David Corkery: Earls and O'Mahony set the tone for Ireland against Scotland

David Corkery: Earls and O'Mahony set the tone for Ireland against Scotland

Ireland's CJ Stander gathers possession from Scotland's Jonny Gray during the Autumn Nations Cup match at the Aviva Stadium. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

It took a bit of time, 25 minutes to be exact, but when Ireland got going they looked strong and played with a level of purpose that the modern game demands.

By no stretch of the imagination was their performance perfect. However, the most important aspect was there were a good few lessons that hopefully the Irish management will take on board and use it as a platform to build on for the Six Nations which commences in just under nine weeks.

For Ireland, it was vital they won but it's very important to put the significance of this competition into context.

Apart from the selling of the TV rights which contributed towards the various unions' bank accounts, the entire concept of an Autumn Nations Cup represented nothing more than a chain of four games as glorified, full-on training sessions behind closed doors.

Ireland's Robbie Henshaw battles Huw Jones and Sean Maitland of Scotland. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Ireland's Robbie Henshaw battles Huw Jones and Sean Maitland of Scotland. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Yes, you can argue the point that some of the younger squad members got to play international rugby but a meaningless tournament and the Six Nations is a different proposition. Until we can't judge the likes of Hugo Keenan, Caelan Doris, Jamison Gibson Park, Eric O’Sullivan, Stuart McCloskey and Shane Daly get to test across a Six Nations campaign.

Having a worldwide audience screaming at their televisions, a capacity 80,000 supporters in Stade de France booing your every move and the rugby media scrutinising your every play is a far cry from an empty stadium. Let there be little doubt about it that the media is a very powerful influencer when it comes to creating sporting icons and if they turn on you, it can very quickly contribute to the demise of your sporting career.

I don’t think we’d have witnessed the Irish players miss 18 tackles in just under 30 minutes of this game commencing if it were a World Cup or a Six Nations competition. For as long as I’ve been viewing international rugby I can’t recall a game where I watched players fall off so many first up ball carriers and manage to leave the field at half time leading on the scoreboard.

Now, if you were looking at this tournament from a Georgian perspective that’s a completely different story and the exposure they received playing against top-tier international sides can only be viewed as priceless.

Even though they didn’t win any of their games they will be the side who benefited the most over the last four weeks.

The manner in which Ireland went about clinching this victory clearly indicated that in order for them to win games they need to play with tempo and win the first up collisions.

When you don’t have a creative midfield that has the ability to turn slow ball into line breaking and try-scoring opportunities, your only hope of winning matches is by attempting to play the game at pace.

Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

When any side can recycle the ball at a decent speed and do so whilst winning the all-important gain line, the opposing defence will always find themselves on the back foot and scrambling to cope with getting organised after each phase of play.

As soon as Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton stopped speculatively kicking the ball away and started feeding their ball-carrying forwards, the Scots had no answer and their defensive line ended up getting more and more compressed, or they just ended up giving away penalty after penalty which allowed Ireland to dominate the proceedings.

It was nice to see Caelan Doris pick up the Man of the Match award because of his wide-ranging contributions however, for me it was Peter O’Mahony who stood front and centre when the occasion required.

Every team needs a street fighter and even though rugby is a multi-player sport that needs a coherent combination of backs and forwards in order to be successful, you will always require that one individual who is fearless and reckless with the body that God gave him.

Every time O’Mahony received a pass or was confronted with a 50-50 situation he came out on top and his tenacious determination to fight for every inch was undoubtedly the catalyst for this Irish win. It just amazes me how he is not injured more because of the way he propels his body at anyone in a conflicting jersey to his.

Peter O'Mahony comes up against Ali Price of Scotland. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Peter O'Mahony comes up against Ali Price of Scotland. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Double try-scorer Keith Earls also had an electric game and this is not me just wearing my Munster hat.

Like all great players, Earls showed his class when his team needed it most and like he always does he went about his business in his usual way by making the most of any opportunities he is afforded.

The debate about Jacob Stockdale assuming control of the number 15 jersey should be a done deal now and it is clear that he doesn’t have the capacity to take over from Rob Kearney. If we see Stockdale in a green jersey in the ensuing months, I think it will be on the wing.

I really don’t know if the last four games will have been a help or a hindrance for Andy Farrell. What I do know is that he now finds his coaching capabilities coming more and more under scrutiny from different quarters and his honeymoon period is well and truly over.

So, like my school report used to read.

Loads of potential but lots to do.

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