Tuesday 17 October 2017

Tiernan O'Halloran: Stinging defeat at RDS has given us plenty to work on for Dragons

O’Halloran: you cannot afford to give a team featuring Cian Healy an inch in the breakdown
O’Halloran: you cannot afford to give a team featuring Cian Healy an inch in the breakdown

Tiernan O'Halloran

We didn't make it five wins in a row in the league and Europe and we could not register a treble over Leinster, but we have identified the areas where we went wrong in that inter-pro derby, and we want to put things right against Dragons.

The bus journey down from Dublin was tough to get through last Friday night. There were a lot of disappointed guys; we had built up that game as one where we could have toppled Leinster, but we didn't pull it off at all.

They were missing a number of guys on international duty. And with the history that went with that game - the fact that we hadn't won up in the RDS in the Pro12 before - we were so desperate to put in a big performance and finally alter that statistic.

We were massively disappointed to come away with nothing from the game. After the first 20 minutes, our performance really wasn't up to scratch. We have lifted our standards so much in recent years and that was a poor reflection of them.

We felt pretty good in the first quarter, though. Especially when we went 6-0 up so early on, and were playing some really good rugby too - confidence was high at the time and things were going right for us.

Creep

But then a couple of small mistakes started to creep in. There were a few errors in a row and Leinster started to come a bit harder at the breakdown and force our hand a little bit.

Leo Cullen's men had noticed that when we were getting quick ball, we were doing a bit of damage and putting them under a lot of pressure.

We had made the line-breaks and found the soft shoulders as we had planned, but that all ceased once they got on the front foot. After the first 20 minutes, Leinster just seemed to wake up to it.

In the games we have lost so far this season, it was simply because we didn't win the battle at the breakdown, and that was what materialised here again.

We didn't adapt to Leinster's new-found attitude, and our clear-out wasn't as sharp as it should have been throughout the rest of the game.

Against a team featuring the likes Sean O'Brien and Cian Healy, you cannot afford to give them an inch at the breakdown. They can slow it up and win penalties for their team when they spot an opening, and that was the way it transpired unfortunately.

That was a big swing in the game, and in attack as well, when we were trying to attack off our rucks we were getting a fast line-speed in opposition. We weren't used to that, and that was on us, as players out on the pitch, to adapt to that situation, and we didn't as much as we should have.

The fast-up defence was similar enough to Ospreys earlier in the campaign. The Welsh came pretty hard at us as well that day and they beat us comprehensively too.

We train playing against line-speed as well, so it's not completely alien to us, but we just didn't react quickly enough and change our attacking methods when we were faced with it against Leinster.

In future we know we need to adapt our running style and depth on the fly, and hopefully that's something we learned from the game last weekend - those work-ons are crucial for us to grow as a team.

Then in the second half of that match, once we went a couple of scores behind in the third quarter, it was a case of trying to chase the game.

There were a lot of uncharacteristic mistakes from us and ultimately we weren't happy with how we performed.

We are playing Dragons tonight and they traditionally always come hard at our breakdown as well so it's a good test for us now to see can we bounce back in time for a really stiff test in Rodney Parade.

It has been tough with the six-day turnaround. We have had that in the last two games, and you don't get the really physical contact reps in because the time isn't there in the week.

This week there were a lot of mental repetitions and it was all about making sure that people knew their roles. We only had Wednesday to get a full day of training in, so the short week is a bit disruptive to your plans, no matter how far a team plans ahead for these things.

When you factor in the travel to Wales it becomes an extremely short week, but after the way the game in Dublin worked out we are all chomping at the bit, to get back into action in a really competitive Pro12 encounter against Dragons.

Similar to what we did a few years back, Dragons have gone away from the direct, up-the-jumper style rugby. After watching the videos we know to expect another expansive game from them.

We have got to be alert to their potential in the wider channels; just like us they don't always kick the ball either, so it should make for an exciting game between two sides who like to express themselves on the ball.

In the last few years we have won over in Rodney Parade but the game has always gone down to the wire and I expect nothing different from this outing.

It's on us to bring the physicality and get our breakdown right; they have lots of big threats - especially in their back-row - so we cannot be complacent if we want to right the wrong of last weekend's loss.

Irish Independent

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