Friday 17 November 2017

Johnny O'Connor: Six Nations slip can be World Cup blessing in disguise

Disappointing campaign can help unearth right combinations for Japan 2019

Robbie Henshaw Picture: Sportsfile
Robbie Henshaw Picture: Sportsfile

Johnny O'Connor

It might not be for a Grand Slam, a Six Nations championship, or even a Triple Crown but Ireland's clash with England won't be any less intense at Aviva Stadium tomorrow.

Pride is always at stake when these two meet, and although it's disappointing that the championship didn't come down to the final weekend in Dublin, Ireland will still want to win at all costs against their biggest adversaries.

The defeat to Wales just goes to show that there are some brilliant teams in the Six Nations - they are never that far off each other. Wales are still a good side, and the players who needed to play well did play well, and they made a difference in Cardiff.

Admire

You have to admire the Welsh coaches for picking the same players and giving them a second chance after a difficult defeat against Scotland.

Regardless of what people think of Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards, from working with them at Wasps, they are the ones you want when your backs are against the wall.

Their record speaks for itself: Wales have won a lot of Six Nations games. They had to come out fighting against Ireland and that's what they did.

It was a close game. Ireland could have won too: if Robbie Henshaw hadn't come in from the side when Rory Best touched down, that could have changed the course of the game. But you can't blame any individual and Henshaw was brilliant other than that.

The game was ferocious from start to finish, and there was good intensity to it, with two well-conditioned sides going at it hammer and tongs.

And with the roof of the Principality Stadium being closed, and it being a Friday night, it added a bit to the spectacle. It was an incredible atmosphere.

Ireland lost that game because when they got into the Welsh 22 they struggled to create opportunities when they went to the corner. Unfortunately it didn't work out at the back of the lineout, and that cost Ireland on a couple of occasions.

Wales' defence held Ireland out brilliantly, and that's an Ireland team that put five tries past New Zealand in the autumn.

In phase play you are trying to create certain scenarios that will help you build space for yourself and maybe this Irish team don't feel that they are getting that back yet.

They are trying to be direct to attack the line, but the Welsh were defending aggressively and coming off the line, which made it difficult for Ireland. Ireland opened them up a couple of times with wrap-around plays, but things aren't coming off at the moment.

And it won't be any easier this weekend. England were ruthless in hammering Scotland last weekend: they just went after them and didn't let up. But Scotland lost some players and it affected their shape a bit and they didn't have a good day.

England were good, they were confrontational. Eddie Jones is talking them up now, and it's the way he is. It will add a bit of spice to it, with the kind of mental battle that's going on. It's good for the game. I like it, it's great. He is just laying it down for his players.

Read More: Plenty of time left to stake Lions claim

It will be a disappointing Six Nations if Ireland go home with three defeats - a bit of a shock after November. But it just shows how fickle this sport can be. It's the same as the Irish provinces in Europe: last year they were doing poorly and now they are flying high - polar opposites.

Strike

You don't get to win the Six Nations championship every year, and maybe this is Ireland's long way around to having the right combinations to strike in the next World Cup.

Ireland will have parity with England in the scrum. England are just physical and direct. They do the simple things well, and they do some nice plays too. They were very good against Scotland. But when Italy did 'the Fox' against them they were stumped.

The battle will be won on the front line, England have some big game-breaking runners but if you can stop them it will make a massive difference. They have a strong squad but Ireland do too.

Irish Independent

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