Kiss: Just the game we needed

NO major alarms, no serious injuries, six tries scored and none conceded.

Declan Kidney would have taken that beforehand. Back in 1999, Connacht led an Irish side 26-10 before the World Cup and only five late tries rescued national honour. Four years ago, Brian O’Driscoll suffered a broken cheekbone against Bayonne.

Happy days, then.

“That’s the type of game we were after,” said assistant coach Les Kiss. “Connacht certainly took it to us. They play that mess-up game in the ruck area. They can destroy your ball with that choke technique and we had to work hard on that because it disjointed us a fraction.

“But the discipline they showed, particularly early in the second-half, to go on and put the points on made us happy. There has been a lot of tension, I suppose you could call it, around the place not knowing where guys stand but that was admirable.”

There were no dramas. The only real injury scare was revealed before kick-off when Shane Jennings was parachuted out of the starting line-up and on to the stand-by list for Saturday’s squad because of a concern over David Wallace.

The Munster flanker fell victim to a tight hamstring strain in training on Tuesday and Kiss rated his chances as no more than 50-50 afterwards. If he fails to recover, Jennings will step straight in to the first XV. The problem is that both need game time.

It must have been a strange dressing-room beforehand with some players locked in certainties to travel to New Zealand, others already contemplating life back with their province and still more marooned in the uncertainty of no-man’s land.

Fergus McFadden was probably among the last of those three groups but the Leinster back shone brighter than any of the other 43 players who saw action in front of 3,168 patrons in Leinster’s old Donnybrook home.

McFadden had a hand in three of the half dozen tries and claimed one himself midway through the second-half. Geordan Murphy, another man existing in something of a grey area, touched down for another and gave a solid showing.

Those two aside, few of the players known to be in with a shout of selection made an indelible imprint on the game. Isaac Boss and Conor Murray both auditioned again with neither landing a knockout blow on the other in the race for the third number nine slot.

Two of the best performances were actually delivered by the centres Ian Keatley and Darren Cave, neither of whom will be holding their breath about the prospects of being handed a free ticket for the long-haul flight on August 30.

The greatest concern was undoubtedly the scrum. Twice in quick succession, the Irish front row of Tony Buckley, Sean Cronin and John Hayes popped up in the first-half. After the lineouts problems in Bordeaux, that wasn’t in the script.

“They had a discussion at half time about it and it will be ongoing,” said Kiss. “We shifted around a few things to fix it, but it will be something that we look at going forward.” Leo Cullen blamed a lack of work in that area during the week as the cause.

Whatever the cause, it is behind them now. 22 of the country’s best players played their last card last night. Three days and three restless nights await six of them although some have already heard the dreaded knock on the door.

“I think Deccie has been doing the rounds over the last while,” said Cullen. “Some are still hanging in the wings a bit. It’s a bit of a tough time. It’s such a build-up to these tournaments.

“I’ve been on the wrong end of decisions eight years ago and four years ago. You want to be going to these tournaments. It gets closer and closer, and there is always that anxiety. It has been a bit of an anxious time for guys but when the squad is announced next week you’ll see guys settling back in to our shape.”

IRELAND XV: G Murphy; J Murphy, D Cave, I Keatley, F McFadden; P Wallace, I Boss; T Buckley, S Cronin, J Hayes; M O’Driscoll, L Cullen; K McLaughlin, N Ronan, D Leamy.

Replacements: D Hurley for J Murphy (30); C Murray for Boss (48); M Horan for Hayes (51); C Henry for Ronan (60); D Ryan for Cullen (60); D Varley for Cronin (72); I Whitten for Keatley (72).

CONNACHT: T O’Halloran; M McCrea, E Griffin, H Fa’afili, B Tuohy; N O’Connor, P O’Donohue; D Rogers, A Flavin, R Ah You; M Swift, M Kearney; J Muldoon, R Ofisa, G Naoupu.

Replacements: TJ Anderson for Kearney (49); M Jarvis for O’Halloran (55); J O’Connor for Ofisa (55); E Reynecke for Rogers (64); D Buckley for Flavin (64); T O’Halloran for Tuohy (64); J Loxton for McCrea (69); D Moore for O’Donoghue (74).

Referee: P Fitzgibbon (IRFU).

Picture: Ireland's Chris Henry and Mick O'Driscoll tackle Ethienne Reynecke of Connacht. Picture: INPHO

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