Tuesday 22 October 2019

Alison Miller: 'An ideal start for Ireland but new style may be needed for big tests ahead'

Ireland wing Andrew Conway scores the fourth Irish try despite the attentions of Grant Gilchrist as Stuart Hogg (l) reacts during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game at International Stadium Yokohama. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images
Ireland wing Andrew Conway scores the fourth Irish try despite the attentions of Grant Gilchrist as Stuart Hogg (l) reacts during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game at International Stadium Yokohama. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Alison Miller

A good start is half the work, but for Joe Schmidt what happens next could determine his team’s fate - long before they meet a true heavyweight.

Who should he rest this weekend?

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And should Ireland play it safe against Japan and secure the points with the same multi-phase, attritional game we saw yesterday or risk adding more expansiveness, which it looks like they’ll need if they meet South Africa in the knockout stages?

We learned in 2015 how a lack of depth can derail our chances, so Schmidt needs to do everything to keep his players in full working order.

The most obvious player to rest is Rory Best. He played the full game yesterday and at 37, he’s the one who would benefit most – he won’t get through the next month if he’s asked to play every minute of every game.

With concerns over Johnny Sexton, I’d like to see Jack Carty at 10 with Joey Carbery on the bench as cover.

Ireland players leave the pitch after their victory in the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Ireland and Scotland at International Stadium Yokohama
Ireland players leave the pitch after their victory in the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Ireland and Scotland at International Stadium Yokohama

Considering the impact Dave Kilcoyne and Andrew Porter made off the bench, they could come into the front-row, and with the uncertainty of Bundee Aki passing return-to-play protocols, Chris Farrell should start.

Schmidt could rest James Ryan for Tadhg Beirne or Jean Kleyn and give Iain Henderson more experience calling the lineout.

They have the depth to make those changes and beat Japan but Schmidt is often slow to change front-line players, so there could be fewer changes than we’d expect.

Either way, the team is in a good space. The air of negativity over their form has lifted and not conceding any tries will have done wonders for confidence in their defence. The key now is that players are fully primed for the games that matter most.

It’s not a luxury teams often get. It’s hard to compare the men’s and women’s World Cup as the pool stages are different, but in 2014 after wins over USA and New Zealand we chose to rest the majority of our starting team against Kazakhstan.

With a game every four days, it was a risk worth taking, even if we had to bring on some front-liners to shore things up and get us over the line.

The rush defences and multi-phase physical game Ireland play will mean every bit of rest they get to overcome injuries and top up energy levels will be vital.

They were impressive yesterday: set-piece dominance, aggressive line speed, energy and line integrity in defence and some excellent reads from Jacob Stockdale.

Scotland tried to play a high-tempo game in the first half which didn’t pay dividends and they changed tactics to play tighter in the second.

They didn’t have the personnel for it and Ireland negated this tactic, resulting in some aimless kicking as the Scots ran out of ideas. Stuart Hogg was guilty of trying to do too much himself.

Ireland players bow to applaud fans after the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Ireland and Scotland at International Stadium Yokohama on September 22, 2019 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Ireland players bow to applaud fans after the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Ireland and Scotland at International Stadium Yokohama on September 22, 2019 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

There were questions about Jordan Larmour in the air but he responded well, even if he wasn’t always under a great deal of pressure, while the back-three looked impressive.

Henderson and Stander are coming back into form and the subs all made significant impacts, which bodes well.

But we may need to change against better teams. This multi-phase attritional game can work against them but only on certain days. Will Schmidt change? I highly doubt it, but the Japan game seems the perfect chance to add more expansiveness.

We have players with the skill-set to move the ball with tempo to our back three. Stander made an excellent line break after 30 minutes yesterday and it was on to go wide on the left, but instead they went through 11 phases in a narrow 15-metre channel, letting Scotland off the hook and then giving away a penalty.

Playing in those tighter channels may not work against better, more physical teams.

One big lesson was the value of keeping the lineout simple. It appeared less laboured and they were setting earlier, but we’ll need some special Schmidt power plays and set-piece dominance to allow us launch these effectively.

If we keep improving our kicking game it’s an area we can use to our advantage, but if we meet South Africa we need to be aware of Cheslin Kolbe, who got a lot of opportunities on the counter-attack in their opener on Saturday.

If the Springboks can construct a game-plan to get him and Makazole Mapimpi on the ball more it could cause problems for defences.

South Africa’s line speed was so impressive – they were very, very physical in the tackle but New Zealand had answers by using the space at the edge of the rush defence.

If South Africa can cut out their turnovers and get a better return for their pressure game they will improve exponentially – a scary proposition for Schmidt as he looks down the road.

We have the personnel to compete, but Schmidt’s choices in the next fortnight could determine if we go into that game at full strength with a few more strings to our bow. As good as yesterday was, it looks like we’ll need to.  

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