Sunday 19 November 2017

Five areas schmidt needs to address

Ireland have just a few days to work on multiple flaws exposed in chastening defeat to Australia before the world champions pitch up – so new coach faces testing week

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Wins over southern hemisphere opponents are remembered for a reason. They come so rarely.

Wins over southern hemisphere opponents are remembered for a reason. They come so rarely.

They are almost always based on aggression, and that was sorely lacking on Saturday, when what Australia captain Ben Mowen described as his side's "desperation" saw their back-row dominate the tackle area.

It is not the only ingredient, but you can't play off back-foot ball and you can't allow teams like Australia and New Zealand to get over the gainline or stay on their feet as long as the visitors were allowed to on Saturday.

Having bullied Samoa in the tight a week previously, Ireland's back-row never worked as a unit to take the game to the Wallabies. They were met on the gain-line by two or three tacklers at every occasion, and Sean O'Brien was carrying too close to the ruck to have any real space in which to thrive.

Working on TV, Ronan O'Gara and Shane Horgan pointed out that Tevita Kuridrani had been allowed to spear Peter O'Mahony without the slightest recrimination from the Ireland players, with the Munster captain having to defend himself. Both asserted that it wouldn't have gone unpunished in their day.

No one wants to see players lose their heads, but when a team-mate is wronged there is a necessity to lay down the law. On Saturday, it was the tourists who marshalled the game, who bullied the collisions and who came out on top.

England did not manage to repeat their Twickenham heroics of last year on Saturday, but they didn't let the All Blacks have it their own way and they unsettled the world champions in the tight. It is the only way forward.

GET OFF THE MARK AND DON'T GET SUCKED IN

An increase in intensity should bring about a better defensive game, and Ireland can't afford to be passive when New Zealand have the ball.

Both of Australia's first-half tries came through tacklers standing off the ball-carrier and allowing the man in possession take contact on his own terms. It cost Joe Schmidt's side dear.

The All Blacks have been tested by France and England, and needed Hollywood off-loads to beat both. Australia just needed to do their basics and the gaps came. As Ireland learned in Hamilton 17 months ago, if you give Steve Hansen's team an inch, you lose 60-0.

Aaron Cruden cannot be afforded the same armchair ride Quade Cooper enjoyed, while Ma'a Nonu must not be allowed to dictate the game as Matt Toomua did at Lansdowne Road. Otherwise it could get ugly.

Ireland must break quickly and pressurise New Zealand into split-second decisions. Time and space will kill them.

"The two tries they scored in the first half when they went with width, it was disappointing how tight we got," Paul O'Connell said. "We discussed during the week how we needed to hold width if we were going to take line-speed, so some of the things are quite easily rectifiable."

KEEP IT SIMPLE

The best team in the world arrived in Castleknock last night and, while Ireland are implementing new plans and trying to develop, this could be time for battening down the hatches.

O'Connell suggested that players are so focused on getting the accuracy right that they left the intensity behind, and that can't happen this weekend.

Whether it's softening the hands in the pass, keeping the ball when taking contact or just keeping it tight for a while, Schmidt's side can't afford to be as loose when in possession as they were against Australia.

LIMIT THE KICKING GAME

The plan, Schmidt insisted, was not to kick the ball repeatedly to Israel Folau; it's just that when Ireland's decision makers came under pressure they resorted to the boot. This week they face a back-three who will be even more dangerous off loose kicks than Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Nick Cummins were.

Man of the match against England, Julian Savea is a far better player than he was when Ireland caused him problems under the high ball in 2012, while Israel Dagg is pure class and Charles Piutau is another danger.

If Ireland are going to put boot to ball, then it has to be cleverer than it was on Saturday – or face the consequences.

REMAIN PATIENT

"We've got a whole bunch of players that are new. You've got players from different outfits and you can't assume they come in and all of a sudden it happens – you find middle ground, and you've got to suit the skill-sets of the guys you've got; we're getting closer to getting that balance right."

Ewen McKenzie summed up the struggles of being a new international coach pretty well on Saturday before jetting off to Scotland, and Ireland must pay heed to his words.

Great things are expected of Schmidt, but he has taken over a team at a low ebb and it will take time to turn it around. It's not so long since a number of those Irish players were hammering the same Wallabies when wearing red jerseys.

Ruaidhri O'Connor's team

to face New Zealand

R Kearney; T Bowe, B O'Driscoll, L Marshall, F McFadden; P Jackson, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross; D Tuohy, P O'Connell (capt); P O'Mahony, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.

Irish Independent

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