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5 talking points after Joe Schmidt's Ireland see off South Africa

World-class halfbacks, brilliant tactics, set-piece issues, the centres and defensive hunger.

Schmidt’s tactics perfect

Tommy Bowe scores their second try despite Bryan Habana Tommy Bowe pounces to score late on. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

IT MAY NOT have been the most aesthetically pleasing of rugby games, but that was never likely to be a priority for either side. Ireland flagged early in the week that they would look to kick plentifully, and that’s exactly what they did.

There weren’t too many risks involved in Ireland’s game plan, which focused on pressuring the Boks in the air, battering forward through the midfield and with inside passes and then taking their points whenever those chances arose.

They struck clinically for two tries that came straight out of the video analysis room.

Sexton delivered from the tee to reward Ireland’s forays into the Boks half, while he and the other key playmakers allowed the likes of Tommy Bowe, Simon Zebo and Rob Kearney to chase hard when kicking from hand.

World-class halfbacks

Jonathan Sexton kicks his second penalty Sexton was in world-class form for Ireland. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton were utterly dominant in the half-back battle, bossing Ireland’s attack and kicking superbly. Murray came up with a big play at exactly the time Ireland needed it, dinking a perfect kick behind the Boks for Bowe to run onto and score.

Sexton was excellent with his kicking out of hand and was sublime off the ground, stroking over efforts from a wide range of positions. His defence was also of the highest standard, as he threw his body into contact repeatedly.

As Joe Schmidt builds towards the 2015 Six Nations and World Cup, he can be comfortable in the fact that his halfbacks are world class.

Defensive appetite

Jonathan Sexton and Jamie Heaslip with Duane Vermeulen Ireland soaked up mountains of pressure from the Boks. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Schmidt’s men had to do a whole lot of defending throughout this fixture, much of it in their defensive third of the pitch. The Boks were as fearsome as ever when carrying the ball, and certainly won several one-on-one collisions, but Ireland always came back for more.

Strong breakdown competition helped Ireland to keep their defence in good shape. Even when there were no steals, the Irish back row slowed the Boks’ possession and allowed their teammates to get set-up for the next wave of attack.

Being mentally in the right place to expend such effort in defence is no easy task. Paul O’Connell clearly had his teammates fired up for the task.

Set-piece issues

General view of a scrum as Francois Hougaard puts the ball in Ireland coped with their set-piece problems well. Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

The fact that Ireland’s set-piece had major troubles fed into the point above, forcing Ireland to defend when they might have expected to enjoy some time in the Boks half of the pitch.

Jack McGrath was on referee Romain Poite’s bad side from extremely early in the game, being pinged for not driving straight on a number of occasions. At line-out time, there were issues too, as the Boks competed and spoiled on Cronin’s throw.

More positively, the maul defence was largely excellent from Ireland. Obviously, there was a try conceded in this area but Ireland denied South Africa on a number of other occasions at the maul.

Payne and Henshaw show their worth

Jared Payne makes a break Jared Payne carried bravely throughout. Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

It was one of the major talking points in the build-up to this clash, but Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne demonstrated that they have more than enough quality to be excellent international players for some time to come.

The 21-year-old inside centre was impressive in using his footwork to ensure he entered contact on his own terms, and looked more than comfortable against this powerful Boks midfield.

Payne carried with notable directness up the middle, smashing into contact time and again to put Ireland on the front foot. Defensively, the Ireland centres were strong too, one slicing break for Jan Serfontein aside.

Positive signs for their burgeoning partnership.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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