herald

Monday 11 December 2017

Clinical display but we must up ante in attack

IRELand put Wales to the sword on Saturday in what was undoubtedly a more clinical all-round performance than the previous games. Granted the Welsh were severely depleted up front: they clearly lacked the precision and direction which is normally afforded to them by the likes of Gethin Jenkins, Alun Wyn Jones and Ryan Jones. However, it would still have been hard to see anything but an Irish win, such was the dominance of the men in green.

I was delighted that we tried to seize the initiative from the start. We were not afraid to attack from deep within our own territory when it was on, often making some good ground. We did fail to capitalise on some good initial pressure when Jonny Sexton failed to convert his initial penalty, such was the way his day panned out from the dead ball. However, the influence he exerts throughout the rest of his game for this team cannot be underestimated.

It was great to see David Wallace and Paul O'Connell have big games, which clearly aided Ireland's cause, as did Tomas O'Leary, whose constant threat especially in the first half had the Welsh in all sorts of trouble. His workrate in attack and defence rightly earned him the man of the match award.



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It was also great to see Brian O'Driscoll come through the game on his 100th cap.

It is a great achievement, especially for a three-quarter. John Hayes definitely has the build of a man who could survive 100 games but, for O'Driscoll, whose body has been through the mill over the years, it is an extra-special achievement.

He did not have his best game, which is understandable after the knock he got in Twickenham. I was a little worried for him on Saturday because his injury was definitely played down in the aftermath of that match.

His presence on the pitch is always important for the team, regardless of whether he is at 100pc or not, and the guys around him are always ready and willing to take on the mantle.

After witnessing the awful standard of rugby in Murrayfield between England and Scotland, dare I say, we look good for yet another Triple Crown. It will look good in the history books but, to be realistic, we should be expected to beat the other three home nations at this point in time.

We are currently behind the top three and probably France in the unofficial rankings so, to be fair, the team and management should only be developing a game that can challenge those above us heading into the World Cup.

I would be very surprised if the players are not thinking along the same lines. Part of me is still unsure about whether the way we approach our game can challenge the best in the world.

We remain a set-piece-orientated side. Apart from some quick thinking from O'Leary which led to the Earls try, all our other scores came from set-pieces.

I am happy to take our scores whichever way they are presented but as an attacking force it is still unclear how we are going to create tries against teams who will put a lot more pressure on our lineout.



Endeavour

It is hard to see the best teams coughing up tries off first or second phase possession. No doubt it will be more of a focal point for them after watching us in this championship.

Wales, to be fair, did show plenty of endeavour with the ball in hand. With weaker forwards and an excellent backline it is understandable why they play the way they do.

It begs the question why Ireland cannot adopt a similar approach to their multi-phase possession.

With just as many game-breakers in behind and many rampaging forwards there is no reason why we cannot play a bit more with the ball in hand.

I must admit I do find it frustrating to watch ourselves defending for large parts of many of the games we are playing. The ball in open play accounts for 75pc of the game, therefore a lot more of our attacking game should be based around acquiring a larger portion of that percentage.

At half-time yesterday, with the wind in our sails, I was hoping we would come out in the second half and really have a cut at the Welsh. Their defence was poor, especially between the fringe and their backline, so there was no reason why we could not have upped the ante.

We ended up defending for large parts of the second half, but when we did get possession we always looked dangerous.

I get the sense that the players are being given the nod by the coaches to play what they see in front of them. I just hope that what they are doing on the training pitch is empowering them with the confidence to adopt a more enterprising approach under Test match pressure.

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