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Peter Bills: Error count dire but Irish heading in right direction

No wonder Brian O'Driscoll looked like a man who had found a fiver but lost a fortune. The Irish captain's expression at the end of Sunday's game against France could best be described as frustrated. Other, less charitable words come to mind.

One statistic alone from the blur of the weekend's action more than merited O'Driscoll's angst. As a percentage of errors in possession of the ball, Ireland ran up a ludicrous 37pc against the French.

Scotland had been woeful against Wales in Edinburgh the previous evening. Yet, even the Scots had an 'errors in possession' figure of only 26pc. That is shocking but 37pc? Incomprehensible, in modern day professional rugby.

The other figures from the same category are in a similar, reduced region: France 20pc, England 19pc, Wales and Italy 12pc each.

Ireland made three line-breaks off 126 passes and 10 off-loads in 88 tackles by the French. But 37pc errors in possession? Abysmal.


And while we're in the field of ineptitude, how about Scotland's total of line breaks from 199 passes against Wales? Just one. Backwards and forwards they went, this way and that across the field -- never straight enough to threaten a line-break and forward progress.

Such a philosophy is rooted in the 1960s; a strange way to play the modern game, you might think. No wonder Scottish coach Andy Robinson raged in his coach's box.

France were, surprisingly, almost as inept in terms of penetrative rugby. They achieved only one line break from 152 passes -- shocking by their standards and a stat that explained their coach's rating of his side's performance as "four out of 10".

That might have seemed harsh at the time, but such a figure suggests Marc Lievremont was spot-on. Likewise Italy at Twickenham. Nick Mallett's side managed a single line-break off 148 passes: almost as awful as Scotland and France.

The Twickenham rout was explained in part by England's pace but also by their penetration -- 234 passes, 15 line breaks and 17 off-loads in the tackle adds up to a decent demonstration of the possibilities of attacking rugby achievable under the new law interpretations.

And if you'd turned down your pal's offer of that last pint in the bar near Lansdowne Road and been in your seat promptly for the kick-off, you would have witnessed irrefutable evidence that Ireland, just like England, do have the capacity to embrace this so-called 'new' game.

The first two minutes 33 seconds was a brilliant example of the modern game New Zealand insist they will continue to play -- even amid the pressures of the World Cup later this year. Pace, vision, rapidly recycled second-phase ball moved wide, swiftly and purposefully, with considerable forward momentum -- this was how to take a game forward.

It proved what I've always believed: Ireland have the players to play this way. But what followed confirmed another general belief -- you cannot turn this style of game on and off, like a light switch.

Your players need to play it constantly, feel comfortable with such a philosophy, which demands high skill levels and immense concentration and consistency.

Errors in possession of 37pc suggest most emphatically that Ireland's rugby men have a way to go on that front. Defeat and that crass number of mistakes represented a setback for Ireland. But it's not all doom and gloom. The Irish camp can justifiably make one case for a positive to be taken out of last weekend's game.

At least Ireland are clearly putting their toes into the water of this 'new' game.

It has taken some time; that much is undeniable.

But starting to come to terms with it is a whole lot better than just ignoring it, like the South Africans have done thus far.

Irish Independent