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Sunday 20 August 2017

Meet the man who has led Ireland's kicking game

Irish stole nine high balls against England

Ireland skills coach Richie Murphy during a press conference
Ireland skills coach Richie Murphy during a press conference

The kicking kings of Ireland have one common denominator - Richie Murphy.

Leinster's former prodigious goal-kicker has been a wanted man wherever he has been, first coming into contact with Joe Schmidt on the Leinster coaching roster in 2010 after doing his time at The Academy under Colin McEntee.

It goes without saying Schmidt doesn't suffer fools and the coach went after the Greystones man as the final piece to his management jigsaw, making him the only coach to work with province and country at present.

Don't be fooled into thinking Murphy is another Mark Tainton. Sure, the kicking is his baby. But he has given life to ideas at Leinster and now at Ireland.

The all-inclusive brain-storming sessions are there for everyone to "add value."

Of course, any coach is only as good as the tools he has at his disposal and Murphy is fortunate to work with Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray, the best half-back kicking double act in international rugby.

CONTESTABLE

Ireland kicked the ball 44 times against England's 27 last Sunday. The more salient fact is that 25 of them were contestable.

Nine were recovered, the most significant being Robbie Henshaw's killer try for seven points.

You can be sure Murphy was central to that strategy, technically and tactically.

"The challenge in the air is a big thing and it is still a hot topic now," he said on the 'Down the Blind Side' podcast.

"Players just have to make good decisions when they are in that area. If they're going to go for the ball, they have to be there in time and make sure that it's a jumper's situation rather than their guy getting in the air first.

"On that, the kicking side of your game is only as good as that chase. We're very lucky in Ireland that we have guys with the ability of Simon Zebo, Tommy Bowe, Rob Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald, all very good in the air.

"It is a tactic that suits us in Ireland."

The gaelic skills of the bulk of the three-quarter line allied to Jared Payne's experience at full-back make for a varied aerial bombardment.

"The ability then of Johnny (Sexton)and Conor (Murray) to be able to put that ball on the mark more times than not is really important.

"Playing against England, (they have a) big defensive line, loads of line speed and hold their width across the pitch really well. We felt it was an area we had to go behind and change their mentality."

The ball in the air is worth chasing when the computable factors are achieved. Oh yes, even the kick has been calculated scientifically.

"We have a number in our head that we know is contestable for distance and time," said Murphy.

"But it's quite hard because every situation is slightly different. We have an area we work between 20-25 metres. We know our kickers can get to it and contest in the air. That is kind of where we are."

There are also a number of options to be considered by the chaser as the ball drops to earth. The original goal is as constant as the kicks themselves.

"Option one, get the ball in the air, catch it. We set our standards high in trying to retrieve balls. We want to take the ball in the air all the time.

"Option two, try and get a touch on it, to keep it on our side.

"If you're not contesting, you'll notice that really early. We want them to pull out and deal with the situation on the ground."

"We want one guy to go for the ball and try to fill up the spaces around it."

There is the kick. There is the chase. There is the recovery of possession. At the end of the line, there are the points that have to be accumulated.

On this score, Ireland have been on the money. They have missed four kicks this season, three in November and one in the Six Nations, the one Sexton pulled slightly left of target on Sunday.

First choice Sexton is coming in at just over 90%, Ian Madigan at 89-90% and Ian Keatley at 100% against Italy.

More recently, Ireland's goal-kickers have landed 17 kicks out of 18 in the Six Nations in the first three rounds for a stunning reward measured at 94.35%

And the man behind these men? Murphy.

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