Ireland advance to the last eight of the Rugby World Cup. Hawkeye Sidekick looks from up high to survey the repercussions from the result and main talking points from the contest at the Olympic Stadium, London.
Italy’s proverbial Rugby World Cup Final
The Italian performance belied the level of performance produced by the Azurri in recent weeks. Every Italian player to a man rose and stood up in this fiercely competitive contest. I doubted the influence one man would have on a side but was I completely off the mark. Sergio Parisse gave an exhibition in leadership and driving his team forward with numerous lung bursting carries. When you add the hard tackle count of the likes of Favaro, Ireland were suddenly back on their heels. The scrum which should have being in Ireland’s favor was a 50/50 contest. Garces officiated the scrum extremely well, good competition in the scrum and both teams really did not gain any ascendancy during the eighty minutes. The Italians will rue the absence of regular hooker Ghiraldini who was ruled out due to a calf injury. His understudy Manici struggled to find his jumpers throughout the first period and was promptly hauled off at the break. Manici was pivotal in Ireland’s game winning try, the lineout throw was telegraphed to the first pod and O’Mahoney pounced. A couple of phrases later and Earls was over for the try. Fine margins win games and this was a decisive moment. Italy left everything on the pitch, work rate was infectious for the full eighty minutes but a distinct lack of quality in the back line was ultimately decisive. It allowed Ireland to focus on the pack battle and to add extra bodies to the breakdown area. Italy will think what if on the Furno disallowed try, huge credit to Peter O’Mahoney on making the tackle and putting the second row into touch before touching down in the corner. Two key moments went against Italy and on another day, Italy would be the team celebrating. Italy pinned their World Cup hopes on this fixture. They fell short and Italy reflect on what might have being. They will pinpoint revenge next year in Rome next year. Could Parisse have gone another ten minutes? Decisive replacement call.
The last time I heard the word “passive” referenced was in a Leaving Certificate German exam. The Germans love those passive nouns. For the record, the word “passive” is “accepting or allowing what happens or what others do, without active response or resistance”. It sounds just about right for Ireland today. The preview game comments were focused on a performance and building a platform to win this contest. Both elements failed to materialize. Italy by and large were able to control the tempo of the game. Their line speed was far superior in the opening exchanges and their ability to make yards after the game line was duly noted. Ireland’s defense just about held out today but questions will be asked by a more slicker three quarter unit, look no further to France next weekend. The positives for Ireland were that they were tested by a determined tier one rugby nation (what rugby spin that statement is) for a full eighty minutes. Ian Henderson continues to have an immense start to the season. The Ulster man was the standout second row today. His ability to win ball for Ireland (two choke tackles), his tackle count and ball carries were world class. Conor Murray’s game management nous at the end of the game was key to this victory, took the pressure off Sexton at half-back to strategically place Ireland deep in Italian territory at the death. Peter O’Mahoney had an excellent game (apart from that shoulder charge late on). His work rate around the park was typified by his try saving tackle on Furno early in the second half. His lineout steal in the opening period setup Earls try. Robbie Henshaw got through a full game, starved of quality go forward ball and his only opportunity to break the game line setup the Moyross Magician for an excellently worked try. Ireland have plenty to work on running into the French game. The scrum and pack performance in general was pretty disappointing, no genuine advantage at the set piece and when Nathan White was introduced, the Italians started to turn the screw. White can argue that Tommy Bowe was behind him in the scrum but White looked unconvincing upon his introduction and lost ball in contact. The attacking maul was not at the races today, uncharacteristically disorganized which will need to be rectified. The line speed will need to improve for next weekend. Hoping Ireland are holding moves in reserve but one thing is for sure, the Ireland video analysis session will be a horror show to watch for players and management alike. Kudos to Keith Earls, top Ireland World Cup try scorer. Superb accolade.
Ireland advance to the quarter finals. The expectation levels have being taken down a notch after this unconvincing performance. Was this Ireland performance simply a bad day at the office or are the demons of past World Cups coming into the equation? Ireland’s worse enemy is themselves. There was tension in the stadium which translated onto the pitch for the team in green and white. The real tournament starts now. The Ireland performance surely will improve next weekend. The intensity and line speed have to be upped. It has to or it is going to be a quick exit in the quarter final stage yet again. Opportunity lost? I hope not for Ireland’s sake, but there was a timely reality check today for the team. Wales did a job on Ireland in the preseason game at the Aviva Stadium. Italy attempted to replicate the game plan and it nearly worked. Does Schmidt have a game plan to combat this? An interesting week of sound bites awaits from both Ireland and French camps. I personally cannot wait.