RUGBY UNION: INTERNATIONAL FRIENDLY: IRELAND V SAMOA AT LANSDOWNE RD: GAT'S THE WAY TO DO IT; Ireland.35 Samoa.8 A Good Result but Ireland Lack Punch as They Pace Themselves for All-Blacks

Article excerpt


SAMOAN assistant coach Michael Jones never played rugby on Sundays because of his devout christian beliefs.

The former All-Black great, considered by many to be the greatest flanker ever, might have been spreading the word on his visit to Ireland this week and even preaching a few words at Irish training sessions.

For more than three-quarters of this lacklustre friendly at Lansdowne Rd. yesterday many of the Irish players looked like the too were adhering to Jones' strict religious values by not bothering themselves on this day of 'spiritual renewal'!

Ireland were always comfortable and were never under any great degree of pressure. But had they pressed themselves into a greater sense of urgency they might have chalked up 50 to 60 points plus victory over the Samoans.

Eleven of the Samoan side played in last week's defeat by a patched together Irish development side exclusively made up of provincial outcasts.

The addition of centre partnership Brian Lima and Va'aiga Tuigamala during the week and the other English based players clearly strengthened the side. But Samoan rugby has clearly taken a few backward steps since 1996.

As it was, this was clearly the calm before the storm in Irish eyes.

The priorities were to win and to escape unharmed against the physically imposing islanders. Once these goals were achieved everything else could be slipstreamed.

Two late tries for wings Geordan Murphy and Tyrone Howe painted a better and arguably fairer picture on the scoreboard.

But Ireland clearly had an eye on next Saturday's visit by the All-Blacks - and their performance reflected that caution.

Four tries and a measured performance from out-half Ronan O'Gara with both hand and foot marked the occasion from an Irish perspective - the Samoan's first visit to Ireland since their 40-25 win almost five years ago.

That result should add some perspective to any account of what happened yesterday and should also provide the benchmark for Irish rugby's improvement in the interim.

Gatland now believes Ireland have their best ever chance to tame the mighty All-Blacks for the first time in history. What a prospect that is!

Missing David Humphreys, Denis Hickie, Malcolm O'Kelly and David Wallace from the list of probable first choice players Gatland chose to rest Peter Clohessy and Keith Wood and hauled off Anthony Foley and Eric Miller at the break after they had picked up slight knocks. Caution was the priority.

"With next weekend's match we weren't taking any chances," he admitted.

In Humphreys' absence O'Gara again gave the Irish selectors plenty of food for thought with a brilliant display of kicking behind opposition lines.

Off left and right O'Gara's kicking was as crisp as he would have wished for while his passing and breaking were top notch. Those around him too often weren't on the same wavelength. …