Thursday 27 April 2017

Alan Quinlan: More vocal leaders must now emerge for Ireland

Over-reliance on certain players remains a problem and Schmidt must demand more from the quieter members of his squad

Keith Earls misses a tackle on Stuart Hogg in the build-up to Scotland's opening try at Murrayfield Photo: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
Keith Earls misses a tackle on Stuart Hogg in the build-up to Scotland's opening try at Murrayfield Photo: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Alan Quinlan

The review session at Carton House this morning will make for uncomfortable viewing, but sometimes a few home truths are needed in order to wipe the slate clean.

There's only so much that coaches can do. They put the systems in place and trust the players to implement the game-plan.

The players have to self-drive the standards in training this week. I've been in the same position and it's not a nice feeling. You're deflated and the next game can't come quick enough.

Ireland need more vocal leaders to step up now. There's no Paul O'Connell or Brian O'Driscoll any more. There was no Johnny Sexton on Saturday.

You can't expect the senior players to keep driving you in every game. Other players have to become more vocal within this team.

High on Simon Easterby's agenda today will be the malfunctioning lineout. Alex Dunbar's try will infuriate him, but Stuart Hogg's second was as much of a horror show.

To concede a try off two phases is unacceptable for any team, but at international level, and under someone as meticulous as Joe Schmidt, it is unforgivable.

On the rare occasions it happens, it's either a piece of unbelievable brilliance or poor defence. Hogg's try was not a moment of magic.

As a player, I was pretty obsessed with lineouts and I really believe that winning or losing one can be the making or breaking of the end result.

There's massive psychological battles won and lost at lineouts and Scotland got one over on Ireland when Richie Gray stole Ireland ball and then they went down the other end of the field and got that crucial try. We lost the emotional battle and it allowed Scotland to grow in confidence.

Midway through the first-half, we won a penalty at a midfield scrum and Paddy Jackson kicked within five metres of Scotland's line. We lost the lineout, Scotland cleared the ball and Simon Zebo ran back with it. We were pinged for holding on and they kicked it down to our 10-yard line.

Demolishing

Gray stole the first lineout and won the second. Then you have one hit up the middle of the field through Josh Strauss. Three passes and it's a try.

For me, that was the crucial moment of the game. We were 7-0 down at that stage, but we had an attacking lineout after demolishing them in the scrum. That three-minute spell ultimately cost us the game.

Narrow defence has been an issue for this Ireland team in the past and you'd have thought lessons were learned from the manner in which Argentina's wide game destroyed them at the World Cup.

They were caught too narrow again and weren't quick enough to realign. That can't keep happening.

Panic sets in when players aren't defending their channels. It's a safety thing when players think they have to be tight. It's not looking inside or outside, it's looking ahead.

It can happen the best players in the world. When the ball is quick, sometimes it's difficult to realign. You start sliding out and you look on your inside and your team-mate isn't moving with you.

When that happens, you've got to turn your body out, show your man the touchline and stay connected. Rather than coming up dead straight at him, which Jackson did before Huw Jones' pass to Hogg, you can slow your line speed and push out.

The endeavour and enthusiasm to want to get off the line was great, but when you do that, you have to identify the threat of the space out wide.

Robbie Henshaw made the tackle on Josh Strauss with Garry Ringrose, but he spun out of it. CJ Stander went to poach the ball and then we had Jack McGrath, Ringrose, Sean O'Brien, Iain Henderson, Jackson and Keith Earls on that right side.

Six players should have been enough cover, but they were too narrow. Jackson came up and tried to tackle Jones, but that should have been Henderson's man. If he had that bit of width, the try would have been avoided.

If you're coming up and in, like Jackson did in that instance, you've got to take man and ball. He did neither. Ideally that ruck has got to be slowed down a little bit, which would allow Ringrose to get back to his outside channel.

He needed to get out of those close quarters and realign outside of O'Brien and Henderson. That would have allowed Jackson to push out and suddenly you've numbered up and have proper width.

It sounds simple, but players have to recognise that and act on it in the heat of the moment. Andy Farrell would have wanted his players to identify the threats and take responsibility for the situation.

Any defence coach I have ever worked with understood that when the opposition have plenty of possession and build phases, it can lead to conceding tries, but two phases is unheard of at this level.

As for Dunbar's try, the Ireland lineout went into total meltdown.

Tadhg Furlong is not lifting anyone, his back is turned to Ross Ford. He's got to turn around, go back a little bit. There were three Scottish players at the front with no one marking them.

But it wasn't just Furlong. Rory Best, Devin Toner and Henderson have got to be alert to what is going on around them.

How somebody didn't identify Dunbar strolling into the front of the lineout is unbelievable. The obvious thing when you see a back going to the front of a lineout is they are going to try and take the ball off the tail and peel around the back.

When I was playing, we would regularly practice intricate peels and they might never come off, but Scotland caught Ireland cold.

Naivety

What Ireland were trying to do at that lineout was to put up a pod in the middle and put up a pod at the tail. It's naivety in the extreme to allow Dunbar to sneak in there.

The lineout was a problem at times throughout the game. Even though we only lost two, some of the delivery and the way we won it wasn't ideal. If possible, you want two of your back-rows to be really good lineout operators. Jamie Heaslip and CJ Stander can be lifted, but they don't have the same kind of presence that someone like Peter O'Mahony has.

A lot of people probably only fully appreciate what Donnacha Ryan brings to a team when he's missing. He's a natural leader and he can run a lineout very effectively.

Henderson is a major threat with ball in hand, but his work at the lineout isn't as efficient as Ryan. This creates added pressure on Devin Toner and if we had more natural lineout operators, it would certainly have helped us win more clean ball.

There will be a lot of regret, but at the same time I don't think any panic buttons should be pressed. The team showed great spirit to fight back.

I agreed with Schmidt when he said that the mistakes that were made are fixable, but the optimism that had been built from a successful November is now punctured.

We can still put ourselves in a position to win the championship. It was a poor performance, but the players have to go to Rome and prove that it was a one-off.

Irish Independent

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