WE ARE OFTEN told that the Ireland squad is chock-full of leaders with five live candidates for captain before Paul O’Connell got the job.
It was more than a surprise, therefore, when two players in their early 20′s and a prop who had just been schooled by a man named Slipper arrived at the post-match mixed zone. Ian Madigan, who replaced the injured Jonny Sexton, Luke Marshall and Mike Ross fronted up to the media and sought to explain how Ireland had been so comprehensively beaten [32-15] by Australia.
Tries from Nick Cummins, Quade Cooper and Michael Hooper [twice] saw Ireland fall to their sixth defeat of the year but the first of the Joe Schmidt era. It is far too soon to be overly critical of Schmidt’s team selections and strategies but, with New Zealand touching down in Dublin this evening, the opportunity to right Saturday’s wrong will be a tough nettle to grasp.
To Ross’ credit, he stood an answered every question put to him, even the topic of Ewen McKenzie and Australia targeting him as a weak link. The tight-head told TheScore,ie: “That was not one that will go into the Greatest Hits. They did really well at the scrum, which would be disappointing for us… We worked hard on [scrummaging] this week. It’s not as if we took them lightly.”
“It’s always fine margins at this level. Maybe with a missed tackle at the Rabo [Pro12] level you can claw it back but now they’re in for a try,” Ross added.
Madigan kicked Ireland’s only score of the second-half — a penalty — and argued that his lack of time at out-half was not a key factor in his team’s inability to change-up tactics against the onrushing Wallabies. “They took their chances well,” he said. “The two tries they had in the first-half were the two chances they had. We had three or four, were pushing really hard on the line but came up short.”
Madigan continued: “A pass here, a tackle there and we very easily could have won that game. We’re not a million miles off.”
Marshall’s introduction to Test match rugby has been a concussion-filled rollercoaster but the biggest blow the inside centre suffered last night was to his confidence. Cooper threw him a loop and stepped inside to dot down for Australia’s third, which effectively killed the game as a contest.
The Ulsterman initially spoke about collective defensive responsibility but, pressed on his role in Cooper’s try, held his hand up. While that admission was heartening to hear from a player so early into his Test career, those dreaded ‘fine margins’ were not far away.
“I’m some parts of the game,” he said, “we were a lot better than them. It was just a couple of wee, little individual errors that gave them the game.”
Unrelenting waves of dashing Aussie attacks trumped Ireland’s cluttered gameplan and under-performing stars — there was nothing fine about that margin or the gaping 17 point difference on the scoreboard.
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