Murray Kinsella reports from Soldier Field
IRELAND’S FULLBACK JORDAN Larmour certainly stole the show in Chicago yesterday as Joe Schmidt’s side ran eight tries past Italy, but he wasn’t the only one to further his cause with two big Tests to come in the next fortnight.
Argentina visit Dublin next weekend, while the All Blacks will be in town for what should be a sensational clash on 17 November, meaning Schmidt has some tough selection decisions ahead of him.
The senior players who remained at home for the Chicago trip and trained at Carton House with Schmidt in the first half of this week are clearly in a good position to come straight into Ireland’s starting team.
Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw, Rory Best and CJ Stander are among those front-liners but Schmidt always hoped that the meeting with Italy in Soldier Field would give him a couple of headaches.
Larmour’s three-try performance makes him a real contender to start against the Pumas and All Blacks, but there were others who impressed Schmidt too.
“I thought there was a number of guys who really worked hard,” said Schmidt after Ireland’s 54-7 win.
“Rhys Ruddock was one of them. I thought Quinn Roux did really well, very physical and his ball presentation was good in the lead-up to that first try after half time.
“Tadhg Beirne was good and everyone had quite good moments but I just don’t think we were cohesive enough or played at a tempo enough in the first half. Therefore, when it became stodgy no one really went anywhere too quickly.
“It was great to get a bit more speed into the game. Even with Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose in the second half, in the lead-up to Garry’s try with Bundee getting on the outside, getting a sever point and linking with Garry was pretty effective.
“They were starting to get their partnership back underway because it finished really strongly in the Six Nations. Across the board, there are a number of guys.
“I thought Luke McGrath had a really good second half because with the platform in the first half, it was just a little bit slow and when he got that little bit of quicker ball, he gave us that tempo.
“Joey Carbery and Ross Byrne when he came on did well to slot in.”
Schmidt’s conundrum in the second row is one of several particularly interesting areas for next weekend.
Iain Henderson remained in Ireland this week, while Devin Toner came off the bench for Beirne. James Ryan travelled to Chicago but wasn’t involved on the pitch.
Beirne’s first start for Ireland was impressive and certainly adds to the dilemma for Schmidt.
“I wasn’t around last season when he was first around so it’s my first involvement with him in the squad,” said Ruddock, who captained Ireland yesterday.
“Obviously, I know him well from Leinster and playing against him when he was with Scarlets and now Munster.
“I had a lot of respect for him anyway but having him in your team is certainly better than trying to deal with him on the opposition. He was quality again today, took his tries well and he just works really, really hard for the team.”
With Roux also impressing, Schmidt is now in a very strong position when it comes to the second row.
Ireland’s 26-man squad will fly home from Chicago in two parties today, before linking with the players who remained in Ireland on Monday as the preparations for the visit of Argentina begin in earnest.
Schmidt will review the Italy game as intently as ever. Post-match he expressed his disappointment with how the game had become “very stodgy” in the opening half but was pleased that his team managed to lift the tempo in the second 40 minutes.
From a player’s point of view, Ruddock expressed similar sentiments.
“There’s parts of the performance that we’re disappointed with and we know there will be loads to work on and build on,” said Ruddock. “That’s kind of exciting when you look at the challenges we’ve got ahead.
“What was good was that when we went in at half time and spoke about picking up the tempo and being a little more accurate, it felt like we delivered that.
“The guys coming off the bench added some real energy and impetus as well, so to work our way around that in the heat of the battle was really good and we’re happy with that. I still felt there was more in us, particularly in the first half.”
Subscribe to our new podcast, Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42, here: