Ireland Summer Tour: Reflections

A key milestone achieved from this current Ireland Rugby management and playing squad, a series win, coming from behind to secure a 2-1 series win. A series which has provided useful clues to the makeup of the RWC 2019 squad setup. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the tour.

Back row versatility

The back row depth has being used to the maximum in this summer tour. From the initial back row unit of Murphy, Stander and O’Mahony in the first test, personnel changes aplenty with Jack Conan, Dan Leavy, Tadhg Beirne getting valuable game time.

What have we learned from this tour? The back row unit has versatility. The performance of Stander from the six position was sensational. Stander was immense in his breakdown work and his ball carrying, tackle count were to the fore throughout the series. It allowed Jack Conan to slot into the eight channel and he performed well with Murray at nine and O’Mahony continuing to disrupt Australia in line out and breakdown work.

When you consider that the likes of Sean O’Brien and Josh van der Flier were back in Ireland recuperating from injury, it presents a superb conundrum for Schmidt and management on who possibly leave out. The players mentioned will be doing everything in their power to regain their places in Leinster and ultimately look to catch the attention of Schmidt. The back row squad depth is vast and is an unit where cover is not an issue.

Hooker Depth Chart

The big loser on this summer tour has being Sean Cronin. The Leinster hooker was offered precious game time in a decisive test match but his failure to recover from injury opened the door for Niall Scannell and Rob Herring to further consolidate their places in the squad. Cronin is looking remote in the depth chart given this tour and with the confidence that Herring and Scannell have received during this tour, the odds of Cronin in RWC 2019 is slim.

There would be issues for Cronin with Leinster Rugby as James Tracy will look to push onto the next level this season. Tracy looks primed for considerably more game time in provincial action and that could spell even more issues for Cronin. A key season for Cronin beckons at Leinster Rugby let alone the national side. An opportunity definitely lost. Rory Best will slot back into the squad; the rest will do the captain a power of good and will come back fresh.  Great news for Ireland.

Half Back Dependency Issues

If there is a negative from the tour, it is that we still do not know the depth chart for the nine and ten positions. Put simply, if Conor Murray or Johnny Sexton go down (heaven forbid) with a RWC 2019 ending injury, we are going into the unknown as to the quality in the backup positions.

While New Zealand were able to slot Damien McKenzie into the ten slot last weekend to consolidate and evaluate his value at the position, Ireland were focused for a series win and that meant Murray and Sexton were the first names on the team sheet.

No significant game times for Marmion or Cooney so Luke McGrath in effect has not missed out on his ambitions to return to the national team setup. Byrne was seen in training sessions but not much else and Carbery did not feature in the last two test matches. November test series needs to answer these half-back depth chart questions, otherwise Ireland run the risk of going into the abyss heading into RWC 2019 battle.

Center Partnership

Some people were speculating that Bundee Aki was vulnerable in retaining his twelve position. Can we please stop this hideous fake news? Aki is the lock at the twelve channel. His work rate and ability to create gain line breaks so apparent last weekend in the Sydney test match. Early gain line breaks and then ability to support the kicking game, winning turnover ball. His defensive and tackle success rate is exceptional. The twelve channel is a lock. The twelve jersey is Aki’s.

This leaves the thirteen jersey up for grabs. Ringrose’s cameo in the second test match oozed class. His defensive nous has so improved in twelve months and his ability with ball in hand setting up opportunities for colleagues in the back line unit. Henshaw after a rusty opening test match came to the party last weekend. His defensive duties perhaps outweigh his attacking threat but an incredible option to have; his versatility to fill both positions in the three quarters key.

The squad depth then looks at the likes of Chris Farrell who Joe Schmidt admires. His 6 Nations cameo was massively exciting with his physicality on both sides of the ball. The likes of Arnold, Rory Scannell, Tom Farrell, Stuart McCloskey will be looking to impress early doors this season to get a foot into the camp for the November series. Interesting squad depth battle for the final three quarters berth beckons!

A Leader is born 

James Ryan was incredible in this summer tour. He is now the automatic second row option for Ireland and the question now for Ireland management to see how complements the Leinster Rugby lock best. Options aplenty here with Toner emerging with massive kudos in this summer series. Henderson had keynote moments in the tour as well. Beirne comes into the equation in this second row unit as well but does Schmidt see Beirne as the utility back? James Ryan, the question is when he gets the captaincy.

Front Row Conundrum

This is a summer tour where Ireland’s front row impressed massively in the last two tests. After a subdued opening test match (yes, there were good moments), the unit came to the fore in the last two tests where the line out, maul and scrum set piece were incredibly on point. The emergence of Porter and Ryan to the squad depth which provides front row versatility is a big plus. Jack McGrath needs to improve his discipline next season, otherwise Porter or Ryan could be ahead of the Lions player in the squad depth chart.

Adapting to officiating inconsistency 

Most pleasing aspect to this tour is how Ireland responded to adversity. Two yellow cards in the second test. Stockdale pinged in the final test match. The team were well organized defensively against a dangerous Australian outfit. The officiating over the test series are wholly inconsistent and Ireland could have lost composure with some rulings against them.

Ireland Rugby are a different proposition to the previous teams; their ability to stay composed, executing the game plan despite adversity is the hallmarks of this side. As long as the squad stay hungry for further success and continue to improve as individuals and from an unit perspective, it all leads to exciting times for RWC 2019.

Australia vs. Ireland: Series Decider Pregame Notes

After an excellent 26-21 win victory in Melbourne last weekend, Ireland have forced the series decider against an Australian side who failed to reach the heights of their Brisbane test match success. Hawkeye Sidekick highlights the key pregame notes from this Sydney test match decider.

Back Row Battle

I am like a broken record at this stage but the back row battle will ultimately decide who wins this test match series. Both sides have enjoyed dominance in this facet of play during the test match series. Pocock was sublime in the opening test only for Peter O’Mahony to dominate the breakdown proceedings last weekend.

Both units have made personnel changes for this fixture. Jack Conan comes in at eight meaning Stander moves to six and O’Mahony continues to operate at seven for Ireland. Leavy misses out due to injury. Australia have responded to last weekend by drafting Tui into the six jersey (a player who plays in the second row for Queensland Reds) to add physicality to the unit.

Hooper continues at seven while Pocock will operate at eight but will continue to be marquee player for Australia at the breakdown battle. Back row balance issues potentially on both sides, it makes for an intriguing final test series battle. The bench options may play a significant factor in the final quarter to win this finale.

Ireland Depth Chart Selections

Joe Schmidt has recalled Sean Cronin for this test match finale. The Leinster hooker gets the nod after no action in the previous two test matches and there were doubts that Cronin would feature on this tour. Scannell deputizes on the bench after an excellent cameo last weekend. Herring was good in the opening test match. Depth chart at hooker has being identified in the hooker position in the absence of Rory Best.

The half back positions still have a question mark on the depth charts. The nine position has being filled by Conor Murray meaning Cooney and Marmion have received precious little game minutes. The question on who deputizes for Murray remains a wide open question. Luke McGrath back in Ireland must be back in the running for the nine jersey given how this summer tour has unfolded. November test series has to identify the understudies for Murray ahead of RWC 2019.

The fly-half position will see Sexton start. Sexton was on point last weekend but hopefully Ross Byrne will get a cameo in the second half of this test match. Carbery got valuable minutes in the opening test against a pumped up Australian outfit. Byrne needs to experience the intensity of test match rugby as well.

Genia Absence

Big opportunity for Nick Phipps at the weekend. Phipps starting due to the injury to Will Genia last weekend, provides experience and solid game management. It will be interesting to see if Phipps can establish quick ball for Foley to unleash the Australian back line loaded with pace and talent. The kicking game between Murray and Phipps will be a key battle to see which side gains early territorial dominance. Yet another exciting battle beckons.

Forward Battle 

Australia’s front five will look to respond after last weekend’s loss to Ireland. James Ryan, Tadhg Furlong, Niall Scannell were particularly prominent in set piece and open play. The fact that Australia have gone for a 6:2 split in favor of the forwards for this test match indicates that Australian management will clear the bench to maintain tempo and work rate in the pack. Samu’s cameo cannot be understated as Tui will probably last for around fifty minutes. Samu’s physicality will be required to provide the cohesion and platform for Hooper and Pocock to control the breakdown exchanges.

Can Ireland’s back line fire? 

Stockdale makes a return to the starting lineup, the back line unit is the same that played in Brisbane. The back line struggled for cohesion despite some good moments. Sexton at the helm will look to unleash Aki and Henshaw quickly in this test match fixture. Earls, Kearney and Stockdale will look to dominate the aerial exchanges and hope that the half back options can identify mismatches in behind the Australian defensive line. The aerial battle will be intriguing. Folau was stifled last weekend and it will be interesting to see how the Australians address this facet of play.

Officiating Consistency

Hoping for some consistency officiating this weekend. The officiating last weekend at times left plenty to be desired for both sides. Offside, deliberate knock-on indiscretions were inconsistently pinged. A summer international series where officiating has had some negative commentary, hoping that the officiating this weekend is consistent from minute one to the end of the contest. No pressure on Gauzere then who will let the breakdown alone but ping on set piece and offside.

Rugby Union: Australia vs. Ireland – June 16th Preview

After a 18-9 reversal to Australia in the first June test series international, Ireland have it all to do to level the series in Melbourne this Saturday morning. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the key pregame talking points.

Australia: Steady as she goes

Given the performance of the side last weekend where the team impressed in all facets of play, it was hardly a surprise that Michael Cheika and management did not wield any changes for this second test match.

Australia impressed me with their work rate, physicality and aerial prowess where Folau was a constant menace for Ireland in the aerial exchanges.

The breakdown performance of Hooper and Pocock was sensational at times and more of the same will be the message from Australian Rugby management.

A week further to improve cohesion in the various pack and back units, expecting more fluency from the Australian half backs to unleash their three quarters faster, a dream scenario for Kerevi and Beale. The line out battle will be keenly watched, will their be an improvement in the set piece this weekend?

Ireland Hooker Selection

Joe Schmidt has named some expected personnel changes but the hooker position team news was a surprise to me personally. The absence of Sean Cronin from the twenty-three man squad is a key talking point.

Rob Herring got valuable game minutes last weekend; did fine in a pressurized environment. Niall Scannell gets his opportunity to prove his worth in this second test match. Herring goes to the bench and Cronin has a free weekend.

Sean Cronin is an outstanding mobile hooker, his line out execution has improved this season. There are rumors that his scrummaging last weekend was pinpointed in video analysis but I find that harsh.

Is Cronin part of Joe Schmidt’s plans? Unless Cronin can stake a claim for game minutes next weekend, it looks like Cronin’s ambitions to feature in an Ireland RWC 2019 squad could be in serious jeopardy, think there is more to this than just alleged form last weekend.

Ireland Breakdown SOS

The breakdown battle for Ireland was a constant struggle last weekend. When Hooper and Pocock are in full flow like they were last weekend, they make world class back rowers look stupid and at times, it was like that unfortunately.

Jordi Murphy, Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander all struggled to create a platform for Ireland in this area and the selection of Dan Leavy to this test match is no surprise. Leavy has being outstanding in this facet of play this season for club and country.

I would expect Ireland management to monitor Hooper and Pocock particularly; look to negate their effect on the breakdown with comprehensive clear outs early doors, expect James Ryan to play a huge part in this game plan.

Ireland need solid, quick ruck ball and this is the ask of the back row unit this weekend. With Sexton chomping at the bit to unleash Ringrose and Henshaw on the outside, this test match series for Ireland rests on the back row unit.

End of Season Fatigue

Ireland’s impact off the bench last weekend was incredibly flat. There was no injection of work rate and energy to proceedings. Is this due to the end of the season and fatigue of a long hard season?

The bench this weekend for Ireland looks genuinely exciting. The prospect of Tadhg Beirne with ball in hand and breakdown work is a sight that I am looking forward to see. Porter, Larmour, Carbery will look to provide something different in the third quarter on their introductions.

This weekend will require the full twenty-three man squad to deliver for Ireland. Australia will have improved from last week, hopefully Ireland have not missed the boat in terms of last weekend but with Sexton at ten, Ireland have a chance.

Ireland Half-Back Conundrum

Just for arguments sake and Ireland do win in Melbourne, what does Joe Schmidt and Ireland management do in terms of the nine position? Conor Murray again starts with John Cooney primed to make an impact in the final quarter (or sooner).

This tour was a perfect opportunity to evaluate the depth chart at nine. Marmion needs game time as well to impress; the same could be said for the likes of Ross Byrne at ten but with no midweek games for the squad, it raises questions on the depth chart.

Regardless of the result this weekend, Schmidt and Ireland management need to give sufficient game time for nine and ten personnel. The question is less of a poser if Australia win this weekend but there is no form guide on depth chart for nine / ten at this time which with more than twelve months to go before the RWC, it is a concern.

Australia 18 – 9 Ireland: Talking Points

Ireland’s fifteen month unbeaten run was ended by a determined and more precise Australian outfit yesterday. Michael Cheika’s charges executed a game plan full of work rate, physicality and precision in the breakdown and with ball in hand. Several talking points emerged from the contest.

Pocock Central

Try as the Ireland back row unit could, the Hooper and Pocock partnership for Australia was a decisive factor in this outcome. Pocock in particular was a constant menace for Ireland in the breakdown battle; his ability to slow down ball as well as win possession for his side were to the fore and kept Ireland off balance in the attacking department.

If Ireland have any chance of making this test match series relevant come next weekend, the influence of Pocock and Hooper must be stifled in this facet of play which will require the inclusion of someone like Leavy in the starting Ireland lineup.

CJ Stander’s work rate, tackle count and gain line meters were the standout in an Ireland back row unit. Early decisive clear out next weekend from Ireland is the mantra; but they are facing a world class back row unit. Invaluable experience ahead of RWC 2019.

Australia win the physicality battle

Ireland have a target on their backs, they are the reigning Six Nations and Grand Slam winners and opposition will look to set a marker against Joe Schmidt’s side early doors.

Credit to Australia for the physicality they brought to the game. They looked to unsettle the half-back pairing with some early hits and their ability to compete in the air throughout negated Ireland’s ability to secure territory and build attacking pressure on a consistent basis. The early exchanges in this contest with those early marker hits set the tone for Australia and they never looked back.

Ireland punished for precision issues

This was a good test match. Both sides gave as good as they got but Australia were more precise with ball in hand as they exposed lapses in defensive coverage. Australia are quality with ball in hand, great skill set to identify space out wide and when they identify players coming out of the defensive line, try scoring opportunities are not far behind.

Henshaw’s decision to break from the defensive line needed to see the Leinster center get man and ball in the opening period but he got neither and Ireland were then on the back foot which led to Foley’s try. Quick clear out in the second half saw Pocock get the time and space to crash over from close distance.

Ireland with ball in hand were quite direct with little or no variation in attacking play; the ability to cross kick or ability to come inside and create an offloading channel were bereft at times. Changes will be made to the Ireland back line unit with Earls early withdrawal and Ringrose and Sexton eager to get game minutes. Effort was there but the lack of precision was not; valuable lesson for Ireland in this test match.

James Ryan Immense

The Leinster second row was the standout story for Ireland yesterday. Ryan’s ability in the set piece and his ball carrying was on point; his ability to support his back row colleagues at times was appreciated considering the back row unit issues with Pocock and Hooper. Ryan’s game continues to elevate to higher levels.

Given his short tenure in international test match rugby, Ryan has established himself as a world class operator. The issue for Schmidt is who is the perfect foil to complement Ryan? Henderson, Toner and Beirne will look to secure game minutes in the coming weeks.

Ireland Fringe Players secure valuable game minutes

The test match arena is a high octane and pressurized environment so credit goes to Carbery, Herring, and John Ryan for their cameos. Carbery was given a typically warm test match welcome by the Aussies with some big hits but the player was not ruffled and played the percentages well, did not try to force the issue and looked for Murray and his three quarters to create the platform.

The hope is that Carbery becomes more dynamic in game management as the test series progresses but with Sexton chomping at the bit, it remains to be seen what additional game minutes Carbery will get.

John Ryan and Rob Herring were solid as well. Herring’s set piece on line out was on point but he was guilty of a couple of disappointing turnovers. Ryan was solid in the scrum and his work rate around the fringes was on point. When you consider how the back up front row fared in the last quarter, Ryan’s scrummaging was good. The squad depth chart is being built after these cameos, hopefully scrum-half options will be elevated in the next few weeks.