Inside Track with John McIntyre
WE have been critical of the players left out of Joe Schmidt’s Irish squads in the past, but you have got to hand it to the New Zealander for taking the men in green (‘grey’ as it transpired last Saturday) to new levels of competitiveness on the international rugby playing fields.
Having recorded a first ever test victory over the All-Blacks in 2016 and stuffed the already crowned Six Nations champions England at the Aviva last March, Ireland maintained their upward curve under Schmidt with a record-breaking 38-3 defeat of an admittedly wretched South Africa at the weekend.
It’s arguable that Springbok rugby is at an all-time low and some of their kicking in both defence and attack was shocking in the first of the November Internationals, but Ireland still deserve huge credit for going about their business in a clinical and structured fashion, highlighted by tries from Andrew Conway, Rhys Ruddock, Rob Herring and impressive young winger Jacob Stockdale.
Schmidt’s legendary attention to detail is serving Ireland well and though he has yet to deliver a Grand Slam, you get the sense that Conor Murray and company will go close to completing the clean sweep against France, England, Scotland, Wales and Italy for only the second time ever next Spring. It was notable that Ireland had the greater physical presence against South Africa and that also bodes well for their Six Nations campaign.
Naturally, there was huge interest on how Bundee Aki fared on his debut for Ireland. His selection had caused no little controversy, qualifying to play for his adopted country after meeting the three-year resident rule requirement with Connacht. Aki was clearly up for the challenge, typically tackled like a demon and had a solid shift overall.
We have a benign view on Aki’s Irish call up as he is operating within the rules. Furthermore, it’s not as though the New Zealander is a mercenary, having given his body and soul to the Connacht cause since his arrival at the Sportsground. Aki again spared no effort against South Africa and you could see how much playing for Ireland meant to him.
Sure, the promotion of non-natives like Aki, Jared Payne, CJ Stander and Rob Herring to the Irish squad comes at the expense of home grown talent, but that’s what the Republic of Ireland soccer team have been doing for decades. In a curious way, Aki is arguably as much ‘Irish’ as the likes of Tony Cascarino and John Aldridge ever were, but we are straying into dangerous territory now.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.