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Monday 5 December 2016

Furlong for Ross shows value of new school skills

Tadhg Furlong during Ireland squad training at Carton House
Tadhg Furlong during Ireland squad training at Carton House

When the 2015 World Cup loomed, former England centre Will Greenwood cited the skills of the New Zealand forwards as their trump card.

One year on, Ireland drew on the pass-catch ability of their big men to widen their scope to hurt the All Blacks.

"I think it shows how they're developing as players," said the Irish skills and kicking coach Richie Murphy.

"There's always a focus on handling and passing when the guys are in here in Ireland camp and that's the same for the provinces."

No doubt, the New Zealand-founded impact on the skills of Connacht's representatives, Ulster's commitment to a skills-based game and the new found playing ambition of Munster and Leinster contribute to extend Ireland's game options.

One interpretation of Joe Schmidt's reign is that offloads are considered high risk and forwards moving the ball a chance too great to risk.

The recent signs are that is changing.

"We've never told our forwards not to pass," said Murphy.

"Why do you pass? Because there's a guy in a better position than yourself.

"It's up to the guys to read that and make good decisions on the back of what they see."

It looks like the greatest example of this can be located in the replacement of Tadhg Furlong for Mike Ross.

This is where new school meets old school as Furlong's fine Gaelic games background makes him a natural ball player.

There is a seismic difference in what the New Ross can offer outside the scrum.

There are the hands to move the ball and the mobility to get into position to make a positive difference.

For example, there are few, if any, tight-head props around the world that could have taken down Ben Smith in open play like Furlong did in the first half in Chicago.

"In the game in Soldier Field, our skills were as good, if not slightly stronger, than the All Blacks on the day," noted Murphy, the former Leinster fly-half.

"One week to the next that can change, but the skill level is still the skill level of the player."

This is where the hard-up defence favoured by Andy Farrell puts a premium on the skills of Ireland's foes.

"Time and pressure changes a lot when it comes to the skill level," shared Murphy.

"If you're allowed time and space, people will make good decisions.

"When time and space is crowded and there are bodies in front of you, that's when things will change.

"If you're forcing things and you think you can get it there rather than know you can get it there, that's probably the difference between a ball staying up or going down."

Ultimately, this was the reason behind the All Blacks dropping and putting balls on the floor out on Soldier Field.

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