herald

Sunday 17 December 2017

We made it hard for ourselves against a limited England side

You could run out of superlatives to describe how Ireland dug deep to pull this match out of the fire on Saturday. It's always good to win at Twickenham but, while I was heartened by the manner of our victory, some of the stuff that went on gave me cause for worry and frustration.

The never-say-die attitude of all involved is in no doubt and this team's greatest strength but, to be honest, we did make it very hard for ourselves.

At this point I could continue to write about how great we were in staying patient and how we snatched the win at the death. It's easy to be overly positive after a game like this, but we must consider the opposition and other factors. Enjoying any win is very important but a sense of balance and realism must take precedent.

While delighted at the result, I found the game very frustrating to watch. With our defence intact so many times around the middle of the park, we continued to hand momentum to a team that struggled to create anything beyond the first five minutes of the match. While the missed tackle count was exceptionally low, the penalty count against a team that posed little threat, for the most part, was disappointingly high.

On the occasions we had momentum, especially out wide, we did look dangerous, but it did not happen for us as much as it should have. Why we did not utilise our cutting edge more often, when we did manage to retain the ball, must come in to question. It was one of those days when had to do more defending than attacking.

For me the forwards and backs are not interlinking the way they could be in order to generate more meaningful and prolonged phase attack.

England play their game through the strength of their forward pack. Their lack of creativity does nothing for the game, but it is understandable, to a point, why they do what they do.

I wonder why Ireland's pack, considering the players we have in the backrow and in the three-quarters, continually tried to take on the English at their own game?

We rarely, if ever, made any in-roads around the fringes, yet we continually targeted close in. We only managed to retain slow ball in those areas -- it either could not be used or we made a silly error in the process.



choices

In a sense, there seems to be a disconnection between what the forwards as a unit are trying to achieve and the attacking platform that the backs crave. It must be stressed again that the ability we had in behind, in comparison to the English, was demonstrated in how we managed to pick off our scores with limited opportunities.

After such an exciting win it would be easy to say all is well. Over the long proud history of the game in this country, this has been a golden era. However to get to caught up in everything that surrounds the history of the game would be doing this team a disservice.

Some players are coming to the end of their careers and Declan Kidney will have to make some tough choices come World Cup time. During the past 10 years Ireland have had much success, but much of our play had been so conservative that we did not see the best of the talent we had to offer on enough occasions.

I still stick to my fervent belief that Ireland can up their attacking game regardless of who comes in and out over the next 18 months or so and, although it may sound harsh, one hopes that all involved recognise the need to empower the team with more variety in a gameplan that, to a certain extent at this moment in time, is undermining the potential we have.

John Hayes deservedly received his 100th cap. It is an amazing milestone for anyone but the Bull, as always, took everything in his stride. Sometimes I used to get the feeling that he would rather be at home on his farm than on a rugby field but, on reflection, such an attitude towards his job has probably been one of the main reasons why he has scaled such heights. He takes everything with a pinch of salt and it is great to be blessed with that outlook in a job that makes it very difficult to strike a balance in the rest of your life.

The life of a rugby player and all that goes with it has never changed the essence of John Hayes, and that is very admirable. I'm sure it was a special weekend for himself and his family.

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