Tuesday 20 February 2018

Restart as you mean to go on -- Smal

Hugh Farrelly

THREE games into an exacting November Series and Ireland assistant coach Gert Smal admits there is "not one area" of Irish forward play that he is happy with ahead of Sunday's clash with Argentina.

The lineout was the major issue in the opening defeat to South Africa, the scrum also struggled that day against the Springboks before being dismantled in the win over Samoa and last weekend against the All Blacks, while the scrum and lineout were more solid, the restarts were a disaster, with New Zealand claiming 13 drop-outs to Ireland's two.

And, while Smal believes there was improvement against the All Blacks, he claims the Irish forwards are only operating at "about 70pc" of maximum efficiency.

"I'm pleased with the progress but not with the finished product because, in terms of the pack, there's still a lot of work to be done," said Smal.

"There's not one area (completely happy with). We spoke about scrums and lineouts where I would like to see 90 or 95pc success rate. In the lineout, it's not just catching the ball, it's what you do with the ball -- the quality of delivery and what you execute afterwards. So there's a fair amount of work to do.

"We're at about 70pc at the moment heading into the last game, but at international level you need 95pc-plus (success rate) if you want to beat the big teams," he added.

"With the scrum, Greg (Feek, scrum coach) is with us now and with all the props there's a lot of work being done behind the scenes. I'm happy with the work we're doing, we're definitely on the right track. I'm not sure the last time the Irish pack pushed an All Blacks pack back, so there's good signs but we're far from the finished product. Once the players get used to the systems, I think we'll see some consistency.

"Argentina's strength is built around their pack and they pride themselves on their scrums and I expect them to attack us there, but also around the fringes. They have as good a front-row as there is in the world, up there at the top, one of the top-four scrummaging teams in world rugby, they pride themselves on it, it's a big thing for them and we are expecting to be attacked there."


Smal acknowledged that the restarts were a major problem against New Zealand and claimed it was down to a combination of the accuracy of Dan Carter's drop-outs and Ireland's insufficient preparation time.

"When you come into the international set-up you always feel as if you want a bit more time, but we have to go and see what are the most important parts," he said.

"We have spent a fair amount of time just to get the team organised but Carter has developed his kick-off skills to such an art that he can put it exactly where he wants it. If you look at what he did with us, when we were away from the touchline he put it just on the touchline and when we closed the touchline, he put it right in between us so that we had to run in to get it (the ball) and still missed it, so Carter has really brought it to a fine art.

"Southern hemisphere teams coming to Europe would always be a bit ahead of us (at this time of the year), because we started a new campaign but they were coming off the Tri Nations and were organised and we therefore came up against well-organised opposition."

Tony Buckley has made an earlier than expected return to fitness after injuring his hip against the Springboks and it seems increasingly likely that the Munster man will come straight back in at tight-head next to hooker Sean Cronin and loose-head Cian Healy, with Mike Ross returning to Leinster's squad for Sunday's clash away to the Ospreys.

"Tony Buckley has recovered fully and trained fully. If Mike is not involved with us on Sunday, he will be available for Leinster because they need to play as many games as possible," said Smal.

"As the saying goes, the out-half reads the game, the prop feels it. The more opportunities they get to feel it, the better. That's why they have to play a lot. They also tend not to get as injured as more athletic players."

With Rob Kearney, Rory Best and Luke Fitzgerald ruled out, there was better news on the injury front yesterday, with Gordon D'Arcy (calf), Stephen Ferris (calf) Tommy Bowe (calf), David Wallace (Achilles) and Brian O'Driscoll (shoulder) all coming through the session with no problems and, although there has been much talk of player fatigue heading into the final game of the series, Smal was encouraged by what he saw in training.

"They're all back, there's a lot of energy in the team even after three tough, physical games," said Smal. "Guys are quite sore, obviously, because they've had three hard games but there was a lot of energy in training. There is a lot of urgency there and a lot of energy too."

Irish Independent

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