Last Saturday I had the privilege of watching Ireland triumph over South Africa, widely regarded as the only competition to the All Blacks dominance.
The first thing to discuss is just how well drilled Ireland appeared to be. They defended South Africa’s lethal maul with smart tactics. They identified the space in behind South Africa’s back three and exploited it with great efficiency (Henshaw’s kick which led to the Ruddock try a prime example). Ireland played with a basic game plan which emphasised a lack of risk taking and doing simple tasks well. This is highlighted by Ireland’s offload count of a big zero. However, praise has to go to Schmidt. He is famous for his analysis of teams, and it appears that he can formulate plans to beat teams by this extensive analysis. Listening to the Irish players about Joe, it seems that they are constantly impressed by his knowledge of the game and his straight talking advice for players. For the time being, he really seems to have impressed and invigorating this Irish Team.
South Africa on the other hand were quite poor in their approach to the game. They seemed to believe that they could out-muscle Ireland and grind them down slowly throughout the game. It is perhaps unfair to criticise them too much. In flashes South Africa demonstrated how dangerous they are with the ball in hand, especially with Le Roux on the ball. Also it is difficult to imagine the result if Strauss has not been sin-binned. However South Africa were left to rue their decision to kick for the corner with most of their penalties. In the first-half alone they elected to kick at least 3 times and rely on their maul. Instead Ireland defended well, and South Africa dropped the ball. South Africa by my estimates could have gone into the break at least 6-9 up. It is also difficult to conceive how South Africa who dominated the scrum, had ascendency in the line out and who forced countless missed tackles failed to win this one.
Ireland as a unit were excellent, every player just oozed resilience and physicality. This is demonstrated in the huge tackle count Ireland got through. A special mention must go to Sexton and Murray who both played superbly, and showed how they are turning into a word class pairing. Also Ross and McGrath have to be mentioned as they were both returning from injuries and facing one of the most fearsome front rows and packs in world rugby.
Overall it was an immense game to attend and one of the most important results in the Schmidt era. It is important to remain grounded as this is one result. The next two weekends will be vital, as we will get an indication whether Ireland can be consistent in their performances.