Sports Digest: Irish rugby boss Joe Schmidt starts off with solid win


One commentator suggested the performance threw up more questions than answers as Joe Schmidt got his career as Ireland coach off to a winning start with a 40-9 win over Samoa at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

The former Leinster boss was the first to acknowledge that stiffer tests will come against Australia, in Dublin this Saturday, and world champions New Zealand, at the Aviva a week later.

But Ireland could only beat what was put in front of them and they did just that last Saturday against an injury hit Samoan side that finally capitulated in a one way second half.

For the record, debutant Dave Kearney scored two tries, one of them set up by his brother Rob.
Peter O’Mahoney, Fergus McFadden and Sean O’Brien also crossed the Samoan line on a night that marked the return to international action of Brian O’Driscoll and captain-elect Paul O’Connell.

With Ulster youngster Paddy Jackson making an impression as he kicked 15 points in the absence of the injured Jonny Sexton, it was a happy if relieved Schmidt who addressed the media afterwards.

Admitting that he was nervous ahead of his debut as a coach at this level, Schmidt was mindful that Ireland will need to up the ante against Australia this coming weekend.

“We’ll get a reality check when we look at it again. Too many line-breaks from the Samoans. And we can’t afford to do that against Australia. If they get on top they are extremely dangerous,” Schmidt said.

“If we open up too many options for them, they will take them.  We are very, very aware of the threat Australia pose.

“If someone manages to find Israel Folau, or Adam Ashley-Cooper next week, then we will find ourselves in trouble.

“We worked hard enough but we offered too much ball back to them. We made three times as many tackles as them in the first half.

“Going forward to next week and the week after I don’t think we can afford to be that untidy with the ball.”

Lions legend O’Driscoll marked his return to action with a typical performance in the center of the Irish midfield that included some great attacking play.

And Leinster colleague Fergus McFadden, set up for his try by Dricco, had no doubts about his teammate’s input to Irish sport, never mind the rugby team, in O’Driscoll’s final season as a professional.

McFadden said, “We’ve got to cherish these last few months with Brian, big time. It’s been a pleasure playing with him and obviously hopefully I’ll play with him plenty for the rest of the season.

“I don’t know what he’s going to do next year; he keeps his cards pretty close to his chest with everyone, not just with the public.

“But it’s been a pleasure, playing with him for both Leinster and Ireland. In my opinion he’s the greatest Irish sportsman of all time.

“Regardless of what he does this year I think he is already at the top of the list for Irish sportsmen. So it’s been amazing to play alongside someone of that level, and long may it continue for the rest of the season. It would be great to have some silverware to back it up as well.”

Ireland coach Schmidt was also happy with the contribution of his icons O’Driscoll and O’Connell in a new look side.

“I spoke to Brian after the game and he felt he could have gone the whole 80, but the tank was starting to run dry after 55,” Schmidt said.

“He was relatively happy to see Ian Madigan heading his way, but he really enjoyed himself. It wasn’t vintage Dricco but it’s a step towards it.

“And Paul really enjoyed it, enjoyed stretching his legs. I thought he brought real value off the bench.”
Ulster star Jackson came in for praise from his new coach. 

“I thought Paddy was really assured. Our kicking out of the hand wasn’t as good as it could have been at times. We’ll have to kick better out of hand across the board against Australia,” Schmidt said.

“But Paddy did marshal everyone really well and it was an assured performance from Paddy. It’s not easy to come into that mix and control things like that, but I think we saw the evidence of his club form helping him settle.”

Sexton Ready for Aussie Return
JONNY Sexton, named as Player of the Year by Ireland’s rugby writers on Monday night, is a certainty to come straight back into the international team for Saturday’s Aviva Stadium clash with Australia.

Sexton has recovered from the hip injury that kept him out of the win over Samoa and is available for selection along with new captain Paul O’Connell.

But Ulster flanker Chris Henry is out for at least six weeks with a hamstring injury picked up in the first-half of the Samoa game.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt admitted, “We would have to strongly consider Jonny coming back in. He does bring that experience and that quality that we know he has.