Tuesday 28 March 2017

Ireland can match pace of Tri Nations trio - Gaffney

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

SOUTHERN-hemisphere rugby might be drawing all the plaudits right now after a high-scoring and exciting Tri Nations, but Alan Gaffney isn't quaking in his boots just yet.

The Australian-born Ireland backs coach has watched developments on the other side of the equator with interest but believes talk of Australia, New Zealand and Saturday's opponents South Africa being too quick and too strong for European sides is wide of the mark.

Indeed, Gaffney believes that Ireland should be embracing the new interpretations at the breakdown that have made for a higher-paced game because he believes it suits the way this country's players play.

And the former Munster coach is also backing the Irish players' skills and fitness to match the visiting nations this month.

experience

"I think people are taking too much out of what is happening over there," Gaffney said. "It's being refereed that way, it's a (high-paced) game we ideally want to play. We haven't had much experience of it. We said over there (last summer) it was a game we really want to play ourselves and we are pretty keen to do that.

"We know we have a mobile team. We don't have a group of huge individuals, we've got a side who are very, very skilful. A game such as that would suit us ideally and we have a forward pack who can compete and are physical.

"We have just got to get more experience playing that game and get confident in what's being done.

"There are a few modifications and changes in place that Declan Kidney has made, which all the players have embraced and we're very happy to run down that path."

Injuries to Schalk Burger and Juan du Jongh bring the Springbok casualty list to 13 for their tour and the world champions have arrived on the back of a dismal Tri Nations campaign which saw them finish bottom of the table.

And Gaffney believes that the wounded Boks are targeting their first game at the Aviva Stadium this Saturday as one to get them back on track.

"There's no doubt -- I have spoken to people who are pretty close to the team -- that this a game they are targeting," he said.

"It's a game they want to win, desperate to win after not performing too well in the Tri Nations and not to the level they wanted to perform, only winning the one game. So they want to get back on the horse as quickly as possible.

"They're starting to get back. (Bakkies) Botha is back and adds a bit of substance to their side. They have a strong pack.

"It depends on who they play in the front row, whether it's the Beast (prop Tendai Mtawarira) or the du Plessis brothers, no doubt they will want to compete up front and will be very physical in the way they approach the game.

"Whether they revert to a bit more attacking play, I'm not sure. They will be strong and I think they know they under-performed in the Tri Nations -- particularly in the first three games, where in two of them they didn't perform to anywhere near what they should have."

Having lost all three matches on tour at the end of last season, Kidney's Ireland need to get back to winning ways during a gruelling November Series which sees them take on the Boks, Samoa, New Zealand and Argentina.

But Gaffney maintains the summer tour wasn't all negative and believes that Ireland have learnt plenty following defeats to the All Blacks, the Maori and Australia.

"I wouldn't say the tour didn't go that well," he said. "We didn't get the results, but we tested quite a few new players. When we started against Australia there, we were down seven back-rowers.

"The three guys who went out there, they played particularly well. We found out a lot. We didn't get the results but we were pleased with what we did in the second half against New Zealand, but we weren't particularly happy about what we did against Australia.

"We didn't play particularly well that day -- we were probably disappointed with our performance.

"We've lost three Tests on the trot now, including the Scotland game, so we've got to get back on the horse now. A win is not critical for us, but it would be an ideal start to the November Series."

Irish Independent

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