Brendan O’Brien looks at what was learned from the weekend’s action at the Rugby World Cup...
Remember that school of thought that said Joe Schmidt should parachute Iain Henderson into his back row at the expense of Peter O’Mahony? Doesn’t seem such a great idea now after the pair’s standout performances against Italy.
Henderson has been a revelation to those who don’t keep constant watch on Ulster or Ireland with a display of dynamism and physicality. O’Mahony was central to the scoring of Ireland’s try and the prevention of one by Josh Furno. There was much to make people think twice about Irish chances against France next week in Cardiff, but the balance of the pack looks right regardless of performance.
Donal Lenihan giving his views on the Ireland v Italy RWC pool match at the Olympic Stadium. Video by Dan Linehan
Their pack is aging at a rate of knots, their backs are promising but callow and their 10 is still a baby in Test terms. Oh, and their coach is edging out the door after the tournament, too, but Italy did not go gently into the good night.
Ireland were expected to win comfortably but Italy played as though they were affronted by the pre-match expectations that were backed up by a crowd that sat back in the belief that Ireland would entertain them. It was edgy and uncomfortable but Italy have done Ireland a massive favour in raising the temperature ahead of the French.
Forget everything else and just think how extraordinary it is that Australia — they of the set-piece known to fold like an accordion —should have claimed five scrum penalties against England at Twickenham.
Mario Ledesma, their scrum doctor can take credit for that, but Michael Cheika pieced it all together for the Wallabies. Much more of this and the Australian coach will be vying with Schmidt for the unofficial title of ‘Best Damn Coach in the World’.
Leinster players have always spoken admiringly of what Cheika did for them, but the ‘Cult of Schmidt’ has overshadowed his achievement in turning the Ladyboys into European champions. Until now, maybe.
It’s not that Owen Farrell did anything particularly badly on Saturday, apart from the late no-arms hit that saw him sinbinned, but England clearly need more than a kicking metronome and that means George Ford must be central to their future.
Stuart Lancaster rebuilt a damaged culture after the 2011 Rugby World Cup debacle, but the England coach erred terribly in chucking nine months of investment in Ford to one side when choosing Farrell against Wales nine days ago.
The Bath out-half showed again on his introduction against Australia that he can offer England an extra dimension. Don’t rule them out of a Six Nations title next year with Ford pulling the strings.
Tongan Rugby Union chairman Epi Taione made headlines when claiming that the world rankings were “worked out in a gypsy caravan park in Ireland somewhere”, but that soundbite served to drown out other more considered protests.
Between them, Tonga, Samoa and Fiji have played nine games with just two wins against the USA and Namibia to show for it. Fiji, especially, have shown that the potential for them to go further is boundless, but they need a hand.
More access to money, tier one nations and some home games of note would be a start, as Taione said.
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