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Sexton shines, Ireland unleash and more talking points from Cardiff

Joe Schmidt will pick out flaws, but this was a promising opening performance from Ireland.

IRELAND BEAT CANADA 50-7 at the Millennium Stadium in their opening game of the 2015 World Cup. Our match report is here.

Sexton simmers

Paul O’Connell aside, Johnny Sexton is the key man for Joe Schmidt’s Ireland and this facile win over the Canadians was exactly what the out-half needed at this point of the tournament.

Jonathan Sexton scores their third try Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Relatively quiet in the warm-up games, Sexton simmered with intent every time he was in possession, running slick loop plays off forwards and his centres, while also showing impressive speed after Sean O’Brien’s brilliant inside pass sent him in to score.

The kicking from hand was exceptional much of the time, one or two excusable mishits aside, with the round-house style kicks back over his inside shoulder particularly strong.

Spirals, the ambitious and perfectly-executed crossfield kick to Jared Payne inside Ireland’s 22 in the first half, diagonals behind the Canadian wings, Sexton pulled out all the tricks.

His performance and obvious confidence levels are a major plus for Ireland ahead of tougher challenges.

No more holding back

Were they holding back in the warm-ups? We got an emphatic answer from Ireland in the first half as they ran several intelligent starter plays from set-piece and showed far greater willingness to pass the ball to the outside edge, even with forwards in the line.

Dave Kearney and Rob Kearney stand for the National Anthem Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The two-phase power play for Dave Kearney’s try was textbook Schmidt, with Sean O’Brien starting on the left wing and bashing over the gainline, whereafter Ireland’s shape coming back across the pitch was highly detailed and exceptionally executed.

Canada’s extremely poor defensive showing aided Ireland’s best plans, as they sat off and showed Schmidt’s side easy wins in the tackle and the wide channels. Sexton and co. will have to implement Schmidt’s plays against far, far better defences, but for a first run out this was slick.

The quality of Ireland’s handling, passes out in front of the target, was encouraging and something that had been lacking in the defeat to England at Twickenham. Again, time on the ball aided the accuracy, but all the signs were promising.

The feeling is that this may not be the exact approach we see against better teams, but it was hugely effective against the weak Canadians.

Fitzgerald fills 12 shirt with ease

Luke Fitzgerald was outstanding for Ireland in the 12 shirt, by no means his regular natural position. Schmidt stated his confidence in the Leinster man’s ability to thrive at inside centre pre-match and Fitzgerald backed those words up.

Luke Fitzgerald tackled by Ciaran Hearn Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

His footwork in attack was excellent, while his handling was very sharp too. The manner in which he held the final viable defender for Dave Kearney’s score was a delight. Shorter flicked passes stood out too.

Fitzgerald rates himself highly as a defender and we saw a demonstration of why in the Millennium Stadium, as he worked hard on the drift and made his tackles when he got across. Rob Kearney put in some big hits too.

Others like Iain Henderson, Keith Earls, Conor Murray, and especially Peter O’Mahony were excellent for Ireland, although one could pick out many more impressive individuals.

Work-ons, always

We can safely bet that Schmidt will pick out a wide range of failings on Ireland’s part in this game, from missed try-scoring opportunities close to Canada’s tryline to the concession of breakaway try in the final 10 minutes.

Joe Schmidt Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland slipped off tackles again, and their defensive shape looked to be very narrow at times. They backed themselves to make their tackles stick on a hard drift against Canada’s width in phase play, but there were concerning moments.

We saw something similar in Twickenham, when England got big gains in the outside channels. It may seem overly negative to focus on Ireland’s defence when they conceded only one try against the run of play and scored freely themselves.

But Schmidt is a stickler for all the elements of Ireland’s game being on key, and he will find faults.

Discipline wasn’t at the degree Schmidt demands either, and better teams will punish Ireland for giving up penalties in the positions they did. That said, Paul O’Connell’s yellow card was simply wrong, the ball having left the ruck and returned to open play.

Perfect start, but realism required

In terms of getting their World Cup off to a strong start and generating momentum to carry themselves into next weekend against Romania, this was an ideal performance from Ireland.

Dave Kearney scores their fourth try Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Counter-attacking tries from inside their own 22, the works.

Indeed, Ireland should take major satisfaction and confidence from being so clinical in their opening game, picking apart the deeply flawed Canadian defence in a relentless fashion.

But the porousness of Canada’s defence must be taken into account. Ireland have hammered the 18th-ranked team in the world, a side that looked completely out of their depth at times, even if there was good will around their willingness to attack with ball in hand.

Ireland are the ultimate realists. Wins are never over-celebrated and defeats are never seen as disasters. They will enjoy this victory, but move on swiftly looking to improve. After back-to-back Six Nations titles, this was the minimum expectation they had for themselves.

A promising opening stanza, but bigger days lie ahead. Possibly better ones too.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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