Wednesday 24 January 2018

Ireland set to bounce back against Scotland

Ireland's Cian Healy. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

DON'T expect much of a change in style of play when Ireland to meet Scotland tomorrow.

The secret of success on the sporting field, as it is in life, is to learn from your mistakes, dust yourself down and then move on.

Despite being well under par in Cardiff and in many regards not allowed to play by a well organised. faster out of the traps Welsh team, Ireland still has an excellent opportunity to win back-to-back Six Nations Championship titles.

In itself that would be a remarkable achievement. The problem is that the title race is not entirely in their own hands.

Wales play Italy first up, so presuming that Wales win by some distance, Ireland will at least know what they have to do to put pressure on England in the last game of the campaign.

Three teams remain very much alive on the last day's play which makes for an exciting climax.

The secret in these type of chasing points situations is to obviously win the game first, (let's face it, Scotland is hardly going to roll over and have their tummies tickled, especially as they are trying to avoid the dreaded wooden spoon) and then gradually build the scores that are necessary to create a positive points differential. Sometimes if you panic or try and force the game too early then they just don't come.


Much was made of Warren Gatland's inability to waver from a singular plan, but last week Warren Gatland's attention to detail in aerial kicks, width, and the contact area proved that Wales had a lot more to offer than just the crash and bash game. They were deserved winners.

So what will Joe Schmidt have worked on in training this week? One area will definitely be the lineouts where Ireland strangely struggled last week. Scotland have tall timber in their pack, and their new coach Vern Cotter will have taken encouragement from the organised work of Luke Charteris and Alun Wynn Jones in Cardiff.

I expect Scotland will also have a serious cut off the Irish pack out of touch. Ireland need to tighten up the quality of the throwing (the main reason why the more dynamic ball-carrying Seán Cronin does not start more regularly)and their lineout organisation , an area that has been excellent up until now.

Schmidt will also have looked at the main areas where Ireland were penalised and will have instructed his players to look at allowing more accessibility for opposition ball at ruck time, something that referee Wayne Barnes policed from the very start of last week's game.

Despite what you may think about some of the often overly pedantic Barnes decisions, not least not allowing Ireland to scrum, or the often one-sided interpretation at the breakdown, Ireland have still been guilty over the past few years of not rolling away quickly enough in the ruck and breakdown area.

In New Zealand there is a golden rule of rugby - you can have one off day but never two.

Schmidt has made two changes for tomorrow with the inclusion of Luke Fitzgerald and Cian Healy but time is ticking for Schmidt to assess some of his options before the World Cup.

It is all very well saying there are plenty of games left to assess fringe players, but Schmidt needs to see how these players form potent combinations or react to high pressure situations.

While Ireland have had an excellent season to date, they are still sitting alongside Italy as the team that has scored the least number of tries in the Championship and that moving forward is still a major concern - despite a record equalling winning streak (ten games).


Last weekend Ireland did create enough chances to win especially when they had possession for nearly 40 phases in the second half, but as in other games this year they were just not clinical enough in the oppositions 22.

Players cut back in far too often when the options were out wide and too often the ball was telegraphed back inside to where Wales had a well organised and waiting defensive screen.

At times effective decision making and organisation faltered, players were often left screaming and demanding the ball out on the wings when clearly Ireland was not making much headway up front.

Ireland will not abandon their kick and chase game. Granted it did not work as effectively in Wales as it had against the likes of England and France, but that was not entirely due to tactics it was again about failure to execute.

Johnny Sexton had a poor game by his own high standards last week, and unfortunately some of his kicks were either just a foot too long or a foot too short, and that is the small margins that Schmidt talked about.

Every time the ball went in the air to the likes of George North and Leigh Halfpenny, in particular, won the battle of the skies convincingly.

Ireland still has an excellent aerial game, but Scotland have in full-back Stuart Hogg the most dynamic ball-carrier and counter-attacker in the Six Nations, thus Sexton must be pinpoint with his kicks and Ireland's kick-chasers must be more aggressive.

The Irish scrum looked strong and dominant, especially in the second- half in Cardiff, but for some reason ref Barnes never allowed Ireland to push, even slightly, pinging them for some almost made up scrum offence at nearly every restart.

With so much weight behind the props nowadays it must be expected that teams will try and gain some ascendancy when both teams touch, it has always been part of the game.

Even in the last scrum of the match it was hardly in Ireland's interest to wheel the scrum around, especially as they had the Welsh eight retreating at a rate of knots.

Like in general go-forward play referees must recognise who has the better scrum, and take that into account, otherwise the scrum becomes obsolete once again.

Whatever the outcome elsewhere tomorow a win in Scotland will signal a pretty successful campaign for Ireland, and losing that game in Wales may not be the worst thing for Ireland looking towards the World Cup.

It may well be a timely reminder that Ireland need to address some issues over the next three months, and to be confident but cautious.

So to the last weekend of Six Nations rugby in 2015. Wales will beat an under-strength Italian team, so I expect Wales to set Ireland some sort of target, 10-15 points.

I think that Ireland will beat Scotland by at least two scores, and against that Schmidt will be buoyed by the number of chances that England squandered against Scotland last week, so the points and winning margins are all over the park.

The impressive Scottish flanker Blair Cowan will not make it easy to get a consent flow of quick ball as the ex-Kiwi plays a lot like Sam Warburton at the breakdown, but in confident mood after last week's disappointment, Ireland will bounce back and set England a decent target.

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