15 Ireland Australia 32 a [.]
Byline: SHANE MCGRATH
15 IRELAND AUSTRALIA 32 AT the time Joe Schmidt was saying there was no panacea for Ireland's ills, demands were starting to rumble for Roy Keane to save the day.
There were people on Saturday night, driven fidgety by defeat and the proximity of social media, who believed Keane would be the ideal man to set Ireland's rugby players right. He has, after all, turned the national soccer team around in just 90 minutes against hopeless opposition; who better to make Ireland roar and help put fear in the All Blacks on Sunday? When Keane and Martin O'Neill left Aviva Stadium on Saturday night, they might have assessed the huge expectation heaped upon them in a different way; at least they have a period of grace before meaningful matches against the very best. Schmidt, meanwhile, must try and make sense of this mess with New Zealand blocking out the light.
No better man, a fact which should be recorded as the drum-beats of doom begin to sound. However, raving about the talent of the coach is not going to improve the resources at his disposal, and on this evidence there are significant reasons to worry in that regard. Fergus McFadden has been given an opportunity after a number of left wingers were poleaxed by injury. On Saturday he was Ireland's best player, or their most presentable survivor. Luke Marshall was chosen over Gordon D'Arcy.
He got his positioning all wrong for the crucial, third Australian try, scored by Quade Cooper, which set the Wallabies galloping to this victory. However, Marshall was also Ireland's best ball-carrier and he did enough to keep his place for Sunday. Schmidt might be tempted to fill his team with experience but Marshall deserves a shot at the very best.
Devin Toner should hang on, too, but the problems for Schmidt did not rest with his rookies -- and that's the worry.
For a team coming down with leaders, there was a lack of direction for most of the game that was alarming.
Paul O'Connell struggled with his handling and made at least one wrong call in directing Sexton to kick for goal at a time when Ireland were rattling Australia and forcing cheap concessions. Brian O'Driscoll was treated for a calf injury but did not want to come off, eventually leaving the field for eight minutes before returning.
He later had his head swaddled in bandages after getting a cut and was typically brave in continuing -- yet there was no inspiration, nothing he could do to put order on a listless, confused display.
Jamie Heaslip tried to generate momentum and was one of the more effective senior players, but Eoin Reddan had a poor day. Mike Ross was the surprise victim of the even more surprising rebirth of Australian scrummaging, a force that has lain dormant longer than Pompeii.
Johnny Sexton, striving with very limited success to shape Ireland into a coherent attacking force, was gone at half time, looking ashen as a hamstring injury laid him low on his first game back in green since the Six Nations defeat to England last February -- a hamstring injury ruined his afternoon that time, too.
Ireland's leaders were wiped out on Saturday, but that was not the result of a pre-planned Australian strategy. What planning the Australians did was certainly clever; they rebooted their front row, with James Slipper in particular but also Sekope Kepu very effective.
Michael Hooper gave a performance of such verve and timing that it might make Sean O'Brien reconsider his desire to play at No7: Hooper showed the standard required of a specialist in that shirt and O'Brien, for all of his vivid talents, is not of that stripe when it comes to anticipation and poaching. …