The honeymoon came to an abrupt end for new Ireland coach Joe Schmidt at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday as Australia racked up a 32-15 win against their hosts – and that with a team recovering from one beer too many in Dublin’s Fair City.
It was only two days after the game that Aussie coach Ewan McKenzie decided to take action and ban six of his players for staying out too late in the Irish capital on the Tuesday night before the second game in the aptly named Guinness series.
McKenzie took swift action against the six who, he said, had partaken of a few beers too many and hadn’t prepared themselves properly for an international match of real importance.
Imagine how that reflects on an Ireland side that conceded four tries to the marauding Wallabies, one of them scored by winger Nick Cummins who was later identified as one of the players who had engaged in “inappropriate levels of alcohol” according to McKenzie.
Ireland’s performance was full of errors and doubts, many of them self-inflicted as flanker Michael Hooper and Cummins scored early tries to set the tone for a game that saw the Aussies lead by 15-6 after 29 minutes and by 15-12 at halftime.
The home team, watched by new soccer boss Martin O’Neill and his assistant Roy Keane, had offered some hope with three penalties in the first-half from the ever reliable Jonathon Sexton.
But a hamstring injury just before halftime ended Sexton’s involvement, and when a mistake by young Luke Marshall allowed Cooper in for the killer third try in the 46th minute, the game was as good as over.
Leinster’s Ian Madigan kicked Ireland’s only score of the second half as Hooper grabbed his second try and Cooper completed his personal 17 point tally.
Not even the late dismissal of center Tevita Kuridrani, for a dangerous tackle on Peter O’Mahony, could diminish the quality of the Australian win.
And Ireland coach Schmidt, victorious in his first game in charge a week earlier against Samoa, wasn’t afraid to admit where it all went wrong afterwards when he spoke to RTE.
“I think it was more than defense. We probably still didn’t kick as well as we needed to. We often had to kick under pressure. I thought Israel Folau was very dominant in the air and it didn’t allow us to get any ball back when we were trying to clear our own area,” Schmidt said.
“We struggled a bit at set-pieces, turned over our first line-out and turned over another one when we had an opportunity to drive at the line and maybe get back into the game. I felt just before halftime we fought our way back into the game. The defending wasn’t good enough but at 15-3 we fought our way back to 15-12.
“After halftime, losing Jonny Sexton didn’t help. He just gives us that organization. Having said that, it is valuable experience for Ian Madigan and he fought really hard in the position he was put into.
“Unfortunately the result is what it is and the Australians deserved it.”
World champions New Zealand, looking to finish 2013 with a 100 percent record from 14 tests, are next up for Ireland at the Aviva on Sunday.
And Schmidt knows his team will be in deep trouble against the Kiwis, particularly if they repeat the mistakes of the Australia game.
“We know how good New Zealand are, we knew how good the Australians were. All we can do is prepare as best we can. That will start with trying to recover from this game over the next 48 hours,” Schmidt said.
Saturday’s game marked Paul O’Connell’s return to the starting team and his re-introduction as captain of the national side. It also served as a wake-up call for the big Munster forward, who says Ireland has to adapt to the ways of new coach Schmidt and soon.
“Joe talks about the inches in rugby matches, and I think Australia won a lot of them. They got a few scrum turnovers, and a few at the breakdown too,” O’Connell said.
“You could see how high their emotion was in comparison to ours when we got our turnovers, and that was disappointing from our point of view.
“I suppose for a few of us we’ve a little bit to learn under Joe, there’s a lot of technical stuff we need to get right. But you can’t lose track of that intensity and that aggression that’s required at test rugby as well.”
Schmidt places huge emphasis on accuracy with the ball when his teams are in possession, and O’Connell acknowledged that is something the Ireland team needs to adapt to.
“The accuracy we talked about in the week, and since we’ve come into camp, it wasn’t there. We can put pressure on teams by just keeping the ball and staying in their half, and unfortunately we didn’t do that,” O’Connell said.
“We need to be accurate if we want to deliver what we intend. That was disappointing from our point of view to see a lot of what they were doing, at the scrum, the line-out and at the breakdown: they were very accurate and very hard at what they were doing.”
Racing Metro out-half Sexton and Kiwi legend Dan Carter will have to wait another day for a battle of the number 10s. Carter is definitely out of the clash between Ireland and New Zealand after picking up an injury after 26 minutes of his 100th cap against England on Saturday.
And Sexton is a serious doubt for the final game of the autumn series after he pulled a hamstring.
Schmidt expects to have Rob Kearney fit for the New Zealand match despite an injury sustained late in the game against the Aussies.
Ireland fell to seventh in the world rankings following Saturday’s defeat.