Ireland’s ambitious and inexperienced team just about dealt with a physical Fijian effort at Lansdowne Road this evening. It was obvious to see that Joe Schmidt had made 13 changes to his starting XV, as this Irish team lacked familiarity in the face of a defiant Fijian team.
Here are some talking points to take away from this evening’s game.
1) Joey Carbery’s Work In Attack and Defense
In the halftime analysis, Carbery’s skill in attack was highlighted but in the face of a powerful Fijian backline, it was his work in defense that was most impressive.
Making numerous first up tackles from Fijian first phase attack, Carbery looked to his technique rather than his size in order to nuetralise Fiji’s powerful strike runners.
His step and pass from his weaker hand for Sweetnam’s try was sublime and his kicking out of hand has improved noticeably this season.
It’s not as flashy to watch as his work in attack but to see a Carbery putting in a defensive effort like that tonight is reassuring for an Irish team who so heavily relies on Johnathan Sexton. Hopefully the injury that forced him to leave the field won’t result in him missing too many games going forward.
2) Fijian Composure
One of, if not the most impressive aspect about Fiji’s play was their composure and game management. Although they haven’t relinquished their exciting 7’s mentality, under John Mckee, they have added a level headed approach to their overall game. Penalty decisions in Ireland’s half, exit strategies and and first phase attack from set piece showed that as a team they are evolving beyond their stereotyped style of play. Fiji aren’t the finished article but unlike other nations who have struggled in the past, they look to being improving their overall game.
3) Cian Healy’s True Return to the International Stage
Ireland look to be adding considerable depth to each position across the board. Since the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour, Ireland and Leinster have had to settle for a poor mans impression of Cian Healy. In that time, Dave Kilcoyne, Jack McGrath and James Cronin have been given chances and exposure at an international level however now Cian Healy looks to have returned to his bulldozing best recently. The Clontarf man looks reinvigorated this season, carrying a healthier looking frame and finally looks to be over a number of injuries that have caused his play to become rigid and limited. His flexibility in contact is joy to behold and his enthusiasm to once again work after contact in the tackle is world class.
4) Ireland’s Second String Need More Time With Schmidt to Eradicate Inefficiencies
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt will be disappointed with his sides penalty count in Fiji’s 22.
There were a number of times Irish carriers were found isolated in Fiji’s half and clear out of rucks was glaringly below standard. Although there are genuine athletes littered throughout this Irish team, Schmidt and co need to funnel the individual potential into a coherent and congruent playing squad.
With Schmidt’s Ireland team renowned for being organised and disciplined, no amount of up and coming excitement will ever outweigh composure when it comes to selection.
In the past, the middle game of the Autumn internationals has been a dead rubber. However the close scare brought by Fiji will give this inexperienced Irish team a real genuine taste of the pressure international rugby puts on a player.