Bundee Aki’s tackle may have been the topic of most conversations after Saturday’s defeat of Samoa but it was far from the only hit to take the breath away.
Josh van der Flier made some astonishing defensive contributions in terms of technique and effectiveness and Samoa lived up to their reputation for physicality with some Irish players being heaved backwards by a pair of tackling opponents, especially so early on in the game.
The Pacific Islanders ultimately failed to make the desired impact here in Japan, however, and they disperse to their various day jobs across both hemispheres now knowing that ill-discipline was a major contributing factor to their early exit.
Seven yellow cards were earned across their four Pool A games. Ed Fidow copped a red for accumulating two of them when conceding a pair of penalty tries against Scotland in Kobe. Another came early on in this latest game in Fukuoka when Jacob Stockdale was left reeling by a high hit from Seilala Lam.
“I was checking my teeth when I got up but they’re all there,” the Ulster winger joked afterwards.
Aki’s red was nothing to laugh at. The Ireland centre was dismissed for a tackle that was clearly high and his punishment was perfectly in keeping with the edicts as stated by World Rugby. None of which can take from the impression that he was unlucky given the speed at which the incident happened.
“I think it was harsh,” said Stockdale. “I thought there wasn’t an awful lot of difference between Bundee’s tackle and the tackle on me.
That’s not a comment on anyone’s technique or anything like that, it’s more on the inconsistency between cards that we’ve seen in this World Cup. It’s disappointing for Bundee but he’ll bounce back.
Stockdale didn’t attempt to dilute the sense of loss that would come with Aki being suspended for the coming weekend’s World Cup quarter-final against New Zealand in Tokyo, although he was quick to add the rider that Ireland remain well-stocked in midfield where Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose and Chris Farrell all offer succour.
Another positive from Aki’s red is that it failed to rattle Ireland who have trained numerous times with 14 men to replicate just such a scenario. Assistant coach Andy Farrell has worked assiduously on such a situation on the defensive side of things. That all helped two days ago.
“It wasn’t panic stations,” said Stockdale, who added that Ireland’s players are all too aware of the need to reduce the height of the tackle given the current crackdown and general awareness of concussion-related issues.
Definitely. If you get it wrong it’s a red card. It’s something we’re massively focused on to make sure we don’t do. Bundee’s was such a reactionary thing because the ball bounced and he was going from either carrying or making a tackle and he just was really unfortunate. That’s rugby.
Ireland were good on Saturday, but it wasn’t a performance that would be good enough to take down either of the southern hemisphere powerhouses, or England, and they were aided no end by some unforgivable lapses in the Samoan defensive line. The first three tries were far too easy.
Ireland will know where the true value of the performance actually lies on the barometer between good and bad but an undeniable positive for this team as it faces into its biggest test yet is the fact that they got off to such a strong start for the fourth game on the trot.
“It was a real bonus for us, to come in and put in that good start. That got us going and, when we went down to 14, we handled it really well. We were smart with the plays that we ran and we were actually really good on ‘D’. It felt really comfortable, which is a massive positive.”
Not everything found favour with the 23-year-old whose two tries in five outings this season have both come in one of the warm-up games against Wales.
That he claimed none of the seven against the Samoans clearly didn’t sit well with him.
Saturday wasn’t the kind of game that offered much scope to do his thing and add to that haul of 16 tries although
Jordan Larmour and Andrew Conway did fly the flag for the back three in that regard with a touchdown apiece.
Larmour, who started at full-back, gave a superb performance. The danger he posed when in possession was typical of him but the Dublin youngster displayed a positional sense in the backfield that reeked of a growing maturity as he pushes Rob Kearney for the No 15 jersey.
“He was brilliant. His footwork is probably just as good as Cheslin Kolbe’s. We saw him bring that out tonight. We all know how good he is. I do especially having played against him a couple of times and now playing with him. I thought he had a great game, great for him.”