Irish have work to do after struggle with USA
NEW PLYMOUTH, 11 Sept. - Ireland ground out an unconvincing 22-10 Pool C victory against USA in freezing wind and rain at Stadium Taranaki on Sunday.
Despite dominating possession and territory, the Irish were often frustrated by a ferocious Eagles defence and Brian O’Driscoll admitted his team played poorly.
“We didn’t play well, we played to win. It’s a job done I suppose,” he said.
"You have to win ugly at times. Today might not have been a thing of beauty but we got across the line.
"We will work on our individual performances coming into our match against Australia. There are plenty of things we can look at and fix. We shouldn't put that much ball down.”
Ireland were almost kept scoreless in what was a forgettable first half for them. Only a Jonathan Sexton penalty and a converted Tommy Bowe try on the stroke of half-time troubled the scoreboard despite their forward pack enjoying near-total dominance of set pieces.
The USA’s resistance was led by Todd Clever. The openside flanker was everywhere – slowing down Irish ruck ball, supporting ball carriers and piling up bodies on the side of the ruck like a man who knew he had to lead by example.
"He's an inspirational captain and he had a massive game today. He led the team well and we needed someone out there to do that," US head coach Eddie O’Sullivan said.
Clever was supported by a willing, if inexperienced, forward pack and excellent defending from backs Paul Emerick, Andrew Suniula and Takudzwa Ngwenya.
But enthusiasm and ferocious defence could only do so much against a forward pack that was fitter, faster and better disciplined. The Irish outmuscled the USA and spent almost all of the second half camped inside the USA half.
It was telling that all of Ireland’s three tries came on the back of dominant forward displays. The first came after a powerful Ireland scrum, when wing Bowe took advantage of exhausted forward defenders.
In the second half, hooker Rory Best powered over after a fearsome maul which rolled almost 20 metres, before another maul gave the backline plenty of space to gift Bowe his second five pointer.
Ireland coach Declan Kidney’s gamble on handing Conor Murray his first start at scrum half was a partial success at best. He and fly half Sexton were replaced by Eoin Reddan and Ronan O’Gara early in the second half.
Kidney defended the decision despite Sexton missing four of his five penalty attempts.
"Conor and Johnny (Jonathon Sexton) did OK,” Kidney said. "The plan was always to give him (Murray) some game time.
"USA put pressure on us. Obviously, I thought Johnny played well with ball in hand but the two tries (scored after the substitution) were from a team effort and not from the substitutes (O'Gara and Reddan)."
It was not all bad news for Ireland: blindside flanker Stephen Ferris was a brutal presence with the ball in hand and was ably supported by man of the match Paul O’Connell who was tireless in his work at the breakdown.
On this evidence, USA are a vastly improved side from the one which lost every match at RWC 2007, while Ireland, at the moment, remain a long way from their best.
USA play Russia on 15 September in New Plymouth, while Ireland face the Wallabies at Eden Park on 17 September.