Sunday 30 April 2017

Mallett urges Schmidt to abandon the bludgeon and discover the right balance

Nick Mallett has issued a warning to Ireland as they chase a potential bonus point in Rome this afternoon. Photo: Getty
Nick Mallett has issued a warning to Ireland as they chase a potential bonus point in Rome this afternoon. Photo: Getty
David Kelly

David Kelly

Former Italian head coach and one-time record-breaking South African supremo Nick Mallett has issued a warning to Ireland as they chase a potential bonus point in Rome this afternoon to restore their title chances after last weekend's round-one RBS Six Nations Murrayfield implosion.

And Mallett, who now works as an expert number-cruncher with the Accenture analyst team, has also urged Joe Schmidt's side to deviate from their overly attritional approach to the business of try-scoring in order to swiftly vindicate their status as the world's fourth-best rugby nation.

Mallett lost all four Six Nations matches against Ireland during his spell in charge of the Azzurri between 2007 and 2011, before also losing heavily in a World Cup pool game, but his side twice came close to an upset, with Ronan O'Gara's late drop-goal securing a narrow win six years ago.

And, as Ireland seek to get their championship drive back on track, Mallett counsels a degree of caution if the wounded Irish adopt a careless approach despite the universal acknowledgement that they will not lose the game.

"The championship is very much alive," says the 63-year-old, who is semi-retired and working for South African TV.

"Ireland will be disappointed but the first 40 minutes are always tough in Rome. Ireland have to do what Wales didn't do so well last weekend and that is take their points rather than kick to the line as the Welsh did three times in the first quarter.

"Take your early three points, go back down to put them under pressure, and take another three points. Kick a drop-goal if you have to. Get nine points ahead in the first 20 minutes and don't try to go for tries from driving mauls or expansive play from the opening whistle.

"Because Italy can and will counter that early on. But they will concede penalties because they are not as disciplined as they should be.

"And if you force them to play from 9-0 down then more opportunities open up because they will mistakes. Then you can score points.

"But if they're in touch after 60 minutes, and you've tried to score off a maul or a scrum and messed it up, that is a big mistake. It keeps them in the game. The win is not a problem.

"But they do need a bonus point because they need to win the next two games to set up a winner-takes-all in the final game, provided England don't get too many bonus points beforehand."

After the expansive approach unveiled in both Mallet's homeland last summer, and then Chicago, he is slightly unnerved by the manner in which Ireland have reverted to a more austere approach which, confirmed by the lopsided statistics from last weekend, failed to produce an appropriate return on the scoreboard.

And, even though Ireland did score three tries during a strong comeback, the energy exerted in scoring after 19, 16 and eight phases of grinding, enervating forward play tired them out during the closing stages, allowing Scotland, earlier much more clinical off minimal phases, to manage the home straight much more competently.

The job of a statistical analyst was seemingly rendered redundant in the manner in which the scoreboard defied the numbers but Mallet is keen to look at deeper issues.

"It was interesting but it's the way you look at stats which is more important," he says, referring to the vast disparity in carrying, possession and territory.

"Despite all those numbers, especially in the second-half, it is all about the opportunities you create with the ball you have.

"Scotland had four chances and took three of them immediately. Ireland couldn't.

"Ireland need strong carrying and when they get momentum they use the ball with width but they require that momentum or turnover ball first and they didn't have any.

"And because there was a different half-back pairing in attack, there was a greater emphasis on keeping the ball in hand as opposed to trying to turn the opposition, isolating the back three to find space at the back.

"The balance was not there and neither was the intensity. Ireland played a lot of rugby far away from Scotland's try-line, holding onto the ball and not making much yardage.

"And then in the second-half, while they did create more opportunities as the half progresses, they still tend to depend a lot on Stander, Heaslip and particularly O'Brien with a lot of one-out passes and explosive runners there. And they only move it wide when they get momentum."

Mallett is convinced that Ireland would make their first World Cup semi-final were the competition to take place this season; however, he insists that Schmidt's side must re-assert themselves against weaker teams like Scotland and Italy.

"They are a top-four team now and they need to assume that mantle. They can't play a team that are eighth in the world and not control proceedings and that is exactly what they didn't do against Scotland. The type of rugby they played against the All Blacks was extraordinary and that must be the benchmark. Scotland was not a benchmark from the Irish team I have seen in the last 12 months."

Nick Mallett is part of the Accenture Analysis Team during the RBS 6 Nations, providing fans with insight and analysis to #Seebeyond standard match data. Follow @AccentureRugby or visit accenture-rugby.com.

Irish Independent

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