DONAL LENIHAN: Win over Canada offers significant signposts to the future

The contrast in advance of this test against Canada to the series opener against New Zealand last week could not have been more stark.

After beating the All Blacks for the first time in 29 attempts spread over 111 years, how could the Irish camp stay focused and gear up for the next challenge?

Quite easily actually. You make 15 changes and entrust an entirely different group with the responsibility of maintaining standards. Your reward should you manage to achieve that objective is to put yourself in a position to complete the job against New Zealand next week even if it will be very difficult for Joe Schmidt to demote any of that, history making, starting side

There is also another long-term objective running parallel with this Autumn’s Guinness series as Schmidt is determined to expose as many players to the vagaries of test match rugby as possible.

Next June, Ireland will play tests against USA and Japan shorn several front line players who will be otherwise engaged on Lions duty in New Zealand. On the completion of those two tours, Schmidt will already have reached the halfway mark in the four-year cycle in preparation for the 2019 World Cup in Japan. By that stage he wants to have a very clear picture as to the strength of his overall playing resources and the key areas of vulnerability.

Despite all the changes made for last Saturday’s outing, the quality of the Irish side selected reflected well on where the squad sits at present. Of those who missed out on that historic win at Soldier Field, Sean O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony and Keith Earls were automatic starters when available for the World Cup last season. Cian Healy is a British and Irish Lion. Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall, Tiernan O’Halloran and Craig Gilroy all started at least one test in South Africa last summer while Kiernan Marmion and Dave Kilcoyne were both introduced off the bench during the second test.

Despite having that quality on board it was inevitable this starting side would take time to find its rhythm and, ever the perfectionist, Schmidt will not be happy with some of the passing inaccuracies and options which were taken.

To lose a hard fought 14 point lead over a period of five minutes when the Canadians made it 14-14 from a well-executed line-out maul on 28 minutes showed they too were well up for the fight. To their credit, they succeeded in making it a meaningful contest right up to the final quarter.

The fact the visitors had a more experienced starting side in terms of international caps won - 384 to 290 for Ireland - offered them some comfort and it was clear from the outset they would be combative in contact and well organised in defence.

As the contest progressed, the Canadian scrum became a serious Achilles heel and Ireland’s ever expanding front row resources proved far too difficult to cope with. As in Chicago, Ireland’s line-out maul proved a serious weapon at this level and no doubt New Zealand coach Steve Hansen will spend a considerable amount of time on the training paddock this week working out ways of attempting to counteract it.

By the time South African referee Marius Van Der Westhuizen blew his final whistle, Ireland had registered eight tries from six players with a penalty try off yet another powerful scrum thrown in for good measure. The 52 points scored was two more than the full Irish side managed in their most recent encounter against the Canucks, at the World Cup in Cardiff last year, so there was much to be happy with.

The most positive aspect however was eight new players were introduced to the test arena for the first time. In addition, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane and Kieran Marmion started an international for the first time having been used exclusively off the bench up to this point.

All three starting debutants in Billy Holland, Jack O’Donoghue and Gary Ringrose acquitted themselves well and made their mark. Holland was tasked with running the Irish lineout and did so magnificently as well as delivering his usual industry around the field. It must have been a pleasure for O’Donoghue - the first Waterford man to play for Ireland since fellow Waterpark product Ben Cronin back in 1997 - to start in a back row flanked by such grizzled campaigners as Peter O’Mahony and Sean O’Brien. He looked really comfortable on the ball and showed some deft touches. Ringrose must have been disappointed not to see game time off the bench against New Zealand last weekend but put that behind him to make a big impact on debut. He looks so comfortable on the ball and has the ability to glide past people.

The fact he is now lining out regularly in a Leinster midfield alongside Johnny Sexton and Robbie Henshaw would suggest it is only a matter of time before that trio become a regular fixture in the Irish set up.

That is dependant however on where Schmidt sees Jared Payne making his most valuable contribution to the cause.

They are the type of selection headaches that every international coach would rather have and Schmidt will be happy with the fact that 38 different players have accumulated game time over the last two weekends.

That represents a serious investment in the future. For now, however, all attention turns to another potential classic back in the Aviva Stadium on Saturday against a wounded All Black squad who vented their frustrations with a 68-10 demolition of Italy in Rome on Saturday.

Bring it on.


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