Murray Kinsella reports from Chicago
THE SHEER LEVEL of control that Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton exert for Ireland means it’s often jarring when they’re not on the pitch.
So it proved at Soldier Field on Saturday, particularly in the first half, as Luke McGrath and Joey Carbery struggled to get a firm handle on the game.
There were scrambled exit attempts from their defensive territory that invited pressure back onto Ireland, while their decision-making and play-calling in phase play attack was underwhelming at times.
Carbery and McGrath started for Ireland in Chicago. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Being direct with ball in hand is no bad thing, but too often it looked as though Ireland weren’t asking tough enough questions of the Italian defence – fewer of the pullback passes to second-wave attackers and the loop plays we see when Sexton is on the pitch.
Of course, seven-times capped McGrath and Carbery, making just his fourth Test start, are still learning at this level and it will likely prove to be a valuable experience.
“I think the game was slow and it was all sluggish,” said Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt when asked to assess his halfbacks’ performance.
“I think it’s really hard for halves to inject tempo onto the game if the ball is slow and big pileups are happening and they’re physical defensively.
“A few of [the Italian players] walked past me on the way out, they’re big square-shouldered men and they are hard to break down if it all slows down. So, I thought in the second half they both really picked up the tempo.
“I thought they played really well. If anything, maybe a little bit conservatively in the first half. There were times when they could have tried to open the game up a little bit and we took the more conservative options but those are things that they will look back on and keep learning.
“That’s why they were giving the opportunity. That’s exactly what we want them to do.”
Carbery remains a work in progress at out-half, with his performance including a handful of errors, including kicking the ball into touch on the full in the second half.
Schmidt hopes his halfbacks learn from their experience. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
He also had a pass intercepted by Giulio Bisegni inside the Italian 22 in the opening half, allowing Conor O’Shea’s side to lift the pressure and come back into the game after a poor start.
“He’ll learn from that decision,” said Schmidt. “The last time we were here in Red Bull Arena [in New Jersey], he got charged down twice but he got a charge down today. He’s a kid that learns well and works hard.