An Irish team showing 15 changes from the recent historic victory over the All Blacks crushed Canada on a score line of 55-21 in the Aviva stadium on Saturday in a match that – despite the emphatic nature of Ireland’s victory – would have left Coach Joe Schmidt with few selection dilemmas ahead of the rematch against the All Blacks on November 19th.
Prior to kick-off, the mood around this match was in stark contrast to the New Zealand game just a week prior. Ireland were enormous underdogs in the aforementioned match whereas they were expected to beat last Saturday’s opponents comprehensively, regardless of the starting 15 that took to the pitch. A comprehensive victory followed, though it was less than spectacular.
As the match kicked off, it didn’t take Ireland’s experimental 15 long to get into their stride. With just 5 minutes on the clock, the momentum from a controlled driving-maul from Ireland resulted in Marmion darting past a weak Canadian defensive line only to pass to Keith Earls to cross the line. Ireland’s driving maul is a devilishly effective tool – will it prove just as fruitful against the All Blacks next week as it did in Chicago? We will soon see.
Ireland’s superiority was evident for the next 20 minutes and if not for a forward pass that robbed Garry Ringrose of a debut try and some uncharacteristic errors in general play, Ireland would have had the game settled before the half-hour mark.
However, Ireland superiority was rewarded when – following countless phases of patient probing forward play build up – Luke Marshall flew over the line freely to add Ireland’s second try of the night. Things were looking ominous for the Canadians who had promised little thus far.
However, this match wasn’t over yet, not in the battling Canadian psyche anyway, that’s for sure. Luke Marshall went from ‘hero to zero’ in the space of a couple of minutes as his over-ambitious loopy pass wide to Tiernan O’Halloran was picked up by the opportunistic Canadian Van Der Merwe who ran unchallenged to the Irish try line.
The Canadians weren’t finished there either as they gave Ireland a taste of their own medicine when the entirety of their pack entered their own driving-maul which simply overwhelmed Ireland and when Taylor Paris scored to level proceedings in the 29th minute, the Canadians found themselves level in a game that seemed lost just ten minutes prior.
Ireland would go on to huff and puff for the remainder of the first-half and even-though Tiernan O’Halloran scored what was perhaps the try of the night right on half-time with a blisteringly surgical run through the Canadian defence, Ireland’s 21-14 half-time lead over the Canadians was workmanlike at best and shoddy at worst.
Joe Schmidt wouldn’t have been pleased with Ireland’s first-half showing and would have called for wholesale improvements and overall, he got them.
Mirroring the early stages of the first-half Ireland started brightly and looked to hit the spirited Canadian side hard. A huge effort from Ireland’s pack from a scrum resulted in the Canadians collapsing it which left referee van der Westhuizen little choice but to award the penalty try with only five second-half minutes gone
However, again much like the first-half, Canada were simply not going to be in awe of their green opponents. Matt Evans darted for the line after breaking free of a couple of Irish defenders to score a wonderful individual try despite the near-heroics of Ireland’s Tiernan O’Halloran in ultimately failing to stop the big Canadian from grounding the ball.
So, with a little over 20 minutes to go, Canada were down by just seven points – or one score. Who saw that coming? Not me, anyway. Ireland mustn’t have foreseen it either as for the remainder of the half, Ireland would go on to outscore their opponents 24-0.
Tries from Dillane, Marmion, O’Halloran and Tracy would ultimately deliver Ireland a deserving victory over a Canadian side that competed admirably for large swathes of the game buy ultimately fell away badly as the second-half progressed.
Speaking after the match; Schmidt said some players gave him food for thought before deciding his starting 15 for the up and coming All Blacks test in Dublin on November 19th; “I think back row, back three, even the front row is a tough decision. I think we’ll get together and sort those out. Announce the squad next Thursday and that will be really closely looked at and hopefully that will be the squad to give the All Blacks a really good game”.
So, Ireland, in the end, hammered the 18th best Rugby nation in the world – but job done, despite playing below their lofty potential. However, next week’s challenge will be on another planet comparatively speaking and if Ireland are to beat the All Blacks in consecutive tests, they’ll need to play to their absolute maximum.