Saturday 23 February 2019

Ireland have to cope with state of Israel

Ringrose may be key to wrapping up Folau

DANGERMAN: Australia’s Israel Folau in action against Ireland during the first Test in Brisbane last Saturday. Photo/Tertius Pickard/AP
DANGERMAN: Australia’s Israel Folau in action against Ireland during the first Test in Brisbane last Saturday. Photo/Tertius Pickard/AP

There is the player and then there is the man.

It is one of the great curiosities of life that sports men and women are built up as role models for children all over the world.

A great player doesn't always translate into a great man; they are two very different things.

In fact, in rugby there is a real mean streak required to be able to battle with bodies. The gentleman's game is no game for gentle men.

The Irish outfit down under, however, will be no more concerned with the moral opinions of Israel Folau than they would with those of Donald Trump.

They can look on it as shameful, ignorant, self-indulgent, uneducated, or simply dim. Alternatively, they could have respect for someone who holds a different set of values, no matter how egregious they are to so many.

It doesn't matter to them - and it doesn't matter to Folau.

Whatever else anyone can say about the Australian's belief code, he does seem to stick rigidly to it. Anyhow, it is always what a man does on the field that counts most when it comes to his measure as a player.

Certainly, Jonathan Sexton  is completely focussed on how Ireland can better deal with Folau's aerial prowess in the second Test than they did in the first.

The Wallabies caught Ireland off balance with their 26 kicks - four more than their guests.

"Over the last few years, they've run the ball loads, but if you've got Folau in your backline, you'd be silly not to kick high to him," said Sexton.

"He's outstanding in the air and we've got some outstanding guys in the air as well. And the margins between a few of the aerial contests were so small."

This might be a touch charitable from Sexton, as the margins were not all that fine.

To stand beside Folau is to feel the presence of a super-athlete, a larger-than-life specimen. As long as the ball from Bernard Foley or Kurtley Beale is hit with precision, the question of whether or not Folau catches it is all in his hands, even against Rob Kearney.

"Both guys get up as high as they can, he's just winning it," said Sexton.

"I'm sure they'll come again with it this week and we've got to be a little bit better in that regard."

The Irish back three of Kearney, Jacob Stockdale and Keith Earls or Andrew Conway will be just beaten for size and natural spring into the air.

In reality, Stockdale has the physique, but not the aerial ability, to compete. Kearney and Conway are both excellent off the ground, but they just give away too much in inches and in leaping capacity.

Defence coach Andy Farrell will have a better plan in place for Melbourne.

"There are certain things that we can do about it," said Farrell.

"You can say that you can get pressure on the kicker and we can, but there are times when they are so deep that you can't get there."

There is what you can do to Foley and Beale and there is what you can do for yourselves. Ireland can be better in terms of running bodies into Folau's path without obstructing him - a tricky assignment.

"It was the accuracy of how we got into the air sometimes," Farrell added.

"We let him dominate the space more than he should. He had it a little bit too much his own way."


"They position him very well and their attacking, kicking game is in accordance with that.

"We can recognise it better and make it more of a contest. Is it 50-50? Probably not, but we can make sure we're around for the scraps if not."

The return of Garry Ringrose is crucial to work in tandem with the back three. Ireland's finest reader of the game has to be in the vicinity when Folau returns to earth.

It is then the sweeping defender can take advantage of the unnatural body position to wrap up man and ball. And it could be the key to Ireland getting off the mark in this tour.

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