches make wholesale changes to the team.

The memories of many in the ground yesterday were probably short. It has always been thus in Irish rugby and when at full strength we are competitive but when the soft underbelly of selection is exposed we struggle against ordinary teams.

Successive Irish coaches have known that the longer the injury list the less successful the season. Yesterday simply confirmed that truism.

The Georgians easily marshalled the centre partnership of Gordon D'Arcy and Darren Cave and wings Simon Zebo and Craig Gilroy looked distinctly ordinary. The Ulster player seems to have gone backwards since the glory day of his debut and Zebo's form makes one understand why he may not be Joe Schmidt's favourite player.

Ian Madigan was the player with most to lose and he did everything we know he can do and did nothing to show that his kicking control has improved. All too often and needlessly he rooted the ball up field to a grateful Georgian full-back. However, watching him pass is a delight and even the peerless Jonathan Sexton might concede the palm in that area.

Happily for the coach Felix Jones looked the answer to the full-back issue with a display of courageous fielding and inventive running. Injury has blighted his career but hopefully he will finally get his reward.

For a team supposedly possessing only a scrum, the visitors also had a secure lineout backed up by two effective half-backs. Apparently Lasha Khmaladze and Giorgi Begadze play their rugby for Tiblisi which is probably the equivalent of the All-Ireland League Division 2A, yet they seem very comfortable all afternoon.

Apparently, there are 28 Georgian front-rows playing in France and yesterday in the tight all six used by the visitors were superior to their opposite numbers in green. How can such a disparity in numbers occur? Clearly the academy system so beloved of the IRFU must stop at number four.

As invariably happens the underdogs got a raw deal from the referee. JP Doyle, the former Terenure whistler, now in the colours of England savagely penalised the visitors in a ratio of more than two to one which contributed to yellow cards not for specific but general offences. The penalties and the sin bin were too much of a load to carry and gave Ireland the advantage that they put to good use in the second half.

With a distinct failure to fire by the backs, the grunts took over the game and there were strong performances by the back five, in particular Dave Foley and Dominic Ryan but it was untidy, disjointed and continuity was missing for large swathes.

It is de rigueur to criticise the Irish scrum but without being overrun at the setpiece, the Irish were never totally comfortable and gave away three penalties in that phase. Rodney Ah You was lucky to come on the pitch for a period of Irish dominance when in that 30 minutes he did not have to pack down at a single scrum.

Interestingly, Ireland showed nothing resembling Springboks arrogance as Madigan took the early shots at goal to set up a six point lead.

Just as well, as attempts to kick into the corner and try to rumble were easily repulsed. Later attempts proved successful against a depleted opposition who were mercilessly harried by the referee.

This was exactly what we expected but one suspects that perfectionist Schmidt was not happy. Unlike New Zealand in Chicago there was no precision and the pretenders to the first team did not stake a claim.

The biggest advantage was that Ireland's big guns were sitting comfortably in the stand, relaxed and happy unlike Australia who face match three of four next week in an inhuman tour.

Interestingly, we did South Africa a favour by jolting them out of their torpor and indirectly contributing to their victory over England.

Schmidt's old boss, Vern Cotter, is making a big difference to Scotland and Philippe St Andre seems to have got the French half-backs right at the 15th attempt.

It suggests that the Six Nations and the World Cup pool will not be the easy ride we imagined.

Belfast Telegraph


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