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Neil Francis: Why Ireland can beat anyone in the world after Scotland humbling

Conor Murray watches on as Ireland's scrum dominates against Scotland.
Conor Murray watches on as Ireland's scrum dominates against Scotland.

By Neil Francis

If you were looking for thrills, might I suggest Blueberry Hill. Ireland’s dispatch of an inept Scottish side was as callous and professional a performance as they have produced since they beat the All Blacks at the Aviva.

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There was nothing flashy about this performance. They played with an intimidating ferocity, they executed with vigour and they showed the sort of mental resilience and persistence which we have come to expect from this team.

More importantly, they took responsibility for the occasion and played with the sort of dynamism that announces them once again as contenders. 

All of this was underpinned by a defensive performance which was ruthless in every aspect of how they dealt with the Scottish runners. 

Ireland’s line was hermetically sealed and the fact that they missed eight tackles all game gives you a clear indication of where they were mentally. 

Joe Schmidt had his team primed for this game. It showed in the obvious and non-obvious things, the 50-50 balls on the deck and in the air. 

The fact that they won 12 of 12 lineouts and 10 out of 10 scrums with contemptuous ease tells its own story. It was an essay on how easy it can be once you are certain of yourself.

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These figures are not down to individual skill, structures or organisation, but purely to mental application. 

We understand that Scotland did not manage to land one single punch. That considered, if Ireland take the field against anybody in that sort of mood they can beat anyone. 

Top of the heap in Ireland’s renaissance was the performance of their No 9. Given the game and the weather conditions, the sphere of influence was dominated by the half-back closer to the scrum. 

Conor Murray was in the right place mentally and his performance followed. 

He was, by a huge margin, the best player on the park and his influence was the reason Ireland played as well as they did. 

Whoever thought CJ Stander was the man of the match may have had a pint or two too many. 

Stander had a decent match but, as usual when Joe’s teams perform, everyone plays well. Likewise, when Joe’s teams bomb, nobody plays well. There is no middle ground. 

I do feel sorry for Gregor Townsend — he has watched with envious eyes at what Leinster did when he was coaching Glasgow.

He has done the same since he took over the Scottish head coach position.

His thought process over the seasons was simple — if Ireland can play like this then we can too. 

He has had five or six years to figure out how to play against Ireland and it would have to all culminate on what Scotland did yesterday.

Once Townsend knew that there would be heavy rain during the game, that was it.

He was under no illusions about how underpowered his pack were and that they would struggle to contain Ireland and their one-out runners and their fiercely determined and precise ability at the breakdown. 

You are on a hiding to nothing if your only hope is to try and unsettle Ireland at line-out time or hope that Rory Best has an off-day. 

If the second half had been dry the outcome would have been Ireland by 40 or 50 rather than a Scottish revival. It must feel terrible to travel that far and come undone as they did.

So where are we now? Saturday’s game between the All Blacks and the Springboks was educational.

The All Blacks gave Ireland a blueprint, not that it was needed, of how to beat the Springboks. At no stage were New Zealand in danger of losing that game against South Africa. When they get the right mix in the back-field they will be a very difficult side to beat.

Once again they just do the simple things really well and they can cope readily with the physical abuse that South Africa threw at them.

We know at this stage that Ireland will be playing South Africa in the quarter-finals.

We also know that on the back of yesterday’s display by Ireland and where they are mentally, that New Zealand and South Africa might just not be, according to conventional logic, meeting again further down the line in this competition.

Ireland’s tight five and indeed their back-row are as good as, if not better than, South Africa’s. 

To win games, the Springboks need their pack to dominate — they didn’t do it against New Zealand and if Ireland have all their best players playing up front then they won’t do it against Ireland.

That means the game will be decided on how each team’s half-backs control the game.

Our two world-class half-backs have been on annual leave but they resurfaced in Yokohama and gave a performance of temperance and measure against admittedly poor opponents.

If Schmidt can keep his side bubbling over and he has a good portion of luck, then his team can beat anyone in this competition and that includes the All Blacks.

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