Darren Cave’s face does fit
BEFORE KICK-OFF in Resistencia, Joe Schmidt batted away the Brian O’Driscoll questions by saying; ‘it’s Darren’s jersey now’.
The Ulster centre may have been fortunate to have no competition for the role on this particular tour, but when the chance was offered to him today, he took it with both hands.
Right from the off, Cave dutifully set about his bread-and-butter duties around the ruck and his reward for those efforts came in the metres gained column after he made one of the few note-worthy line-breaks in the game.
As the game wore on, he even appeared to grow in stature. He didn’t manage to keep his feet in play after Simon Zebo’s sublime offload, but in the way he was willing to truck the ball into contact and take aim at a gap, he looked every inch a senior international.
The more time he is given in that role at this level can only help him excel further.
Sexton still Ireland’s most potent weapon in stuttering Test
The reckless abandon with which Argentina played on limited possession will earn them plenty of deserved plaudits.
In comparison, Ireland looked decidedly rusty. These things happen when a new selection is rolled out almost three months after the last international, but one thing that doesn’t change is Jonathan Sexton.
The Racing Metro out-half remains the star of Schmidt’s team. Though guilty of calling too many carries and wide attacks early on, when urgency is needed, he is the man to inject it.
The wrap-around play that led to his try is brilliant when it comes off and it is reassuring to see it work with different personnel involved. However, when Ireland go for that play against more robust defences it can end in disaster, and over the coming months Schmidt will need to see his side put more fluid, instinctive phases together when gainlines and try-lines need to be broken.
England missed a wonderful opportunity
There aren’t too many occasions on which you find New Zealand turning in as poor as performance as they did this morning, particularly at Eden Park. Dropped kick receptions, a generally struggling set-piece and a failure to dominate the breakdown, Steve Hansen’s men will surely get better in the coming weeks.
England will too, but even with a weakened team in Auckland, this was a major chance of winning missed. There will certainly be long-term benefits for the players involved in having pushed the best team in the world so close, but this defeat may rankle for an equally lengthy time.
Henderson and Zebo the only men to give Schmidt a real headache
By selecting Iain Henderson at second row, Schmidt seems to have determined a future for the young Ulster man and, like Cave, he lapped up the chance.
Henderson’s handling and footwork in the tackle gives Schmidt a viable alternative in the second row and the lock must now be valued for his that skill and athleticism over his positional flexibility.
The other men looking to shake up the perceived order of things in Chaco were Robbie Diack, Jack McGrath, Jordi Murphy, Luke Marshall, Felix Jones and Simon Zebo.
As well as the Leinster duo in that list played (particularly Murphy) they are unfortunate to have central totems of Schmidt’s grand plan blocking their way at both club and country.
The Ulster pair of Diack and Marshall had their moments, but in many cases they were counter-weighed by errors. Diack was in the heart of the action early on and added a useful dimension in the line-out, but blowing the three-on-one overlap that immediately followed Cave’s big break will be the first thing Schmidt asks him to watch during the analysis session tomorrow. Marshall looked most comfortable when in possession and delivered some fine passes long before assisting Sexton’s score; but no matter how sharp Nicolas Sanchez’ step inside was, an inside centre must be disappointed with allowing that gap to open.
Which leaves us with Simon Zebo. Again, he was one of the few who improved as the game went on and with the injuries that currently blight the Irish wings he should certainly be deserves more minutes to develop.
In order to put serious pressure on his rivals in the back three such as Tommy Bowe, Dave Kearney and Keith Earls; the Corkman must marry those late flourishes (see the round-the-corner pass to Cave above) with clinical early defensive reads.
New Zealand deliver under pressure
For years, the Kiwis were seen as lacking the bottle in high-pressure situations, most notably at World Cups. But as we saw in Dublin last November, Hansen has built sheer composure within his squad.
That was apparent again in the dying minutes against England, as New Zealand forced their way back into the opposition 22, and executed the basic skills under pressure, allowing Conrad Smith to dive over.
Aaron Cruden’s decision to run a kickable penalty shortly before that score seemed uncharacteristic for the Kiwis, but even after England survived that thrust, Hansen’s players kept their cool to convert.
France are in a poor state
While key players like Thierry Dusautoir, Rémi Talès, Mathieu Bastareaud and Louis Picamoles were absent, there was still much to cause concern in the French performance against the Wallabies in Brisbane.
A late revival and a powerful scrum saw Les Bleus notch two tries of their own, but the lack of organisation in the first 60 minutes or so was glaring. Defensively, tackles were consistently poor while the players seemed unsure of what Philippe Saint-André wants in attack.
However, the French are frustratingly capable of turning things around in time for the second Test next weekend. With a handful of their totem figures back in place, they will look for a much-improved performance.