Last Friday, after Ireland’s Captain’s Run at Eden Park, Dan Sheehan took a moment to take it all in.
for years he watched from home and dreamed of one day getting a chance to walk at the All Blacks home.
You couldn’t blame him at the time for feeling slightly overwhelmed by the whole experience at kick-off. But Sheehan’s appearance has already shown us that he’s a young man enjoying the big occasion.
That fearlessness was on full display again on Saturday night as Sheehan stormed into New Zealand from the start, regularly taking Ireland over the win line with his powerful carry and deceptive footwork.
Sheehan’s pace and power were best summed up in his outstanding role leading up to Keith Earls’ superb team effort.
Over the course of the 18 clinical phases that Ireland put together, Sheehan carried the ball five times – each more effectively than the last.
It takes courage to bring the game to the All Blacks in such a confrontational manner, and when one of the youngest, least experienced players does so, others inevitably draw on that infectious energy.
Ireland needed more of that in the remaining 75 minutes but the way they were able to unlock the New Zealand defense and with Sheehan at the helm they will believe they can do that for a longer period of time this weekend in Dunedin.
No player at Eden Park made more than Sheehan’s 15 carries, which was an impressive 41 yards. Add another nine carries and it’s an impressive change at one of the toughest venues in world rugby.
The 23-year-old’s performance wasn’t flawless, however, but the set pieces, particularly on the line, weren’t just down to the hooker. Certainly Paul O’Connell didn’t think it was Sheehan’s fault.
Technically, Sheehan has an excellent shot, but too often Ireland played a rough ball off the line. O’Connell will do his best to determine if it was the throw, the call, the jump, or the lift. The likelihood is that it was a combination of all of these factors.
Sheehan plays and trains with James Ryan all the time, but too often the many moving parts of the lineup have been out of sync.
Between the Leinster pair, Tadhg Beirne and one of the best lineout operators, Peter O’Mahony, the problems must be fixed because if they don’t, even with Sam Whitelock ruled out through injury, Brodie Retallick and Scott Barrett will doing so interferes with their ball again.
The selection of Barrett in the back row was a sure sign that the All Blacks would target Ireland at the alley. Effectively having a third suspension on your team improves your options on both sides of the ball, and after seemingly somehow escaping citation for his dangerous cleaning from O’Mahony, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Barrett retain the No. 6 jersey would.
The key for Ireland dealing with New Zealand who are following their line-up is that instead of changing their drill which they have put countless hours into, they need to make sure they focus on the smaller details like the gap and speed on the ground, the amount of lift and the throw.
O’Connell will be spreading that message throughout the week because he feels small fixes can make a big difference.
The problems at Scrum time are harder to solve. Sheehan’s size means he’s an unorthodox hooker, but it’s his size that makes him so effective outdoors.
The Dubliner is still adjusting to the demands of the Test level scrum but with Rónan Kelleher injured at home this tour will be huge in terms of Sheehan’s development.
Ireland lack that double whammy with Kelleher and Sheehan in the same matchday squad and although Dave Heffernan was ruled out of the second Test with concussion,
At least Rob Herring will be back. The Ulster hooker is reliable on the alley while he has worked hard to add more on the field.
However, Sheehan is the main man when it comes to this tour. If he can continue his strong performance from last weekend and clean up the standards of his game, he will increase his reputation even more.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/international-rugby/small-fixes-could-make-a-big-difference-to-ireland-but-dan-sheehan-is-now-the-key-man-41817153.html Small fixes could make a big difference for Ireland but Dan Sheehan is the key man now