Can Ireland Finish on Positive Note?

All Blacks vs. Ireland

Ireland need to back up last weekend with another strong display. (c) Geof Wilson.

I’ll put my hand up and admit I did not see that Irish performance coming in the 2nd test. In fact, I had predicted another heavy loss for Ireland. I’m delighted that I was proven utterly wrong. The physicality ferocity shown by Declan Kidney’s side was something we haven’t seen since the shock win over Australia at last year’s World Cup. In the immediate aftermath of the 2nd test, I wrote about the frustration caused by Ireland’s inconsistency. If Ireland fail to put in a similar performance tomorrow, is this tour a failure? What do we need to see tomorrow to call it a success?

Obviously, Kidney and his squad will demand a similar level of intensity from themselves this weekend. Ireland showed in that 2nd test that they’re a match for any side when they front-up physically and work hard for 80 minutes. That needs to become a given for Ireland. While I recognise that it’s impossible to be at 100% every single weekend, Ireland need to push themselves to the limit every time they take to the field. Regardless of tactics, moves and other technical aspects, that determination and focus should be mandatory.

The difference in attitude between the 1st and 2nd tests was stark. Frankly, the approach to the 1st test was not up to scratch, and the players themselves will recognise that. It’s true that the All Blacks were nowhere near their best last Saturday, but that shouldn’t enter the equation. The fact is that Ireland gave Dan Carter and his buddies less scope to run riot than they did in the 1st test. So first off, and most importantly, Ireland need to match last weekend’s physicality and intensity. Even without that elusive first win, that would be progress.

All Blacks vs. Ireland

Ireland’s attacking shape was better in test 2. (c) Geof Wilson.

In terms of game plan, Kidney and Les Kiss must stress the importance of taking points from our visits to the All Blacks’ third of the pitch. There were too many missed opportunities in that regard last time out. Spilled ball, accidental offsides and overthrown lineouts have to be cut out. While I’m not suggesting that Ireland slow down their possession, patience is important. One of the encouraging things about the 2nd test was how Ireland worked hard to keep their shape in attack, particularly in the build-up to Conor Murray’s try.

While Murray was eventually forced to slow things down just before he snuck over, the phases preceding that were impressive. The forwards worked hard to get into good positions to carry ball, and there were options out the back too. That meant Murray had less to think about it at the base of the ruck, and as a result, his service looked quicker. Ireland’s defensive breakdown work has been a real strength on this tour, but as pointed out by Kiss, we need to be more clinical in cleaning out rucks in attack. The ball needs to be on a plate for Murray.

In defence, Ireland are always at their best when they’re proactive, rather than reactive. By that I mean they need go looking to make hits, rush up hard at times to shut down the All Blacks and generally put them under pressure. Of course this requires excellent communication, something that was patently absent in the 1st test. Again, the 2nd test brought great improvement but there were one or two occasions when Ireland sat back in defence, notably in the build-up to Aaron Smith’s try. The Six Nations loss to Wales this year showed how badly a soft, drifting defence suits Ireland. Another aggressive defensive effort would be further progress.

All Blacks vs. Ireland

Ireland should attack the All Blacks’ scrum. (c) Geof Wilson.

It goes without saying that Ireland should target the scrum, particularly with Romain Poite refereeing. He will always reward the side going forward, so more of what we saw in the 2nd half of the 2nd test is necessary. Ireland’s mindset at the scrum can develop into a destructive one. In terms of personnel, Declan Fitzpatrick should be given 20 or 3o minutes in order to continue his progress. He showed real promise in the 1st test and wouldn’t represent a huge risk.

It’s a positive that Dan Tuohy, Donnacha Ryan, Fergus McFadden, Peter O’Mahony and Kevin McLaughlin are all getting more exposure to international rugby. They will all greatly benefit from it. Ryan in particular has stood out and is starting to look really comfortable at this level. Tuohy has had two tests to find his feet and needs to match his second-row partner tomorrow. McFadden may not be a natural winger, but similarly he needs to show some attacking edge to repay Kidney’s loyalty.

To sum it up, if Ireland show a similar level of intensity and physicality, continue to improve their attacking shape, keep their defence proactive, attack the scrum and demand more from the new faces, this tour will have been a genuine success. It may seem like quite a lot to ask for, but these players will demand it of themselves. After the 1st test, I never imagined I would be saying that Ireland have developed on this tour. Regardless of the result tomorrow, if Ireland turn in a similar, or even better performance than the 2nd test, that would represent clear positive progress.

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Photos courtesy: Geof Wilson.

5 responses to “Can Ireland Finish on Positive Note?

  1. I think inserting the mid-week call-up who is giving up 30kg to his opposite number will prove a tactical misstep this week and we’ll end up seeing a rampaging SBW. hope to be proven wrong…

    • Yeah good point Mike. Not the selection I would’ve gone with but I’d be happy to be wrong again! It’s a real physical mismatch, and although Wallace is a brave defender, he’s limited by his size. Hopefully he can add something in attack with his subtle playmaking skills. He had a great season for Ulster but I’ve never been convinced by him at international level.

  2. A real hiding from the AB’s. I thought the damage was done in the period Cruden was on the field.

    Aaron Smith superb as usual- reminds me more and more of Bachop.

    I thought the AB loose forward trio might be their undoing in Hamilton, but Cane, Messam and Richie were fabulous

    • That was hard to watch… Cruden was superb during his time on the field as you said, 21-0 up after 20 minutes, there was no coming back from that. He’s a different player to the one we saw at the World Cup last year.

      As for A. Smith, totally agree with you. Never saw Bachop playing but his passing was apparently quality? Smith’s speed of delivery is just incredible. At time it looks like he doesn’t even draw back his arms before giving the pass, so wristy, but so accurate and the longer passes are no trouble at all for him.

      Once again agree on their back-row, all excellent. Richie was back to his best and owned the breakdown, several fantastic turnovers. Cane is a brilliant prospect. And he certainly looks like he’ll be a better ball-carrier than McCaw at 7 whenever he takes over. As for Messam, I’ve always been surprised he’s not been capped more, talented player. He looked so up for it, and proved his point for sure! Every All Black did well today. Excellent performance, but equally poor from Ireland.

  3. Firstly, South Africa about 5 years ago had a gorgeous medic/bottle carrier/side-line helper. I don’t know her name or what her real job was, but she was stunning.

    If anyone still has a copy of Saturday’s game, check 25 min 19 sec into the game and a face in the crowd behind Weepiu ‘s shoulder. Has to be the new most beautiful woman in the World!

    As for Ireland and the game. I reckon the only players to come out with positives were Healy, Ryan and possibly Best. Break-evens were Murray and ….. that’s about all.

    O’Driscoll reminds me of an Irish and Lions centre vintage 1974 called Dick Milliken. Never in BO’D’s class but outstanding at his time. He broke his leg, recuperated and came back to try to play at International level again. Tried too hard and failed. BO’D did the same this tour.

    Sexton is good – but needs a well-programmed set of game-plans to function. Not good off-the-cuff or with players from outside his comfort zone regardless of their capabilities. A fact recognised by the Barbarians’ selectors.

    Kidney is a busted flush, his demise exacerbated by the IRFU and the populist (though frequently ignorant of the realities of rugby) press. You don’t need to venture any further than what the Academy system is producing to confirm this fact.

    Take the ‘rising stars’ within the current Irish squad as examples. And compare them to similar ‘products’ of the Welsh and Scottish systems. McFadden? McLoughlin? O’Mahony? Murray? The latter has the advantage of Provincial and National coach support. The rest really only have their Academy selection-criteria and rave press reviews to support their International credentials. It is totally unreasonable to expect the National coaching structure to be the primary source of real game experience to promising juveniles secreted from the system to ‘dry-practice’ skills and physique development.

    Gatland is rightly lauded for giving youth a chance. But, would Davies, North, Halfpenny et al have been picked had they not had regular game exposure allied to their development?

    Let’s be honest. It is unfair and frankly, stupid, to expect a National coach to select players that Provincial coaches don’t except where, say, an established Provincial player has skill-sets outside his normal position.

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