Paint it Black
New Zealand are pointing the way, according to Les Kiss, when it comes to closing down Australia in Ireland's vital World Cup pool game
THERE was an air of celebration around Carton House yesterday as the IRFU and O2 announced the continuation of their mutually profitable partnership until 2016.
But it was the lines of communication between the Irish players that formed the primary concern for Ireland's defence coach Les Kiss after the late Joe Ansbro try that saw Scotland snatch victory in Murrayfield last Saturday.
Defeat was an irritation rather than symptomatic of a more meaningful malaise, for this was a second-string Irish side in their first run-out of the season and there were issues of a potential forward pass and possible obstruction in the game-clinching score.
Nonetheless, no matter how extenuating the circumstances, every try conceded by his charges stings the former Australian rugby league international and this one was no different.
Since being brought on board in 2008, Kiss has established himself as one of the foremost defensive coaches in the game and Ireland have benefited directly.
When one thinks back to the 1990s when an Irish player's default position appeared to be with hands on knees behind the posts, it is especially encouraging to note how defensive surety has become one of this team's defining characteristics.
It was the cornerstone of the 2009 Grand Slam triumph and, though the style has been altered since then (pioneering a move towards holding up the attacker in order to create a maul and win the turnover), Kiss' system has remained just as parsimonious.
In the seven Tests since conceding four tries to an awesome All Blacks outfit, Ireland have conceded just five tries and it could be argued that each arrived with mitigating circumstances.
None of those matches were against the Tri-Nations heavyweights, but a try concession rate of 0.7 per match is still extremely healthy heading towards the World Cup. France in Bordeaux on Saturday are certain to pose far more attacking questions than anything the Scots could muster and, though the try undoubtedly pained Kiss, he was reasonably happy with Saturday's overall defensive performance.
"Yeah, there was a heavy workload for them," he said. "I think after about 20 minutes we made about 93 (tackles). That's getting up in the extreme end of the scale. There were some good things, but there is still a lot more to come from us.
"It's the first hit-out. We could have been sharper in some areas and not only in terms of our technical work but also in terms of how we looked at the game and how we just saw opportunities, if only just shifting the position to give ourselves a chance to put a little bit more line speed at times. But, generally, they had to dig in deep because they didn't have much ball."
And the try? "It hurt," he admitted. "It's nice that it hurt all the guys as well. The play itself was quite well executed, the depth that they came onto the ball just put a few little question marks there and held us in the midfield so some decisions had to come on the edges.
"We will work on those things. The blocking line? That was there but can we get through that harder? Was it a forward pass or could we have made a better decision on the end of the line? We will work on those things, but for the rest of the game I thought they did really well."
Though the squad and management, mindful of the lessons of four years ago, are determined not to look too far ahead, the critical second pool game against Australia is occupying minds and the Wallabies' Tri-Nations campaign is being closely scrutinised.
After an impressive win over South Africa, Robbie Deans' side were comfortably put away by New Zealand in Auckland last weekend and Kiss believes the All Blacks pointed the way when it comes to dealing with game-breakers such as scrum-half Will Genia, out-half Quade Cooper and outside backs James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale.
"Look at the All Blacks," was Kiss' message for coping with the Wallabies' hit-men.
"They have superb players in Genia and Cooper, who just create so much for them, and Beale and O'Connor in particular play off that nicely.
"I'm not trying to think about Australia at the moment, but, if you look how the All Blacks went about their business, they certainly put on the right pressure at the right points.
"They made it difficult for Genia to do what he does around the base of the ruck.
"They were also smart, the All Blacks, in not allowing the Aussie (ruck) cleaners to take people off out of the tackle area which puts hesitation on your pillar defenders. That was a Reds tactic they used all year which then gives Genia room to move and you hesitate, which opens up space.
"That allowed them to apply the right amount of line speed, particular on the inside on Cooper, so he passed earlier than he wanted to.
"But it started in the middle of the tackle and I think (Richie) McCaw and (Kieran) Read and Co were crucial in the pressure they put there."
Last summer, Cooper scored the critical try as an understrength Ireland lost a close Test in Brisbane, but his defence was exposed on a couple of occasions and he has developed a reputation as a dodgy defender. Is this something that can be exploited next month?
"He gives the team so much, you've got to be able to factor that (poor defence) in," said Kiss.
"Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, you hope that you build the right type of systems and the right type of team ethic that you can dig in for your mate if he's not quite good there.
"For the most time Cooper's got away with it, but if you can work hard enough and expose it, then good."
So, emulating the All Blacks is the template, but first up it is France, in a Bordeaux setting that will revive memories of Ireland's nightmare experiences four years ago.
"For any team looking at it, that (reaching New Zealand's level) is what it's about," he said. "But we won't get there if we don't improve against France. Australia will look after itself, looking at how the All Blacks took them on was interesting but we've got stuff to do this weekend."
Meanwhile, Ireland have dropped two places to sixth in the World rankings following their defeat by Scotland. It means they are no longer the leading Northern Hemisphere nation in the rankings behind New Zealand, Australia and South Africa -- a position they had held since ending England's hopes of a Six Nations Grand Slam back in March.
England now occupy fourth spot, while France also climb to fifth despite not being in action last weekend.