Ireland’s victories against Canada and Romania were expected. That is without disrespect to either Canada or Romania but a tier one nation should expect to beat a tier two nation. Ireland ticked the check box for wins against these two teams ticked the check box for 4 try bonus points too. Although so far have got maximum points that is not what has impressed most about Irelands opening two games of the 2015 RWC it’s the manner in which they have gone about getting those victories. From the performances on the pitch to the attitude of the players to the management of the squad right through to the style of play.
In the game against Romania Joe Schmidt, Ireland’s head coach, made 12 changes to the starting 15 that played against Canada and brought in 7 new players to the matchday 23. With the likes of Cian Healey, Tommy Bowe, Devin Toner and Richardt Strauss among the new faces, JS has brought in players with many caps. This gives a sense that not an awful lot has changed, with many of the starting 15 against Canada being amongst the replacements for Romania.
JS’s squad selection and sharing out of responsibilties to all members of the squad really makes you wonder who the first choice players are and who are not. This is a good thing it gives the squad a unified purpose and keeps up competition between players in the same position. It ensures all players get gametime and the big stars are not over played.
The way in which Ireland have played has been very positive and their play is full of intent. They hold the ball for long periods and take it through the phases but its not a case of them blindly following a set gameplan come what may. What is impressive about what they are doing is the variety in their play. They might go aerial if need be, and they are fully equipped to attack or defend high ball. They have made use of a dab through and chase. The passes are not always what you expect. The first pass may go deep the second flat and the third deep again only for it to be different on the next phase.
The back-rowers/loose forwards all have footwork and avoid the big collisions but are not afraid to make them if the need arises. The Irish tend to give the ball to the massive players like Devin Toner to take it up direct and make the collisions. This really makes sense, why would you want your lighter, fleet of foot forwards doing this grunt work.
The different running angles and the numerous wrap around or skip passes along with dummy runners, who sometimes get the ball are constantly testing the defence. Romania were really good in defence and Ireland did well to break through so many times.
This squad is quite adept at attacking with ball in hand. This is Joe Schmidt rugby. Similar to the Leinster side of a few years ago where JS coached before his appointment as Ireland coach.
I feel Ireland if they get far in this RWC will look to beat other teams rather than just end the game with more points than the other team which is what many sides do in this competition. Once the importance of the match is raised to such levels as what is experienced at semi-final or final level, sides tend to be cagey. Having supported Leinster through to the 2011 Heineken cup final win, I was a massive fan of Leinster’s intent. It was so positive.
Ireland’s performances against Canada and Romania were won on the back of a squad with a good attitude and a focus on playing to a standard. I feel this has put them in a great position to play their next two opponents Italy and France.
Ian Madigan looked so good at number 10 that I feel instead of being back-up to Johnny Sexton he could be an alternative. Right through the squad there is competion for positions. This will count in Ireland’s favour as the RWC wears bodies down.
Of the four Home Nations Ireland’s prospects look the best at this point. England’s loss to Wales has made their campaign far more difficult. Wales’s long injury list may affect their chances. Scotland although are looking good so far but realistically have the least amount of expectation on their shoulders.
The sequence of games with Ireland’s final pool game being against France has worked well for Ireland as they have used their two games so far to build into this tournament.