Tag Archives: Ireland

All Blacks Far Too Clinical

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Ireland started this game well and enjoyed the better of the opening 20 minutes. Their attacking play was very encouraging after some of the stodge served up in recent years. Sexton looked to put width on the ball and got his backline running from depth. The outhalf also added a few well-judged kicks in behind the All Blacks to mix play up. Ireland managed to create several openings (see Keith Earls at 22.05 in vid) but crucially didn’t take any of these half-chances.

The All Blacks were uncharacteristically sloppy during that period and indeed, after the opening quarter, the handling errors were 5-0 in Ireland’s favour. But the hosts recovered in supreme fashion. Savea’s massive hit on Kearney in the 18th minute (27.00) allowed Carter to stroke over a gorgeous penalty from half-way to make it 9-3 on the scoreboard. With that, the All Blacks started to take control. A sustained period of pressure inside the Irish 22 ultimately led to the game’s first try.

Ireland actually managed to repel the original attack and O’Brien won one of many Irish penalties at the breakdown. That phase of defending clearly tired the Irish as first Sexton got very little distance on the penalty and then Murray’s poor box kick was clinically punished by the All Blacks. The scrumhalf’s kick went from Ireland’s 22 to the NZ 10 metre line, far too long. The Irish chase could perhaps have been better, but Murray’s kick is the dream scenario for a counter-attack.

Reddan

Reddan needs to start next Saturday. (c) Nigel Snell.

The All Blacks recognised the situation immediately. They were ruthless in taking the opportunity. Earls and McFadden should have done better with the switch between Conrad Smith and SBW, but it was clearly advantage to the attacking team in that situation. Smith took out two defenders, then so too did Williams with his offload. Carter actually had three options to give the scoring pass. A sniff of a try and every single one of the All Blacks snapped into action. Clinical. (Starts at 34.35).

That was actually Murray’s second overly-long kick of the game. Check out 21.40 for a similar kick earlier in the game. This weakness in Murray’s game is something I’ve mentioned before. Munster conceded a strikingly similar try against Northampton earlier this season. Overall, the kicks summed up a poor display from the scrumhalf. Before the game, I backed him to provide speedier service than usual but it didn’t happen. Reddan must start next Saturday, especially if Ireland look to spread the ball again. All Blacks’ debutant Aaron Smith showed Ireland exactly what they were missing with his crisp delivery. Smith has since claimed he wants to speed the game up even more next weekend.

The 2nd All Blacks try also originated from an Irish mistake. In the 34th minute, Ireland knocked a penalty into the corner 5 metres from the NZ tryline. An efficient lineout followed and then Murray hit O’Driscoll on a flat line. The captain threw a poorly judged offload and the All Blacks countered the length of the field. After the match, O’Driscoll spoke about the need for Ireland to be more patient in attack. I’ve no doubt he was talking about himself. It was a superb opportunity for Ireland to score before the break, completely wasted. (Starts at 43.57).

Sexton

Sexton had a positive game. (c) Ken Bohane.

3 minutes after O’Driscoll’s offload attempt, Savea bashed over Kearney in the left-hand corner. While Israel Dagg showed decent footwork and a nice pass to put Savea down the touchline, the try really showed that Fergus McFadden is not an international-level winger, defensively at least. He’s a centre and should play there from now on. Essentially, the situation was a three-on-three and there was no need for McFadden to bite in. NZ exposed him badly, taking two phases in close after the lineout and then attacking down the blindside in McFadden’s channel. (Starts at 48.06).

So Ireland went from an attacking situation where they could have reduced a 16-3 deficit just before the break, to going in 23-3 down at half-time. This was further compounded by conceding within 5 minutes of the second-half. There’s a strange similarity here between Ireland’s rugby and football teams this weekend. Trapattoni’s men conceded in the 43rd and 48th minutes, while Kidney’s side let in scores in the 37th and 43rd minutes. Both 5-minute spells proved to be decisive in the games. Something in the Irish psyche?

Savea’s hattrick try just after half-time was the killer blow. Once again, the All Blacks’ possession stemmed from an Irish error. Attacking down the short side, o’Driscoll left a pass behind Earls and NZ won a lineout. Again, the All Blacks immediately recognised the opportunity. While it wasn’t quite a quick lineout, the ball came out of touch sppedily. Sonny Bill banged it up the middle, then Earls got too narrow in defence, allowing Retallick to offload. In that kind of space, Carter, Dagg and Savea are lethal. Simon Zebo should have done better with his covering tackle, but the damage was done earlier. (Starts 58.35).

This guy’s pretty good eh? (c) Adidas Italy.

With Carter kicking accurately from the tee that was 30-3 and Ireland done and dusted. They managed a consolation score after good work from Rory Best. McFadden got the chance to show his pace but it was an opportunistic try rather than a cleverly constructed score. (Starts 1.06.15). Thomson crossed for the All Blacks’ in the 55th minute immediately after the impressive Declan Fitzpatrick left the field. Ireland’s scrum went backwards and with Heaslip’s head down trying to scrummage, the space was there for Read to offload. (1.14.14).

The All Blacks became less clinical after that score, which meant that Ireland were spared more punishment on the scoreboard. They didn’t score again until the 78th minute, when Conrad Smith straightened his line in between two inexperienced players, Darren Cave and Zebo. One of the two should have got a hit in on Smith, but both made bad reads and the classy New Zealander went through untouched. Both players will have learned from it, and hopefully they get a chance to improve next weekend.

So positives for Ireland? I was really impressed with Fitzpatrick on his debut. He certainly dealt with the considerable challenge of Tony Woodcock, and Ireland’s scrum was really solid until his departure. Hopefully, his glutes are ready for next weekend and he can get at least another 40 minutes in. Interestingly, Ireland dominated at the breakdown, winning lots of turnovers. The first 20 minutes was encouraging from Ireland. If they can be inspired by the All Blacks’ clinical finishing, we should see a few more scores on Saturday.

Still, the All Blacks will get stronger too. They are playing with a bit more freedom now that the World Cup monkey is off their backs. They are on a different level to Ireland, and it would be a miracle to beat them in the next two tests. However, there’s still value to be taken from the games. More of the attacking intent, cut out the unforced mistakes and see guys like Tuohy, Zebo, Fitzpatrick and Cave learn lessons from the step-up.

What did you make of the game? What changes would you make for next weekend? Who did well and who did poorly in your opinion? As always, any comments are welcome!

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Photos courtesy: Ken Bohane, Nigel Snell, Adidas Italy.

All Blacks Watch: The Debutants

(c) Aftab Uzzaman.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has named three uncapped players in his team to take on Ireland in the 1st Test tomorrow. None of the selections are very surprising, with Brodie Retallick, Aaron Smith and Julian Savea all deserving their chance. So how have they earned their first caps for the best international team in the world? Let’s take a closer look at each player and the form they carry into this series.

Second-row Brodie Retallick turned 21 only a week ago. He was an integral part of the New Zealand Under 20s side who claimed a 4th successive Junior World Championship title last year. From there, the 121kg lock went straight into an ITM Championship (the level below the likes of Canterbury, where new Munster coach Rob Penney had so much success) campaign with Hawke’s Bay. Retallick played a key role as the ‘Magpies’ earned promotion to the ITM Premiership, coincidentally beating Aaron Smith’s Manawatu side in the final.

In Ireland, lack of size and strength is very often an issue with our young second-rows. That’s never been a problem for the freakish Retallick. In fact, he has actually dropped weight since his school days, where he tipped the scales at 126kg. That made him hard to get off the ground at the lineout but he has since shed a few kgs and is now superb in the air. He’s also the tallest player in New Zealand rugby at almost 6’9′. His physical readiness meant Retallick went straight into the Chiefs’ first XV in this year’s Super Rugby campaign.

Retallick takes a switch off SBW at Chiefs’ training. (c) One Arm Photography.

The Chiefs sit top of the overall table coming into this break for the international tours. Retallick has been important to the Chiefs’ success. His work at the lineout has been impressive and his engine is huge. The 21-year-old is exceptionally fit. He recently beat Brad Thorn’s long-standing beep test record for a tight-five forward in New Zealand. That highlights Retallick’s impressive work ethic. He’s 6th in the Super Rugby tackling charts, with 169 in just 12 games.

Another of the lock’s strengths has been his work at the breakdown. Not in the sense of steals, but rather his effectiveness in cleaning out rucks during the Chiefs’ attack. Encouragingly, Retallick turned in perhaps his poorest display of the season in the Chiefs’ last match, a thrilling 41-34 win over the Blues. The 21-year-old forced a few offloads and passes and generally looked a little uncomfortable. From an Irish point of view, hopefully the added pressure of an All Blacks jersey results in something similar on Saturday.

Aaron Smith takes over in the 9 jersey. World Cup scrumhalf Piri Weepu has been struggling badly for fitness and form, but is still included on the bench. Smith is one of a number of exciting young 9s coming through in New Zealand at the moment, with TJ Perenara and Tawera Kerr-Barlow both unlucky to miss out. Smith’s form for the Highlanders means he is deserving of this chance though. His swift and accurate passing has been eye-catching, and much appreciated by the All Blacks selectors.

(c) Highlanders Rugby.

Back in 2008, Smith came off the bench for the New Zealand U20s as they beat England 38-3 in the final of the first-ever Junior World Championship. Following that success, he spent three seasons playing ITM rugby for Manawatu, pushing his way into the Highlanders Super Rugby squad last year, making 3 starts. However, it was the 23-year-old’s form in Manawatu’s run to that Championship final at the tail end of 2011 which really saw Smith announce himself. That convinced Highlanders coach to give Smith the starting role ahead of All Black Jimmy Cowan this year.

Smith has admitted that his focus at the start of this season had been getting starts for the Highlanders, and hadn’t even entertained the notion of an All Blacks cap. His superb performances have been one of the unchanging factors of an inconsistent Highlanders side this season. It seems like an idiotic thing to say about a scrumhalf but you’d be surprised how many don’t do it well – Smith’s main strength is his beautiful passing. He generally doesn’t offer as threatening running game that Perenara or Kerr-Barlow do. In terms of positives for Ireland, Smith is relatively inexperienced, and by his own admission, never expected to be where he will be on Saturday.

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The third new cap is left wing Julian Savea of the Hurricanes. The 21-year-old has been marked out as an All Black for some time now. In 2009, at the age of 18 and fresh out of school he played for the New Zealand Sevens team. The following year his 8 tries helped the NZ U20s to the JWC and saw him named 2010’s IRB Junior Player of the Year. A brilliant ITM Cup campaign for Wellington followed, with Savea scoring 8 tries in 12 games. A full All Blacks call-up would surely have followed sooner than now, but for a poor 2011 season.

The 6’3″ winger progressed to start 7 games for the Hurricanes but was generally quiet and didn’t manage to score a Super Rugby try. An ineffective ITM campaign followed with Wellington and the buzz around Savea died a little. However, this season has seen that buzz reach new heights thanks to his spectacular form for the Hurricanes. 7 tries in 11 games doesn’t tell the whole story. When you see that he’s in the Top 10 for metres gained (817), has made 4 try assists and 8 clean line-breaks you start to get the idea.

(c) Hurricanes Rugby.

At around 105kg, Savea is a big unit. He uses his power to great effect and regularly boshes defenders into the ground (1.14 and 2.07 in the vid below are becoming typical). However, he has neat footwork and general skills too. His Hurricanes teammate Beauden Barret has called Savea’s attacking arsenal the “triple threat“. So any signs of respite for Ireland? While the Hurricanes’ attacking game has lit up Super Rugby (they’re comfortably the top-scorers despite sitting 6th), their defence has been very poor (2nd worst in the table). Savea has been part of that weak defence, and is certainly more interested in attacking. Despite the fact that he’s a big unit, if Ireland can send some traffic down his wing, they may get some change out of the youngster.

The fact that the All Blacks have included three uncapped players does not mean that they’re putting out a weakened or experimental team. The rookies Smith, Retallick and Savea have each earned the chance to wear the famous black jersey. Still, it’s natural that Ireland will view their inexperience as a chink in the armour.

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Photos courtesy: One Arm Photography, Aftab Uzzaman.

Easterby Takes Over at Scarlets

Easterby (left) playing for Ireland in 2007. (c) Eoin Mulvey.

Simon Easterby has been promoted to the position of Head Coach of the Scarlets following Nigel Davies’ move to Gloucester. The appointment marks a swift rise in the coaching ranks for the ex-Ireland flanker, who has been the Scarlets’ Defence Coach for the last two seasons. Easterby is still only 36, having retired at the end of the ’09/10 season due to a knee injury. That final playing season with the Scarlets saw the Yorkshire native in a player-coach role (helping with the forwards), so the progression into the backroom staff was natural.

Next season will see three foreign coaches in charge of the Irish provinces, so it’s encouraging to see an Irish coach being given a chance like this. Easterby’s appointment means there’ll be four Irish coaches in charge of British teams next season, with Conor O’Shea at Harlequins, Mark McCall at Saracens and Michael Bradley at Edinburgh. With our own provinces keen to bring in outside influences, it’s vital that young Irish coaches are getting these chances.

Easterby always looked like an ideal candidate to move into coaching after his playing career. Capped 65 times for Ireland, Easterby was a tough, uncompromising blindside. He always played with awareness and intelligence. His leadership was highlighted by five seasons as Scarlets captain, as well as leading the Irish team in ’05 with O’Connell and O’Driscoll out injured. The manner in which he forced his way into the ’05 Lions test team, after being a late call-up when Lawrence Dallaglio broke his ankle, showed his determination.

Rhys Priestland and George North

Easterby will be working with talented players like Rhys Priestland and George North at the Scarlets. (c) Sum_of_Marc.

The past two seasons have seen the Scarlets finish 5th in the PRO12, but importantly, their defence improved greatly in the season just finished. In the ’10/11 campaign, Easterby’s first in charge of defence, the Scarlets leaked 453 points and 43 tries. This season they reduced those figures to 373 and 30 tries.  In the Heineken Cup, ’10/11 saw Scarlets concede 24 tries and 191 points. This season, that was improved to 9 tries and 124 points. Those are distinct numerical improvements but there has been more to it than stats.

There were several fantastic defensive efforts throughout this season, with one standout being the 16-13 loss to Leinster in February. That day, Leinster needed a brilliant performance from Fergus McFadden, including a last-gasp winning penalty, to overcome a stifling Scarlets effort. The Welsh region’s ‘D’ that day had Easterby’s influence stamped all over it: sheer determination combined with intelligence. A single moment of stupidity from Phil John meant the Scarlets came away with nothing. But performances like that saw Easterby’s reputation in Wales rise.

Scarlets

The Scarlets’ defensive performance against a McFadden-led Leinster in February was impressive. (c) Ken Bohane.

The Scarlets have built a youthful-looking backroom team around Easterby. Ex-Wales winger Mark Jones will be the Backs Coach. His career has followed a similar trajectory to Easterby’s. He was the Scarlets captain in ’09/10 but was forced to retire at the same time as Easterby, also because of a knee injury. Jones went straight into the Scarlets coaching set up as Skills Coach. The 47-times capped Welsh international was part of 2008’s Grand Slam winning team and is still only 32.

36-year-old Danny Wilson joins the region to take up the role of Forwards Coach. He was with the Dragons in the same capacity last season and is the current Wales U20 Head Coach. Wilson doesn’t share his fellow coaches strong playing backgrounds, but is well regarded as a coach having worked with London Welsh , the WRU Academy and various national underage teams.

36-year-old Brad Harrington is another part the backroom set-up. The Australian had a three year spell with Leinster from ’04 to ’07 and also worked with Ireland before the ’07 World Cup. The Scarlets are expected to add another specialist Skills Coach in the coming weeks. It’s a relatively young and inexperienced group of coaches, but in many ways it mirrors the state of the Scarlets’ playing squad for next season.

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Much has been made of the weakening of the Welsh regions, with many big name players leaving for foreign shores. That is a worry for the WRU, but in a Grand Slam year, Wales continue to produce young talent. Easterby has some exciting players to work with at the Scarlets. In Tavis Knoyle, Rhys Priestland, Scott Williams, Jonathan Davies, Liam Williams, George North and the returning Morgan Stoddart, they have a back-line that any team would be envious of. Up front, there may be some work to do in terms of recruitment.

Having lost three second-rows in Damian Welch, Lou Reed and Dominic Day, as well as marauding No.8 Ben Morgan, Easterby will have to find some grunt to supply his backs. The likes of Josh Turnbull, Aaron Shingler and captain Matthew Rees will have to step up more consistently. Still, the Scarlets could certainly do with one or two gritty forwards to complement their talented line-breakers. There’s immediate work for Easterby to get stuck into. Best of luck Simon, Irish fans will be watching with interest!

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Photos courtesy: Sum_of_Marc, Ken Bohane.

Tuohy Deserves His Shot

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Dan Tuohy rises highest in Ulster’s defeat to Leinster last weekend. (c) Ken Bohane.

Declan Kidney has picked four second-rows in his squad to tour New Zealand: Donncha O’Callaghan, Dan Tuohy, Donnacha Ryan and AN Other. Paul O’Connell will take that AN Other slot if he recovers from a knee injury as expected. Devin Toner is unlucky to miss out, as is Mike McCarthy. If he is fit, then O’Connell is obviously one of the first names on the team sheet. I’m confident that he won’t miss this tour. So who should pack down alongside POC in that first test on the 9th of June? The battle for the second-row could be one of the tightest calls Kidney has to make.

The continued selection of O’Callaghan during this year’s Six Nations was the foundation of much of the criticism aimed at Kidney. It was certainly justified. The fact that O’Callaghan hasn’t been commanding a starting place at Munster, coupled with the form of Ryan, Tuohy, McCarthy and Toner made it hard to understand. Kidney’s loyalty has been infuriating for Ireland’s supporters, and O’Callaghan is prime evidence for the accusations.

First off, let me say that I’m not a fan of slagging off individual players. Donnacha O’Callaghan has been a legend for Munster and Ireland. He clearly cares passionately about playing for both teams and it’s obvious that he gives 100%. At his peak he was hugely effective. But he’s now 33 and is past that peak. If that’s so obvious the majority of Ireland fans, then why does Kidney keep picking him? There must be something behind this other than blind loyalty.

THOMOND PARK

O’Callaghan has been a true stalwart for Munster and Ireland. (c) Liam Coughlan.

Trying to get inside the mind of Declan Kidney is not an easy thing to do. Clearly his decision to keep faith in O’Callaghan is swayed by their previous shared successes. Kidney also probably feels that O’Callaghan gives his pack a better balance. With ball-carriers in Healy, O’Brien, Ferris and to a certain extent O’Connell and Heaslip, Kidney probably feels that a workhorse like O’Callaghan is necessary if there’s going to be anyone committing to rucks.

O’Callaghan is probably a good scrummager too, particularly if you judge from his attempts to give Tom Court some helpful advice during the Twickenham Demolition. If that’s the case, and O’Callaghan does give a serious shove from the second-row, then it may go a little further to explaining why Kidney chose him during the Six Nations. But the time has come for O’Callaghan to step aside. The simple fact is that Ryan and Tuohy can do everything that O’Callaghan does, and plenty more.

Ryan will feel that he has earned the starting role alongside O’Connell after his Six Nations displays. He added serious aggression and bite to Ireland’s game each time he played (2 starts, 3 off the bench). Allied to that, the Tipperary man has finally nailed down a definitive starting role at Munster at the age of 28. Ryan surely believes that he has done everything in his power to be named in Ireland’s XV for that first test against the All Blacks.

Donnacha Ryan's lineout copy

Ryan had an impressive Six Nations in what has been a real breakthrough season. (c) Ivan O’Riordan.

Ulster lock Tuohy has been excellent for his province for the entire season. His ball carrying has been increasingly dynamic, his lineout work superb, and he can offload too. The Bristol-born second-row would have been aggrieved that Kidney called up Connacht’s Mike McCarthy as bench cover when O’Connell picked up a knee injury during the Six Nations. The fact that McCarthy had the most recent international exposure was the deciding factor, as appears to be be the case very often with Kidney.

Tuohy kept his head down and continued to excel for Ulster as they earned their place in last weekend’s Heineken Cup final. The 26-year-old was one of Ulster’s standout performers in the 42-12 loss. He made his tackles, hit rucks and secured lineout ball without fuss. On top of that he carried powerfully, something O’Callaghan doesn’t do. The manner in which he bounced off a Sean O’Brien tackle was a surprising and welcome highlight. To top off a strong all-round display, Tuohy popped up out wide to finish after Paddy Wallace’s intelligent offload.

Ryan and Tuohy are the men with momentum and confidence behind them. O’Callaghan’s days as a first-choice international lock are surely now at an end, despite his inclusion in the squad to tour NZ. O’Connell’s complete skills mean that whichever of Ryan or Tuohy are picked, Ireland’s second-row will still have balance. Personally, I’d go for Tuohy and O’Connell for the first test, with Ryan giving versatility and a real impact off the bench.

Would you go for Tuohy or Ryan? Are there any O’Callaghan fans out there? If O’Connell doesn’t recover, would a second-row of Tuohy and Ryan work? As always, feel welcome to leave a comment with your views!

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Photos courtesy: Liam Coughlan, Ken Bohane, Ivan O’Riordan.

The Master and the Apprentice

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Brian O’Driscoll celebrates after Leinster’s magnificent Heineken Cup win on Saturday. (c) Ken Bohane.

There’s plenty of coverage in today’s media of Leinster’s incredible win over Ulster in the Heineken Cup final on Saturday. There’s really no need for me to cover the game in a general sense, because it’s all been said by now. Instead, I’m going to focus on one of the key individual battles which Leinster won. They came out on top of most of these positional match-ups across the field, although Paddy Wallace, Dan Tuohy, John Afoa and Craig Gilroy all impressed.

Having played in the centre myself, the midfield area usually draws much of my attention. Saturday’s game saw a really interesting battle of the master versus the apprentice at outside centre. Brian O’Driscoll is a legend of the game, a once in a lifetime player. Opposite him was Darren Cave, of whom I’m a big fan and had previously suggested worthy of a place on Ireland’s summer tour to New Zealand. Cave’s performance on Saturday was excellent, but O’Driscoll proved far more decisive.

Ulster had a strong start to the game, flying out of the blocks and looking more up for it than Leinster in the first five minutes. Cave made a scything break after just 3 minutes (11.50 mark on the video below) as he dummied to an inside runner, completely bamboozling Leo Cullen. Cave almost got around Rob Kearney for the opening score of the game, but the fullback just held on to him. Cullen recovered well to illegally steal the ball and Leinster got away with their early lack of concentration.

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(c) Ken Bohane.

It was a clear indicator that Ulster’s outside centre was up for this game. In the piece linked above, I wrote that Cave needed some standout displays on the big stage to win over the doubters and the 25-year-old was definitely intent on leaving his mark. He continued to pose a threat to Leinster’s defence for the remainder of the game, with his 11 runs leaving him behind only Ferris and Afoa in Ulster’s carrying stakes. Cave topped the charts for his side in terms of metres gained while in possession, with 41.

Defensively, the main highlight for Cave was his try-saving tackle on Eoin Reddan in the 22nd minute ( starting at 33.20 on the video below) when he came from a long, long way back to grab the scrumhalf after Gilroy had missed his own tackle. Cave has been defensively excellent all season long, with missed tackles a rarity. He reads the game well and more often than not, puts himself in a good position to make his hits. But shackling O’Driscoll was a far greater task than what he had faced previously.

O’Driscoll again proved himself a medical freak to be playing at all. Once again, massive kudos to Leinster’s backroom staff for enabling him to take to the field. The effort was hugely worthwhile, as BOD was a class above almost everyone else on the pitch. There were only two occasions when he got one on one with Cave, but both times he got around his opposite number. O’Driscoll doesn’t possess the same top-end pace as he once did, but his footwork was enough to show Cave that he has a distance to go if he is to challenge for Ireland’s number 13 jersey.

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O’Driscoll’s performance bodes will for Ireland’s prospects in New Zealand. (c) Ken Bohane.

Both times, O’Driscoll shifted his feet, forced Cave to sit back on his heels, then got outside him with a little burst of acceleration. As I said above, Cave’s defensive positioning is a strength and against any other opponent he would have completed the tackles. But O’Driscoll just slipped past him twice. It’s exactly the level that Cave would want to be tested at, and the experience will have been of great benefit to him. (The best example is at 37.36 in the vid below).

O’Driscoll added some world-class touches throughout the game to really stamp his mark. That offload in the build-up to Cian Healy’s try showed exactly how much intelligence and vision Drico possesses. Watch it again from 43.20 in the video and you can see that the Leinster centre knows exactly what he’s going to do  even before the ball is in his hands. Genuinely talented players go through the game with their heads up, scanning the defence and immediately recognising what’s on. It’s yet another example of O’Driscoll’s genius.

Cave appeared to be inspired by the master’s demonstration of skill and even threw in his own little flick pass in the second half, when he ran a switch with Trimble. The flick wasn’t really necessary, but it was encouraging to see that Cave had the confidence to bring it off. And this inspiration is exactly what Cave should be looking to get from the tour to New Zealand now that he has been selected.

He has certainly earned his place on the plane, after what has really been his breakthrough season for Ulster. This is an incredible opportunity for the twice-capped midfielder to take his game to the next level. Training against and learning from O’Driscoll every day will almost certainly show him exactly what he needs to do to push through at international level. Just as playing opposite O’Driscoll on Saturday brought Cave to new heights, touring alongside him is the next step in his learning curve.

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Photos courtesy: Ken Bohane.