Sport Rugby

Wednesday 24 January 2018

Gaffney focused on hitting the ground running

Alan Gaffney
Alan Gaffney

OPERATION ATONEMENT is up and running. August has arrived to herald the launch of Ireland's latest World Cup assault and, after weeks of what has been uniformly acknowledged as "gruelling" training, the prospect of live action against Scotland on Saturday has infused their Carton House camp with an air of anticipation.

Of course, Irish supporters have been here before. There was a pep in the step of the Irish players prior to the 2007 tournament also, only for pre-World Cup brio to be spectacularly shattered over the course of four tortuous weeks in France.

As the All Blacks know, four years is a long time waiting to put things right and preparations have been defined by a determination to stride clear of the long shadow cast by Ireland's last World Cup expedition.

The primary difference this time around is the focus on game-time as coach Declan Kidney seeks to ensure his men arrive in New Zealand in match mode with the risk of injury acceptable when weighed against the consequences of showing up undercooked.

The planning has been meticulous, with the intention of getting two or three matches behind the players before sending out a side to face the US Eagles on September 11 and, as well as the prescribed warm-up matches, the Ireland management also intend to use the provinces to get World Cup contenders on the pitch.

Existing injuries to the likes of Stephen Ferris, Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll complicate matters, while the concurrent need to assess players for seats still available on the plane (three weeks away from the 30-man squad announcement) makes this August operation an extremely tricky balancing act.

"It is extremely important," agreed backs coach Alan Gaffney (pictured below) yesterday.

"As Declan said, our primary aim is to win the (warm-up) games and we have to get the balance right to make sure they are sharp by the time the World Cup comes around.

"Two and a half to three games maximum per person, that is the optimum. It's going to be difficult to achieve across the board."

World champions South Africa have decided to protect their frontline players in the Tri-Nations and suffered heavy defeats to Australia and New Zealand as a consequence but, mindful again of 2007, Gaffney stressed that this 'cotton wool' approach was never an option for Ireland.

"Each to their own, that's not the way we want to go. Our thought process all along has been that these guys need to sharpen up," said the Australian.

"I don't think you can put yourself in cotton wool and think you are going to perform in a month's time, you just have to get out there. You do risk injury but on balance the positives outweigh the negatives.

"We think the process we are undertaking is the correct way and we are hoping by the time we get to the World Cup the guys are in top form.

"They will have sufficient time, sufficient rest, we'll get the balance there and they will be raring to hit the ground running for 9/11."

Team manager Paul McNaughton also stressed the importance of breaking with the World Cup past, pointing to the deliberate decision to keep the squad on the move in New Zealand rather than risk a repeat of the debilitating siege mentality that set in around their Bordeaux base four years ago.

"We have decided not to operate out of a central base (as in 2007) which we could have had in New Zealand and have decided to move from location to location," said McNaughton.

"So, we are going to start off in Queensland for seven or eight days' acclimatisation and then go to New Plymouth for three or four days, then to Auckland, then to Taupo, then to Rotorua and Dunedin.

"We are moving around like a tour. That was a positive thing. We talked to a good representation of players, we began those talks on the last tour, and generally that's the way they wanted to do it as well.

"We were down in New Plymouth and Rotorua and played in the (World Cup) grounds; that was pre-planned, and then we discussed with the players those ideas about moving around the country."

Ireland's second game against Australia will have a critical bearing on their tournament hopes and Gaffney has not been lured into any sense of complacency by the Wallabies' recent shock defeat to Samoa -- a side Ireland struggled to put away last November -- and is fully briefed on the quality of their Queensland Reds contingent following their Super 15 triumph.

"Australia didn't pay Samoa enough respect, we understood how good Samoa are and how good their players are from seeing them over here," said Gaffney.

"They (Australia) went into that game with 50pc of their first-rate team but it wasn't a bad team they put out, five of that forward pack you would expect to start normally but they didn't show them enough respect by not taking the penalty kicks for goal early in the game and it snowballed.

Threats

"Samoa got on a roll, got a couple of tries and when they are in that form they are a very difficult side to beat. Their performance against South Africa was very good but then again it was a pretty second-rate South African team," added Gaffney, who singled out Reds half-backs Will Genia and Quade Cooper as major threats.

"Queensland brought a lot to the table, they are known as the entertainers but somebody in Australia told me that Queensland kicked the ball more than any side in the Super 15, that may not be the perception but apparently that is a fact.

"When they run the ball, they are very exciting, Genia and Cooper are outstanding players and the rest go along with it.

"Genia is extremely important to what Australia do, there is a gap between Genia and the players underneath him and Cooper obviously brings a lot the way he plays the game."

Cooper and Genia are for another day, for now it is about the Scots at Murrayfield on Saturday and Ireland making a positive start to an intriguing World Cup run-in.

If the experience of France 2007 taught Irish rugby followers one significant lesson, it was about the perils of looking too far ahead.

Irish Independent

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