Schmidt looking for light at end of the tunnel

Ireland 15 Australia 32
Two games into his new regime with Ireland, it may seem a little early for Joe Schmidt to be calling for the public’s support and patience.

Yet after this disappointingly lacklustre defeat to the Wallabies, and with New Zealand trundling towards the Aviva Stadium gates like an all-conquering army intent on knocking off one last outpost of empire, you can understand Schmidt’s need to play the long game and remind us that we are at the start of a 22-month journey to the 2015 World Cup.

On Saturday night, the former Leinster boss witnessed his squad’s momentum halt following an opening victory of his tenure the previous week against Samoa. As he had warned, Ireland paid the price by being exposed by a rejuvenated Australian team which, over the course of the last four months with new coach Ewen McKenzie in charge, has been climbing steadily out of the morass it found itself in following their Test-series defeat to the Lions.

Outplayed in virtually every facet of the game in perfect conditions for rugby, Ireland were outscored by four tries to nil and also lost fly-half Johnny Sexton to a hamstring injury that denied them an experienced playmaker to engineer a victory, having trailed just 15-12 at half-time.

That injury may also leave Schmidt without the Racing Metro star for next Sunday’s visit of the world champions and the head coach admitted it didn’t make the prospect of a visit from the world champions any more palatable.

“It was already daunting,” Schmidt said. “This All Blacks team put 47 points on the Australian team in Australia when they first got together under Ewen, that is going to make it very, very tough for us.

“At the same time I suppose I would implore the public to hang in there, that we will be working as hard as we can. I have got a lot of time for this group of young men who will try to deliver something that will be a little bit special next week.

“Again, for us it will be performance-related. I don’t think you can pick results, you’ve just got to get some things right. You saw enough wrong there (against Australia) to know we have got enough on our hands from... set-piece, our defensive line, our kicking game.

“There are a lot of things to work on and unfortunately there is no magic fix. I would love it if there is a panacea to all ills there. It is going to be gradual but we will certainly be working hard next week and as daunting as it might be, there is something about the psyche of these guys that the more daunting it is, the deeper they’ll dig and if people can support us, we will see what we can get out there and try to represent them as good as we can.”

If anyone was expecting next week’s encounter with a side Ireland have never beaten to be the moment those ghosts will be laid to rest, they will doubtless be a sobering reconsideration of that prospect following this performance against the Wallabies, who even managed to keep Ireland subdued when reduced to 14 men following both the binning of breakdown nemesis Michael Hooper after 32 minutes and the sending off of centre Tevita Kurindrani with eight minutes remaining following a dreadful spear tackle on Peter O’Mahony.

The Australians had done their homework on the Irish. They knew from where the threats would come and made contingencies for how to deal with them, managing the choke tackle tactics that had undone them at the 2011 World Cup and fronting up in the scrum to dispel northern hemisphere notions that the green and gold was not fit for purpose at the set-piece.

They cruelly exposed a worryingly passive Irish defence and a sloppy kicking game that despite repeated warnings following the performance against Samoa, seemed to deliver the ball to Australia full-back Israel Folau at every opportunity.

It all made for the Wallabies turning in their most complete performance since McKenzie succeeded Robbie Deans as head coach. Quade Cooper, the fly-half ignored for valid off-the-field reasons by Deans, has had an arm thrown around him by his former provincial boss McKenzie, who is reaping the rewards of his creativity. The Queensland Reds star destroyed Irish hopes of a second-half comeback from their three-point interval deficit with a defensive line bust that will haunt Luke Marshall for years to score Australia’s third try of the night.

Cooper converted his own, 46th-minute effort and then opened up a 13-point lead at 25-12 with his penalty three minutes later.

Sexton’s replacement Ian Madigan gave the home side a little hope with a penalty in reply but they would be his side’s only points of the second half and the Australians hammered home their dominance 13 minutes from time when Hooper got over for his second and the Wallabies’ fourth try, the most Ireland have conceded since the 60-0 defeat to New Zealand in Hamilton in June 2012. That was when the rampaging All Blacks hammered Declan Kidney’s tourists by nine tries.

Now Kidney’s successor faces a week of hard work to try and avoid a similar fate. Captain Paul O’Connell believes the mistakes made against Australia are “easily rectifiable” but somehow that looks overly optimistic and both he and Schmidt know it is not going to get any easier against New Zealand, particularly when the head coach has to heal the bruises of battered Irish bodies and minds.

“We’ve got to make sure... we don’t allow the All Blacks, the potent weapons that they have, to mix and match what they’re doing and change points of attack and play with us being on the back foot because inevitably they’re just going to wear you back and back,” Schmidt said. “And their off-loading game and the speed of their game will undo us.

“So, it’s daunting but it will be recovery and it will be hard work and it will be mentally preparing ourselves so that we can try to anticipate what’s coming. I felt we anticipated what was coming from the Australians. I just felt we were disappointing in what we were trying to deliver what we talked about defensively.”

A long week lies ahead.

IRELAND: R Kearney (R Henshaw, 74); T Bowe, B O’Driscoll (R Henshaw, 23-30), L Marshall, F McFadden; J Sexton (I Madigan, h-t), E Reddan (C Murray, 56); C Healy (J McGrath, 71), R Best (S Cronin, 66), M Ross (S Archer, 66); D Toner (M McCarthy, 71), P O’Connell, capt, P O’Mahony, S O’Brien (K McLaughlin, 71), J Heaslip.

AUSTRALIA: I Folau; A Ashley-Cooper (J Tomane, 58), T Kuridrani, M Toomua, N Cummins; Q Cooper (C Leali’ifano, 69), W Genia (N White, 66); J Slipper (B Robinson, 69), S Moore (T Polota-Nau, 69), S Kepu (P Ryan, 66), J Horwill (S Timani, 56), R Simmons, S Fardy, M Hooper (L Gill, 72), B Mowen, capt.

Yellow card: Hooper 32-42

Red card: Kurindrani 72

Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)

The key moment

Having dragged themselves back to 15-12 down at half-time, Ireland went to sleep at the start of the second half as Quade Cooper waltzed through for a try, kicked the conversion and added a penalty within 10 minutes of the restart.

Pub talk

Out-scrummaged and out-mauled by an Australian pack? The idea was fanciful before kick-off but the Wallabies forwards got their act together to beat Ireland at their own game.

Treatment table

Johnny Sexton looks to be a serious doubt to face the All Blacks after pulling up with a hamstring problem and departing at half-time, while Rob Kearney took a blow to his ribs late on but is expected to recover in time for next Sunday. Ireland will also assess Keith Earls’ availability after two weeks out with tendonitis in his knee.

The main man

Australian openside flanker Michael Hooper was the star turn, grabbing the first and second tries of his Test career. He was pushed close for man of the match by full-back Isreal Folau, who matched his prowess under the high ball with superb carrying.

The man in black

New Zealander Chris Pollock was absolutely right to issue a straight red card to Tevita Kuridrani for his spear tackle on Peter O’Mahony while man of the match Hooper was a victim of the cumulative effect of the penalties his team conceded. Pretty efficient stuff from the referee.

What’s next?

“It doesn’t get any easier for Ireland as they close out the Guinness Series with a visit to the Aviva Stadium from New Zealand. What’s more, the All Blacks are closing in on a perfect winning year, not the best circumstances to look for an Irish rebound.


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