Ireland 16 Italy 9: JOE SCHMIDT had a feeling things would get tougher when Ireland’s World Cup bandwagon eventually ran into Italy.
He just didn’t expect its passengers to be so tense about the prospect.
An eerily quiet Irish team bus that pitched up at the Olympic Stadium yesterday pre-empted an equally strained performance that despite achieving the objective of the Pool D victory that secured a quarter-final berth has set the alarm bells ringing ahead of next Sunday’s even bigger challenge.
Beating an Italian side boosted by the return of talismanic No.8 Sergio Parisse by seven points more than satisfied Schmidt’s guardedly conservative eve of game acceptance of a two-point win as enough to make him happy.
It is just that he would have preferred more accuracy and intensity from his players and certainly less apprehension than was displayed before and during a win decided by Keith Earls’s 19th minute try, converted by Johnny Sexton, and an excellent try-saving tackle from Peter O’Mahony as Josh Furno headed for the corner seven minutes after the interval.
“Normally there is a bit of chat on the bus on the way to the ground,” a relieved Schmidt said last night.
“We try to stay a bit relaxed. We get here 90 minutes before the game so you don’t want to be getting too tight, too tense before you arrive. But there wasn’t a whisper today. I do really think it was bit of a tense performance.
“When everyone starts to become tense, you do get that quieter, more nervous feeling amongst the group and that was evident in the bus ride and it was a little bit evident in some of the things that we did today.
“We probably didn’t start that badly, in that we were forced to play a couple of defensive sets early in the game that challenged us.
“When we did get a couple of chances to attack, Johnny got through from a lineout. We got three points on the back of that, they came back and got three points which was frustrating and then we went straight back and got another seven. At 10-3, after 20-odd minutes, it probably was going according to plan and if you extrapolate that, then it’s a comfortable win.
“But, you extrapolate nothing because we knew that they were going to come back, that they were going to be tough and thus they proved.”
The Irish Examiner’s Rugby Correspondent Simon Lewis gives his views on Ireland after their RWC clash with Italy at the Olympic Stadium. Video by Dan Linehan
If Italy, inspired by captain Parisse, played like men possessed, Ireland looked decidedly below par and there was almost a meeting in the middle, helped along by the refereeing of Jerome Garces, who caused consternation among the Irish pack with his handling of the scrum and then gave them a tough closing eight minutes when he yellow carded O’Mahony for a shoulder charge on sub prop Michele Rizzo.
Luckily for Ireland, it was Italy’s terrible line-out display that allowed them to make ground, O’Mahony’s line-out steal providing the platform for Earls’s well-executed team try and the Azzurri managing to blow 12 of their 17 throws.
It still made for uncomfortable viewing another impressive Irish showing in the 53,187 crowd, although their team’s poor play left them subdued for long periods.
Reality check delivered, then, but Schmidt believes there is more to that than merely the realisation.
“It can be (a benefit). I think that sometimes you get that reality check but it’s then how you react beyond it. We were very aware that this was going to be tough but we didn’t probably react to that as well as we should have and now with this reality check that we have had we’re lucky to escape with the points we need to get out of the pool.
“I do think the players will take heed some of the inaccuracies that we demonstrated today, some of the penalties that we gave up that just didn’t need to be part of our make-up. Hopefully that leads into a better performance next week.”
And so on to the French and with three days less to prepare than his counterpart Philippe Saint-Andre, Schmidt already feels he is up against the clock to iron out the wrinkles and get his side back on the front foot.
“Look, they’ve got a 10-day lead-in to the game and I think you can build a decent edge in 10 days. We’ve got three and a half hours’ travelling tomorrow. We’ll have a couple of days to recover, probably train Wednesday, Friday and try to hone in on what we need to do in those two short windows and try to keep a degree of freshness going into next weekend.”
S Zebo; T Bowe, K Earls (L Fitzgerald, 76), R Henshaw, D Kearney; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath (C Healy, 58), R Best (S Cronin, 69), M Ross (N White, 58); I Henderson (D Toner, 67), P O’Connell, captain; P O’Mahony, S O’Brien (C Henry, 67), J Heaslip.
Replacements not used:
E Reddan, I Madigan
L McLean; L Sarto, M Campagnaro, G Garcia (T Benvenuti, 3), G Venditti; T Allan (C Canna, 64), E Gori (G Palazzani, 76); M Aguero (M Rizzo, 62; Aguero 72), A Manici (D Giazzon, h-t), L Cittadini (D Chistolini, 62); Q Geldenhuys, J Furno; F Minto, S Favaro (M Bergamasco, 67), S Parisse, captain (A Zanni, 64).
Jérôme Garcès (France)
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