Results: 33% (all other marks at discretion of examiner).
AFTER WINNING HIS first game in charge of an international rugby side, Joe Schmidt went on to preside over two defeats to southern hemisphere powerhouses.
Seven tries were scored in all, including three against the World Champions. The big black mark though remains that lacklustre middle performance against Australia which ensured that seven is also the number in the tries against column.
Schmidt’s Ireland were found wanting for clear intent in his opening two games. While he would eventually watch his side carve open Samoa, the tries only arrived after the belief had been sucked from the visitors.
John Plumtree’s maul at times looked a useful weapon, but against Australia (like most other aspects of the performance) it was easily scuppered.
Having pleaded for patience on Saturday, on Sunday everything came together and Schmidt’s side looked a force to be reckoned with when playing at full tilt, running aggressively at tacklers with sharp breakdown work helping Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton to keep the ball in hand and keep defenders guessing.
Squad selection: 85%
The new faces he introduced to International rugby were ones he had placed a lot of trust with in his time at Leinster; Dave Kearney and Jack McGrath barely put a foot wrong in their two outings in green.
Others will be disappointed at not being afforded more time in camp. Kieran Marmion and Andrew Trimble should feel the most disappointed at not being involved in any of the three Tests, particularly the Derry man as Schmidt did prefer to start with a robust centre-turned-winger until Fergus McFadden fractured his hand.
You can’t please everyone, however.
Team selection: 85%
There can be little debate over his starting XV in yesterday’s clash with New Zealand. The one big selection call, Gordon D’Arcy, played his beard off (mercifully not literally) while the younger Kearney repayed every ounce of faith shown in him.
Against Australia, the Kiwi (who yesterday admitted he had been targeting the meeting with his home nation) allowed himself shuffle the pack with Eoin Reddan and Luke Marshall drafted in to varying degrees of success in a disappointing all-round display.
The out-half situation remains curious. Schmidt admits that Paddy Jackson is second choice yet named him in just one matchday squad, instead selecting Ian Madigan on the replacements bench; a situation which led to Ireland becoming, in Schmidt’s words, “rudderless” after Sexton hobbled off at half time against the Wallabies.
Nothing makes for a happy camp like winning games, but there have been no tales of in-fighting and little to read between the lines when the players have spoken face to face with the media.
There were no smiles to be found after the 22 -24 defeat to New Zealand, but that result should help to weld the team together for the serious competition in 2014.
If we are to be extremely harsh and a touch unfair to yesterday’s ante-up against New Zealand we’d point out that Ireland put in comparable displays against Argentina in 2013 and Wales in the Six Nations in February.
New Zealand are New Zealand though, and bring a vastly superior challenge that neither of the above sides can threaten. But until we see Schmidt’s Ireland back up yesterday’s performance (and win) we cannot fully measure the progress made. Still, 50% is a decent start, maybe the other 50 lies in finding out how to score points in the second half against tier one nations.
Within eight days, Ireland veered from ridiculous to sublime, but if the old maxim that you’re only as good as your last game holds then… well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Schmidt and his assistants Plumtree and Les Kiss appear to have put a framework in place which, given time, will make Ireland an extremely difficult team for anybody to attack or defend against.
Overall*: 65.5% – Joe’s late cramming session earns him a solid C2, but consistency must improve.
*Overall average does not include potential rating.