Anyone else catch the new Paddy Jackson strut on the tv news bulletins from South Africa? asks Ronan O’Gara
That’s self-confidence sticking its chest out. The way he carries himself this week, you can see Saturday’s tour de force at Newlands was a massive pressure-valve release. That’s what happens playing No 10. He could grow exponentially now. Johnny Sexton is a far better player at the moment, but it depends on what Ireland want to do in Japan in 2019. If you want to get to the World Cup quarter-final and roll over again, then you have one good player in each position.
If you want to try and win something, you have to have two.
Let’s call it. Jackson arrived as an international player in the first test against the Springboks. The jury was out until last weekend. He had done little before, save a few bit-part roles. This was a composed, exciting, warrior-like performance, a victory for perseverance.
And it’s a happier story because people like him. Jackson is respectful, humble. You could see how much his team-mates shared in his hour of glory, and they’re a better judge than anyone.
People in Ulster will tell us he’s been doing that for years, but they are biased. He hasn’t. I have been watching him closely, year-on-year. He’s had some good days but doing that on a consistent basis has been an issue. I want to see this guy running the show back in South Africa in 2021 with the Lions.
To own a test jersey for a sustained period of time, you have to do repeatedly what he did in Cape Town. That’s very difficult I accept, but he has to keep his standard in and around that. There was a reason Ian Madigan was the No 2 to Johnny - he’s been a better utility player and had more impact off the bench. Now Jackson has put that argument to bed, but he needs to kick on.
He should also be more relaxed tomorrow at Ellis Park. He has bought himself a bit of leeway because he was unproven to this point. Hence even if he has two disappointing tests this weekend and next, there are still huge learnings from this tour for Jackson.
Keith Earls has reached a serious level of consistency now in an Ireland shirt, even for people who were doubting him. He looks dangerous in attack and really solid in defence. He has brought greater intensity and consistency to his defensive work, but it’s been demanded too. People ask about coaches, how they earn their corn. Well they set the tone for everything.
If the lads know on a Monday morning they are going to get absolutely destroyed in front of their peers, they are going to put in the shoulder as hard as they can. But if the coaching staff aren’t doing their stuff on a Monday, the boys will do the bare minimum. If you’ve Andy Farrell like an antichrist, then the bare minimum isn’t getting you anywhere.
It was a nigh unprecedented week for Irish rugby, with the two U20 successes and the test win in South Africa. I would caution one thing: Any team that concedes seven penalties in the opening 19 minutes has no chance of winning a test match. From Ireland’s standpoint, it makes it a great tour now. Winning with 14 men for an hour, 13 men for a while before half-time. It begs the question: are South Africa going to pull five experienced test players out of the hat for Joburg? No. The series is Ireland’s to lose now.
Which brings it back to our greatest achilles heel — can we back up a big performance? In the past we haven’t been capable of doing it. We are the best nation in the world for a one-off.
I was in the Stade de France on Monday evening. Ireland completely dominated Sweden for 50 minutes, they score, and then, like a trip-switch, the Swedes are all over us. It’s incredible to see such a change in momentum. We score - mental release of pressure. Retreat. ‘Come on lads, it’s yer go now’. It could be the two points that will cost us qualification for the knockout stages.
Compare that with the New Zealand mentality. They get the job done. Once Wales didn’t score before half-time last Saturday in Auckland, the game was up. Warren Gatland has some exceptional players, but they still didn’t have the belief to go all the way. They weren’t good enough because New Zealand are just different gravy.
Admittedly, it’s very unusual against a Tier One nation to find a result after going down to 14 men. The vibes coming from the Irish players was there was a massive emphasis on the first test. Management has been itching since the final game in the Six Nations, and throw Andy Farrell into the mix and you could see the response to that from the players.
The standard of scramble defence was admirable, though I am not sure it’s sustainable. Ireland have to be careful in terms of defending that aggressively, even if it was dictated by losing Stander. It’s very risky, just like CJ in that collision with Patrick Lambie.
Initially I thought clumsy, but on reflection you cannot do that. You can see a rotation of the hip from Stander. Maybe it was a yellow card if Lambie got up, but the referee got spooked when he saw the out-half stretched on the ground.
All wing forwards play on the edge, and Lambie was key for the Boks. If SA lost him, Elton Jantjies has almost zero experience in the test arena. Morne Steyne wasn’t involved, Goosen wasn’t there. Pollard either. Could you say Jantjies was fifth choice 10? I am absolutely not saying Lambie was targeted. But he was the one player — bar JP Pietersen — who had big test experience to bring to the table for Allister Coetzee. Johann Goosen will be with Racing 92 in Rennes tonight as we face off with Clermont-Auvergne in the Top 14 semi-final. Had South Africa wanted him, under Rule 9, he was obliged to play for his country if selected. Instead the Boks will back up Jantjies with Morne Steyne tomorrow. Happy days for Racing, but Johann will be one of the stars of the next World Cup. His acceleration is unbelievable.
I must reference England’s fantastic victory in Brisbane after being 10-0 down in no time. The turnaround in eight months under Eddie Jones has been remarkable. This was a squad hockeyed by Australia in the World Cup. To go down down there, fall 10-0 behind, and proceed to physically and mentally break the Wallabies was a big, big statement. Talking of statements, we finish on one: Ireland’s U20s beating New Zealand last Saturday (and following it up with a composed victory against the hardy Georgian bucks) killed that shocking stat of never beating NZ at (male) adult level. Such incremental gains make it easier mentally for Irish players coming up not to be weighed down by any stigmas attached to playing big teams.
Here’s a little extra sport. Watch the latest BallTalk for the best sports chat and analysis: Good point? Bad point? How can Ireland capitalise on their draw against Sweden and who should start against Belgium?
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