A DREAM start for Ireland in a World Cup that has offered so much already.
The hits have been big, the pace spectacular and the skill set rarely witnessed before. My fear before this tournament commenced was that all we were going to see was collision after collision by robotic bodybuilders who had been brainwashed by coaching methods that were derived by people who are afraid to think outside the box.
Thankfully that wasn’t the case.
And everything is now set for a quarter-final showdown with South Africa on October 19-20. I fully realise there is a very, very long way to go before the quarter-finals but to achieve big you must be confident.
A python kills its prey by surveying the terrain, surprising the victim and then slowly squeezing it until all life is extinguished. Ireland did that on Sunday.
Every time any Scottish player got his hands on the ball he was quickly and aggressively blanketed by a player in a green jersey. There were moments in the opening exchanges of this game that everybody in the Scottish camp looked completely shell-shocked, including those sitting high above in the coaching boxes and they really had no answer.
After the initial lunge the next stage of a python’s kill is when they wrap themselves around their prey, crushing it and squeezing tighter and tighter until its victim exhales its last breath. By half time Scotland were done.
The torrential rain which commenced on the stroke of half time put the final nail in our Celtic cousin’s coffin and in a small little way, payback for not voting for us in our bid to host the 2023 World Cup was signed sealed and delivered.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, in order to reach the Everest of anything in life you need to take risks and when Schmidt announced he was starting Jordan Larmour, Andrew Conway and Jacob Stockdale as his back three it showed he was prepared do that. It will be very interesting to see how the likes of Rob Kearney and Keith Earls react when they are afforded their opportunity. There is nothing like competition to keep everybody on their toes.
Some of Stockdale’s tackles on Stuart Hogg were sublime. Hogg would be unquestionably Scotland’s biggest running threat and it almost seemed that Ireland had access to their playbook, because every time he got the ball to run with he was hit immediately.
As expected, Ireland managed to sort out their line-out concerns, which allowed them a platform, and, combined with a solid scrum, Sexton got an armchair ride, as every ball he got was done so with Scotland’s defence stuck in reverse gear.
The decision for Conor Murray to take over the place-kicking duties mid-way through the first half was a bit concerning though. The decision on whether or not Sexton will start next weekend is another conversation that Schmidt and his coaching advisers must have.
I would leave him on the bench and give Jack Carty or Joey Carbery the nod. Both need as much experience as possible.
One player who had to perform was Murray. For the first time in a long time it looked as if Murray’s appetite was back. He was demanding of his forwards and critical of his fellow players when they lost their shape in defence.
Schmidt will need him to be at his very best when things don’t go exactly to plan and it was great to see him not kicking the leather off the ball every time the opportunity presented.
The early injuries to Peter O’Mahony and Bundee Aki are a bit of a concern. These are things that cannot be foreseen and it’s where the quality of your squad comes into play.
The Man of the Match award was given to CJ Stander but I would have split it between Iain Henderson and James Ryan. Both individuals showed how the modern-day second row needs to play their relentless efforts leading from the front. It paved the way for Ireland to constantly win the gain line confrontations.
Special mention also for captain Rory Best who at the tender age of 37 lasted the full game.
I don’t see him contributing meaningfully for the full eighty minutes against the Springboks, but he certainly didn’t look out of place on this occasion.
Next up is Japan but I can’t really see the host nation fielding their strongest side possible for this game. I would expect coach Jamie Joseph to target their game against the Scots with a view to finishing second in the pool and advancing to play New Zealand in the quarters.
Schmidt couldn’t have asked for a better start but the road is long and one that is splattered in historical lessons of failure and shame. Onwards and upwards.
Well done to everyone involved.