Wednesday 26 July 2017

Sinead Kissane: Teams have shown some tricks, but Ireland may not need any surprises in Cardiff

Italian coach Conor O'shea . Photo: Marco Iacobucci/Getty Images
Italian coach Conor O'shea . Photo: Marco Iacobucci/Getty Images
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

Conor O'Shea had just finished an interview at the Six Nations launch in London in January when a hot-shot English TV reporter tried to usher him over to where his camera crew was positioned.

These media gigs can have their own jungle laws. I was told I was next in line to interview O'Shea but I wasn't going to make it into a bun-fight with the hot-shot. However, when O'Shea signalled that he was going to come over to us first, he left the English TV reporter looking on in disbelief that he had been momentarily dumped for a nobody in the corner.

O'Shea didn't seem to care about 'status' that day or, more importantly, when Italy played England last Sunday. His team's no-ruck approach left England looking on in disbelief that the tournament's laundry (that's what you "take to the cleaners", right?) weren't folding the way everyone expected them to.

It's too easy to criticise James Haskell for asking Romain Poite about the laws as he had as much right to get clarification as O'Shea did with Poite two days previously. But against a backdrop where there have been cat-calls for Italy to be thrown out of the Six Nations for ruining the standard for everyone else, imagine if it was an Italian player who asked these questions to the ref instead of Haskell: "Can I just get some clarity? On the ruck thing, what do we need to do for it to go wrong?" and "we just want to know what the rule was, what the exact rule is?" Yep, O'Shea's team would have been ridiculed all the way back to Rome.

One of the things which gets your arse handed to you on a plate is when your team is out-thought by the opposition. England won with a bonus point but were made to look like pre-programmed players at times who were struggling to problem-solve their way out of this unexpected challenge. Last November England defence coach Paul Gustard said they were aware of the loophole when no ruck is formed and no offside line created after Australia's David Pocock used the tactic against Ireland. "It is just a way of trying to manipulate the attack and make them think differently," Gustard said. "We are aware of it, we saw it and we will have plans in place."

But plans were not in place for the first half last Sunday. "We knew they'd come with something, we weren't sure," Eddie Jones said after the game. "I'm not critical of Italy, they did what they needed to do to stay in the game. Did we react quick enough? Like it's hard when it's not rugby".

What was it then? A game of quidditch? What Italy did was like a scene out of the 1980's hit TV series 'MacGyver'; look at what you've got, make the most of it in an unconventional way and leave the rest of us looking on in disbelief/awe (disgust if you're Matt Dawson and Co) at the outcome of a different way of viewing the game.

Maybe every team needs an unexpected move up their sleeve (sometimes it can be simplicity which comes off as genius) to make headway in this Six Nations. We like to view Joe Schmidt's Ireland as super-prepared. Which was why the Alex Dunbar try Ireland conceded in the lineout against Scotland was so disappointing.

While they were probably prepared for everything they've ever seen Scotland do before, it seemed as if they forgot that Scotland could do something they've never done before.

Schmidt likes to keep the opposition guessing even down to wingers who are expected to look like they're about to do something in order to lure the defence out. Sometimes unexpected moves work, other times they don't.

In the 22nd minute of the win over France, Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw stood in the Ireland lineout and ran out of it when Rory Best threw the ball in leaving others like Seán O'Brien ready to join the maul. The move broke down but if it had resulted in a try, the smarts and standing of Schmidt and his team would have been further elevated.

But what Ireland showed last weekend is that they don't need to depend on surprises when the moves everyone expects from them work so damn well. Like that favourite winter coat you think is starting to look a bit jaded, Johnny Sexton brings out his wrap-around and it still catches the eye. What made his loop move in the first half, which eventually led to Conor Murray's try, was the accuracy; the swift hands of Ringrose to pass back to Sexton, the brilliant decoy run from Rob Kearney and Sexton's bang-on decision-making to hoof the ball from the outside of his right boot down the pitch.

Who needs tricks when you've got a trademark move which still confuses defences even though they know it's coming? Equally Murray's kicking was at a different level. His kick in the 62nd which cosied-up to the corner flag was like he had a magnetic control of where he wanted the ball to go.

On Friday Ireland play a team which has been criticised for its predictability after two defeats which makes them predictably dangerous. The last time Ireland beat Wales in the Six Nations in Cardiff was 2013 with a win remembered for Simon Zebo's off-the-cuff back-heeled flick. Tricks are always thrilling. The unexpected is good but being good at the expected works even better for Ireland.

Irish Independent

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