Hayes still the man
Forwards coach Smal says Cappamore colossus in need of game-time as Irish management resist calls to give Ross a chance
LESS than a year out from the World Cup, Ireland forwards coach Gert Smal says too much time has been invested in tight-head John Hayes to look elsewhere now.
The 37-year-old Cappamore colossus has been central to the successes of Munster and Ireland over the last 10 years and, following injury to Tony Buckley, is due to win his 103rd cap when Ireland take on Samoa in Lansdowne Road tomorrow.
However, Hayes has come under pressure this season from Leinster's Mike Ross, who has put together a string of impressive performances in the absence of the injured Stan Wright.
The Ireland management are resisting calls to widen their tight-head options by having a look at Ross, who failed to make the match-day 22 tomorrow; Smal said that Hayes needs the game-time. "Mike is one of the props we're looking at," said Smal.
"But John Hayes, where he comes from and with the amount of time we've invested in him over the past two years, I think we've just got too much (time put in).
"We're very pleased with the way Mike Ross has developed over the past year. He is really making good progress but, for the moment, John needs that opportunity."
Ireland were on the back foot in the scrum and lost six of their line-out throws in last weekend's defeat to South Africa.
Smal is looking for a marked improvement in their set-piece play against Samoa.
A strong performance from Hayes would make him the front-runner to start at tight-head against the All Blacks next week but loose-head Tom Court, very impressive when coming on for Buckley last weekend, is in the running also.
"Greg Feek (scrum coach) is with us at the moment and we're going through a process," said Smal. "There are a lot of things we're trying to fine-tune and also change, and some of the players aren't used to doing things for a long time, so we're hoping to reap the benefits of that in the future.
"It wasn't the best (scrum) performance. In terms of the whole process it was definitely an improvement, but I think it's far away from where we want to be.
"Tom did extremely well, he did some of the things that we've worked on with Greg, they came through very strongly and we didn't have any problems with him.
"Our line-outs were very disappointing; we could have done better. In hindsight, we will be a much stronger side coming out of that game.
"When we were getting some information on the games that they (South Africa) played last year, it was the last game of their tour.
"This time around it was the first game of their tour and they had a two-week preparation phase to plan new line-outs and also to change the line-out calls.
"We had no idea of what they were going to throw at us, so we couldn't put a huge amount of pressure on them."
Despite conceding two tries, Ireland put in an impressive defensive effort last weekend, with South Africa's first try coming from an interception and the second down to a split-second breakdown in the system.
Otherwise, defence coach Les Kiss was pleased with the intensity and organisation of the Irish defence and says they will have to be on their toes against the skilful and unpredictable Samoans.
"When we went over the game there were a lot of things we were very happy with," said Kiss. "When you look at the numbers and the stats afterwards, the physicality the boys displayed was very good; a lot of focus was on not letting them play their attacking game, and I think they only got about two or three off-loads.
"So, generally, we were happy. Obviously, there are areas we still need to work on. They beat us, that's the bottom line, so we just want to improve on the levels of excellence -- but there were some really good things there, it was just disappointing not to get the win.
"There's such a brilliance about Samoa's game," added Kiss. "While I don't mean they just play as individuals, their individualism is brilliant.
"When they get an opportunity in the game, they just go for it and other players intuitively follow and they can off-load from all positions.
"They have this natural ability to sense opportunity and go for it so we have to make sure we are very clinical and build defensive certainty."