US Eagles Give Ireland A Scare

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In an action packed weekend of rugby, we saw the Lions get their first real taste of test experience, France took on the All Blacks in the first of their 3 game series, Scotland, Samoa, South Africa and Italy kicked off the new Quad Cup, the “Emerging Irish” took on Georgia in the newly founded Tbilisi Cup and the Irish senior team nearly lost out to regular whipping boys, the US Eagles. Did you catch all that? Good, let’s get started then.

The standout incident from the Lions game against the Queensland Reds is unfortunately not a good one, the sight of Tommy Bowe near tears with a bandaged hand on the side line representing the likelihood that, at best, he may only be available for the final game after a broken bone sustained during play. It truly is a shame as the starting jerseys were looking more and more to be his and North’s. His omission however means Simon Zebo will join up with the squad on Tuesday, every cloud etc etc. As for the game itself well it was interesting whilst entertaining. The Lions were fielding arguably their weakest possible side and the Reds were up for it. Matt Stevens showed exactly why he shouldn’t be on the tour with a lacklustre display, Alex Cuthbert brought about some concerns over a slightly subdued performance and generally the Lions were a little sloppy. The bench did change things however, once again Sexton bringing about a noticeable change of attitude on field although suffice to say I don’t think we will see him kick anymore points on tour, no need when it means he can solely act as playmaker. The final score would suggest a strong Lions team held off an eager Reds side but more truthfully it was the influence of the replacements, O’Connell as well as Sexton being immense, that helped stop the game turning into an embarrassing loss. Queensland Reds 12 – Lions 22

Before the Lions though France were in Eden Park to begin their three game series against the All Blacks. After their woeful last place finish in the Six Nations there was a lot to prove for the French. Saint Andre hasn’t set the rugby world alight all that much since taking charge, except for a purple patch last November. With this baggage France had that advantage of low expectation and points to prove and for the most part they did it. One or two calls going there way in the final quarter, including at least one that arguably should have, and the game was there’s. The All Blacks struggled early and weren’t helped by the compass malfunction suffered by Aaron Cruden (they will miss Dan Carter so much more than they know). In all France looked good and the remainder of this series should be interesting. New Zealand 23 – 13 France

The new found Quadrangular Tournament between Scotland, Samoa, South Africa and Italy got under way too Saturday. The concept is brilliant and hopefully something similar can continue annually, there will always be four teams available. It’s one thing for these teams to tour, to give them a tangible and competitive reward heightens the significance. Half of it has panned out as expected so far with South Africa thumping Italy. The Boks looked good it has to be said, but Italy did all they could to throw the game away at the same time. Samoa got the better of Scotland in the earlier fixture however which was the true surprise of the weekend. Having faced them eight times with no recorded victories it was a great day for the islanders. Scotland however will only continue their spiral from here, as South Africa will run our comfortably against them and Italy will likely fight wounded and hungry. Still though the importance of the competition remains true, and in all honesty it’s wins, not competitive defeats, that teams like Samoa need. South Africa 44 – 10 Italy + Samoa 27 – 17 Scotland

Finally there was the double Irish involvement of the weekend, with the senior squad in the States to face the team who usually leak them tries, the US Eagles, and an “Emerging Ireland” side was sent to Georgia to compete in the Tbilisi Cup (like the Quadrangular, the Tbilisi is aimed at exposing Tier 2 teams to more competitive Tier 1 nations). Though defined as emerging, the side fielded included such players as Dominic Ryan, Ian Keatley, Michael Bent and Rhys Ruddock. Young they may be, but all of them and more have Heineken Cup credentials and so one would have expected more than for Keatley to have to land two kicks at the closing stages to secure the win. But it’s a scratch team with little coaching, they had an excuse. Unlike the senior team.

It’s hard to reflect on the Ireland fixture against the Eagles quite simply because the high level at which the States played (by their standards) coupled with the disastrous displays from both Ireland and the most incompetent referee in the union just made it insane rugby to watch. Going back to the first point though, credit to the Yanks for making a game of it. As per usual Todd Clever was crucial to their drive and spirit, his half tip tackle on Toner aside that is. But Ireland just had no indication that anything resembling a game plan existed, coupled with some horribly poor individual performances such as the unfortunate Tiernan O’Halloran on a debut to forget and Strauss who was mostly at fault for the abomination that was the Irish line out. But the officiating. Oh dear oh dear. Just to give some examples of the fine work by Argentina ref Pastrana: Clever’s tip tackle on Toner declared a ‘high tackle’, the dominant Irish scrum seeing the ball sit between O’Mahony’s feet but Ireland being told to use it (from the back of a scrum?), going to TMO for the tip tackle and not telling anyone on the pitch what he was doing and my favourite, actually trying to physically pose a prop in order to fix the scrum. A terrible show from a ref who has some way to go before Tier 1 that’s for sure. It was in general a bad show and it was nearly hard not to be willing the Yanks the win by the end but Madigan’s boot made sure that wouldn’t happen. On to Canada and hopefully some new tactics. Ireland 15 – 12 US Eagles

Also let’s not forget amidst all this rugby that the Junior World Cup is also underway and having held firm for a fantastic win over the Australian U20 team, the Irish U20 team emphatically hammered Fiji to find themselves now facing into a pool decider on Thursday against New Zealand. In the fifth area of Irish involvement in rugby this summer, things are looking good!

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