Monday 5 December 2016

Alan Quinlan: No need for Ireland to panic but breakdown is a concern

Alan Quinlan

Published 31/08/2015 | 02:30

Ireland’s Dave Kearney, with assistance from Luke Fitzgerald, competes for the ball against George North and Leigh Halfpenny
Ireland’s Dave Kearney, with assistance from Luke Fitzgerald, competes for the ball against George North and Leigh Halfpenny

We could end up going to the World Cup on the back of two defeats but I wouldn't start panicking - this is not 2007 all over again.

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Back then there was a lot of expectation after the Six Nations but it started going wrong in the warm-up games and we just could not put adequate performances together.

We just about beat Italy in Ravenhill but that didn't camouflage that we weren't firing on all cylinders and then it came apart when we went to France for the tournament.

I have said it many times that looking back we were on our feet just too much in the build-up to that tournament and it took its toll.

I think these warm-up games this summer are helping Ireland a lot. You need to learn about yourself in these games and then work on correcting or fine-tuning what's not delivered.

The one concern I have after Saturday is about what we need to do the next time a team gets an upper hand on us at the breakdown. In fairness, Wales did a good job on us; it was classic Shaun Edwards. They didn't always commit players to the ruck, often the tackler was straight back on his feet and was the pillar. But when they commit numbers they were very effective in slowing down our ball.

Their awareness was very good on when to commit players and the net result was that they then had a lot of players on their feet and were able to fan across the field.

That allowed them to come off their line in numbers and in Jonathan Sexton's face within seconds. It must be said that they were aided in all this by the refereeing of Craig Joubert, who I thought was poor and he frustrated Ireland a lot. But Wales played it as they could, they stayed on the edge and they kept pushing it to see how much they could get away with. And fair play to them for that. As someone who spent a big chunk of my career offside, I know what it is like.

I just wish I could have had Joubert in charge of all the games I played in. We will have him for the Romania match and it won't make any difference there but we need to find a way when we next encounter a scenario like last Saturday.

Other teams will look at what Wales did and will try to combat it. I suppose we can take some comfort that the French are unlikely to look at it, they just seem to do their own thing.

Nullify

It was worrying that Wales could nullify us and that's the biggest concern I would have about Saturday. It was the first day out for a lot of our front-line players, but you could say the same about the Welsh.

In my opinion, it is important that Ireland put out its strongest 15 against England on Saturday, there is a need for a big hit-out before the real action starts.

The dynamic in the camp will change this week. The cut has been made and the chosen ones are left. Of course lads will have sympathy for those who didn't make it, but they won't be dwelling on it.

The pressure cranks up to a new level this week. The first task for any player was to make the 31. Now they will have their sights on making the match-day 23, then a starting slot.

There will be an edge to everything they are doing this week, it will go up another notch next week and so on.

It would have been good to get the win on Saturday and I thought we had it when Sean Cronin went over. It would have been nice to get it for Paul O'Connell in his last game in Ireland.

But the result isn't everything in these games. And, as I said the other day, the place to honour him is in England and Wales over the next two months.

The lads will get a good taste of what it will be all about when they go to Twickenham on Saturday.

But, in a way, they got a right taste of what the demands will be like from a good Welsh side. The Welsh seemed fairly fired up for it, and they seemed a bit desperate for the win.

And I think they deserved it. The likes of Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and Toby Faleteau were superb in an excellent back five.

Iain Henderson certainly matched them in that department and he just continues to grow and grow and could have a huge World Cup.

The form we were led to believe Dave Kearney was showing in training was transferred into a Test environment and he could hardly have done much more. We are not blessed with backs with electric pace, compared to some of the other top nations, so we need to build our phases and play to our strengths.

But it did look a bit disjointed at times on Saturday and while you make allowances for different partnerships being worked out and the fact that it was the first start for a lot of them, the concern is how the Welsh were able to disrupt us.

We need to find a way to counteract that and I'm sure it is something Joe Schmidt will give a fair bit of thought to.

It will be a busy week for the management and players but the tempo is going up everywhere.

I think they will be pleased overall with the way these warm-up games have gone - not pleased with everything which has happened but the fact that these issues are being highlighted before the real stuff starts in a few weeks.

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