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Friday 18 August 2017

Schmidt should not offload Big Mac

Joe Schmidt has often talked about the need to part with the ball on your own terms, not just throwing it out there for the sake of it: Reuters / Henry Browne
Joe Schmidt has often talked about the need to part with the ball on your own terms, not just throwing it out there for the sake of it: Reuters / Henry Browne

Ireland centre Stuart McCloskey could bring about a change in Ireland's allergy to offloading.

Coach Joe Schmidt has often talked about the need to part with the ball on your own terms, not just throwing it out there for the sake of it.

This begins with the ball carrier being dominant through contact and McCloskey is adamant there is no embargo on one of his perceived strengths.

"A lot of people say I throw a lot of offloads, but I don't throw as many as people say I do," he said.

"I threw two at the weekend, but with Ulster in 18 games I think I've only thrown 25 offloads.

"I suppose that's a reasonably large amount, but there is a lot I've held when I could've thrown them."

The Six Nations statistics reveal Ireland threw one offload against Wales, two against France and two against England, even thought they were down to Mike Ross and Josh van der Flier, not McCloskey.

These statistics are far from completely reliable.

They do, however, give an overall view of how nations play the game.

"It's all about winning that collision point first and then having a look and, if it's not there, you can maybe bring the ball back in," added McCloskey.

No Point

"If you don't win the collision first, then there's no point in offloading it because you're just putting crap on to someone else really."

Of course, it doesn't hurt that the former Bangor Grammar boy is so much more than a blunt force instrument for change.

There is a lot of subtlety to his game which emanates from rugby life before his teenage growth spurt made him a giant among three-quarter men.

"When I was in fifth year, which would have been upper sixth up North, I was playing '9,' then played '10' in lower sixth and then moved out to '12,'" he said.

From there, the curve has been sharply upward for the Dungannon and Ulster inside man.

"Yeah, I came out of school and played with Dungannon for a year and sort of got picked up at the end of that year.

"I was 20 when I went into the Sub-Academy, then did a year's Sub-Academy and did a year Academy, a year Development (contract) and then Senior.

"It's been pretty fluent once I got in there; it just took me a while to get into the whole set-up."

The dream to play for Ireland kind of crept up on him much like the growth in height and weight for the 6'4," 110 kilos back.

"I think it probably grew on me more in that first year out of school, when I was playing well with Dungannon.

"People were sort of talking of me going into the academy and stuff like that there.

"But I don't think I ever dreamed of playing for Ireland four years later."

The late-blooming, meteoric rise has left McCloskey short of big match experience.

He has much to learn in international rugby, coach Schmidt citing his looseness with the ball to cough up two turnovers at Twickenham.

It was low-lighted in Schmidt's review of where Ireland went wrong when they had the ball.

"I think all the reviews are daunting, even the training reviews," he shared.

"I think the whole stance in training is the way he views the game, so every review you go into, if you've done something wrong you'll hear about it."

Meanwhile, Ireland's kicking and skills coach Richie Murphy weighed in behind Schmidt on the need to review the rules about kicking at the breakdown.

He did this by alluding to how lucky scrum-half Conor Murray was to escape greater damage to his eye.

"Conor was quite lucky, he got split just on the corner of his eye and there is no damage, thank God," he said. "He didn't train today, we're just looking after him a little bit.

Bumped up

"He's obviously a bit bumped up. He got a bit of treatment during that game, so it's a case of looking after him."

On the wider issue of player safety, Murphy would like to see a fine tooth-comb examination of the growing tendency for players to kick out at the breakdown.

"The rule is you can kick a ball in a ruck," he said. "You are supposed to have duty of care as well for players that are within that ruck.

"That might be something that World Rugby need to look at and decide what way they are going to go with."

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