Tuesday 16 January 2018

Five things we learned

1 Ireland's in-form fly-half was watching on television

NO ONE doubts that Ronan O'Gara was an all-time-great player, while Paddy Jackson has long been marked out as one for the future, but Declan Kidney needed to win a game.

The calls have come for change and change he did. But, in doing so, he ignored what has been in front of his face all year; Ian Madigan is the second best out-half in Ireland at the moment and, with the best option out injured, the Blackrock man should have been next in line.

On Saturday night, the Leinster pivot came off the bench to run his side's Pro12 clash with Scarlets like an old pro.

Despite not having trained with the province all week after a belated call-up to the national set-up, the 23-year-old was composed, confident and highly effective, choosing the right options at the right times.

Madigan may not be everybody's cup of tea and the suggestion is that the Ireland coach is not convinced.

But he has played 22 times for Leinster this season, sometimes at full-back, scoring six tries.

There is little doubting his ability with ball in hand, while his record as a replacement when backing up Jonny Sexton is excellent.

He was gradually introduced to the place-kicking, but the evidence is that he can do that too. Madigan is approaching the complete package.

Jackson was not singularly at fault for Ireland's defeat yesterday, neither was O'Gara. But Ireland turned down kickable penalties when the score had yet to be built and spurned momentum.

Maybe Kidney could have picked Fergus McFadden as a goal-kicking option, but that would have ignored the key point. Madigan was in form and ready to go.

Not picking him may have cost the Corkman his job.

2 Earls' flight needs to be two-handed

There are few more thrilling sights in rugby than Keith Earls in full flight. The Munster winger is an explosive bundle of energy, whose two breaks in the first half were a joy to behold.

But, as an experienced member of the backline, he should have known a lot better than to carry the ball in one hand on both occasions, ignoring the imminent try-scoring opportunities that presented themselves.

Brian O'Driscoll was justified in the verbal volley he sent Earls' way after running a perfect line inside the Moyross man, only for the winger to tuck the ball under his arm and go himself for the second time.

Had he held the ball in two hands, on the second occasion in particular, the winger would have fixed Stuart Hogg's attentions fully, drawn him out of the space and been able to send his former captain over.

Instead, he was bundled into touch and the chance was gone. How Ireland regretted it.

3 Ireland's set-piece led to their downfall

The focus will, understandably, fall on the head coach and his selection at out-half, but Ireland's scrum and line-out was in poor shape all day.

Rory Best might get the blame, but in the absence of Paul O'Connell there is no pure line-out jumper on the field and Donnacha Ryan is making the calls. The timing looks off, the throws are not quite right and momentum is lost.

At the scrum, Ireland gave away too many penalties and allowed Scotland to gain the upper hand. Too often, the hosts got the nudge and Ireland were starting off going backwards. We may sound like a broken record, but the lack of focus on the scrum is coming home to roost.

4 Who needs the ball anyway?

An emerging trend of this year's Six Nations is that the team who has the ball generally loses the game, with Ireland taking it to extremes, losing after having 71pc of possession.

They have dominated possession in their last two games and lost, but when they held just 35pc of the game in Cardiff they beat Wales.

Of the nine games so far this campaign, five have been won by the team who had the ball less, while Wales had 50pc of possession when they won in France. Only England's wins over Scotland and France and Italy's victory over France were based on having more ball.

5 It's not just players who should play what's in front of them

On Saturday, France had a great opportunity to beat England until a reminder went off on Philippe Saint-Andre's phone on 52 minutes and he remembered that it was the pre-planned time to take his fly-half off.

No matter that Francois Trinh-Duc was having an outstanding game and doing untold damage to England, the plan dictated that Frederic Michalak's time had come. Trinh-Duc was followed on to the bench by the equally influential Benjamin Kayser, Nicolas Mas, Yannick Nyanga, Mathieu Bastaraud and Morgan Parra.

By the time the match had been lost and the final whistle went, they must have looked at each other wondering what was going on as the men who replaced them fell apart.

The coach should have watched the match and reacted to it, spotted that his players had the upper hand and left them there.

Irish Independent

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