Ireland had an easy 50-7 win over Canada.
Although Ireland were expected to easily overcome Canada in their opening World Cup match, after suffering two defeats against Wales and England, it was the performance rather than the result that was of interest for Joe Schmidt.
In this regard Ireland lived up to expectations in the first half varying their game, playing with both width and tempo.
Ireland’s First Half Performance
From the opening minutes it was clear that Ireland were intent on moving the ball wide. In order to do so, Johnny Sexton created overlaps by looping around his centres. While many of us are used to seeing Sexton retrieve the ball from his midfield, today’s performance was in stark contrast to the warm up games when Ireland were far too lateral.
Indeed Ireland played at a very high tempo throughout the opening forty minutes, securing the bonus point after Dave Kearney’s 33rd minute try. The result was that the Irish could take their foot off the pedal in the second half and bring off their big names.
This is of course in marked contrast to their 2011 campaign when Ireland failed to claim the bonus point against the USA in their opening game.
Throughout their warm up games and again last night England were far too flat in attack. The result was that dangerous runners like Jonathan Joseph received the ball in a static position rather than coming onto it. In contrast Ireland held a great shape, either attacking from deep or played the playing the ball behind a screen of forwards at pace.
Granted the quality of the opposition needs to be taken into account, but the method is the same. England seem determined to utilise Rugby League diamond formations in midfield, while Ireland are using traditional depth and pace.
If Ireland are to win their pool and advance to the semi final stage of the tournament, Johnny Sexton will need to be on fire.
Today all the indications were that he was. Sexton moved the ball with confidence and kicked superbly, to either find his wingers cross field or for touch. By running loops, Sexton’s movement created overlaps for Ireland to expose. It was by this method that he scored his try.
Although bigger tests await, Sexton’s kicking and movement is very encouraging.
This game offered Henderson the opportunity to lay down a marker ahead of Ireland’s pool games with Italy and France. Today the big Ulster second row took it with both hands.
Although Devon Toner offers a brilliant lineout option, Henderson brings massive physicality to both defence and attack. Henderson took his try superbly after a text book carry.
He has been superb for a number of seasons with Ulster and was well deserving of a place in the squad. The only question that remains is whether or not he has done enough to dislodge Toner.
Many were shocked by Fitzgerald’s inclusion Ireland’s squad, never mind the starting line up for their opening game. However he did well in a position in which he would not be too familiar.
The manner in which the Leinster utility back fixed the defence before Dave Kearney scored his try, particularly stood out. Indeed he mixed carrying the ball like a traditional 12, with nice footwork and neat touches throughout the game.
Nevertheless it remains difficult to see him as an option at inside centre if Robbie Henshaw’s injury proves more troublesome.
While Ireland were impressive and played with a sense of urgency that was lacking from their warm up games, it must be remembered that they have only beaten Canada.
Indeed while it is entertaining to see a side counter attack and launch cross field kicks inside their own 22, such actions would never occur against Italy or France.
Canada stood off in defence allowing Ireland gain both territory and increase the tempo, again issues that will not occur in the bigger tests ahead.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena