Friday 24 November 2017

Gaffney's war cry to last men standing

Rob Kearney gets his monitor strapped up by Willie Bennett before Ireland's training session in Brisbane yesterday.
Rob Kearney gets his monitor strapped up by Willie Bennett before Ireland's training session in Brisbane yesterday.

Hugh Farrelly

IT seems to be a case of last men standing ahead of Saturday's clash between Australia and Ireland at the Suncorp Stadium, with both sides having to cope with a spate of injuries and other withdrawals.

The Wallabies are without their first-choice front row, second-row James Horwill and powerful No 8 Wycliff Palu while, in the backs, they have just lost scrum-half Will Genia and winger Digby Ioane.

However, that is still small cheese compared to Ireland's list of absentees -- with David Wallace the latest to be ruled out after returning home to be with his pregnant wife -- as backs coach Alan Gaffney acknowledged yesterday.

"It's unbelievable, I've never seen anything like it," said Gaffney. "Just writing them down -- Sean O'Brien, (Denis) Leamy, (John) Muldoon, (Jamie) Heaslip, Kevin McLaughlin, Donnacha Ryan, David Wallace -- seven back-rows.

"Then you go to locks -- Paulie (O'Connell), Leo (Cullen), use Donnacha (Ryan) as a lock. It's frightening, actually. The backs are fine. We're not missing too many -- Keith Earls and Luke Fitzgerald, and that's about it. The front row is alright. It's just locks and back-rows.

"But we keep learning. I mean, John Muldoon stepped up to the plate, didn't he? And he would never have been given an opportunity at the start of the year. He was so far down the pecking order. Rhys (Ruddock) went alright, a 19-year-old first up playing against the Maori. Went alright. What's going to happen this week?"


That's the question in everyone's minds as the Irish bid to overturn a losing record in Australia that stretches back 31 years and nine matches, while the Wallabies are desperate to bounce back from defeat to England last weekend, the opposition every Australian hates losing to the most.

It is also the last opportunity for Ireland to record a psychologically significant southern hemisphere victory ahead of the World Cup in New Zealand next year, something Gaffney is well aware of.

"It is. I mean in the intervening 31 years, there have been a lot of close results. There's not a doubt Ireland should have won in Melbourne two years ago. I was at that game. There was a game in Perth 11 years ago, when (former Leinster player) Nathan Spooner was playing No 10, that Ireland should have won. So there have been close games. We've got to get a result, get the monkey off the back, we've got to go out and play.

"I think we'll go out and have a crack. We can't give them ball by kicking poorly to a back three like that. I know Ioane's out but (Adam) Ashley-Cooper's a good player. Not really a winger, more a No 15/No 13 but they can play him on the wing. And they could move him to No 15 and move James O'Connor to wing.

"The more we keep the ball in hand, the more we keep them under pressure. I still think we have the ability of attacking them in midfield, as we did in Croke Park (for the 15-15 draw last November).

"When you go back and look at the number of line-breaks we made, which was significant, and didn't finish them off. But that's been part of the problem."

Gaffney's area of responsibility is creating a threatening Irish back line but that requires quality set-piece ball, which suffered against the All Blacks following the dismissal of Heaslip, notably in the line-out. No team makes contingency plans for being a man down up front, which has repercussions for lifting and general organisation out of touch, and though Ireland were still able to win line-out possession, it was not the quality ball required by the back line.

"We can sit and worry about set pieces all day," said Gaffney. "I mean, we played against New Zealand. We didn't win one (quality) ball. The backs didn't get the ball once in entire game off a line-out. Not one ball. Zero. Well, the only ball we got was that tapped ball when Sean Cronin dived on it and we came up with that really good play and Trimby (Andrew Trimble) nearly scored in the corner. That was as close as we got to playing off the line-out and that was really second phase."

With a full pack against the Maori last Friday, line-out possession was much improved, while Ireland have performed well at scrum time in both games -- even when down to seven against the All Blacks. Hooker Cronin started that match and believes the Irish cannot expect to dominate the scrum on Saturday as the Wallaby scrum was much improved in the second Test against England after being thrown about in the first.

"In fairness to England, especially in the first Test, I thought their scrum was exceptional," said Cronin. "In the second Test, the Aussie front row performed very well in comparison to the first Test and I thought a few penalties actually went in the wrong direction; they really stepped up their game.

"We have a couple of areas in our game that we are trying to focus on, not just one aspect of the Australian game. They didn't get shunted off many balls and I thought that they fronted up a lot better; they looked a lot more cohesive as a front row and an eight as well."

After a tough two weeks in New Zealand, Cronin says there is a determination in the Irish camp to end the tour on a high and believes that despite the three-point defeat to the Maori, the nature of the Irish performance that night in Rotorua has had an invigorating effect on the squad.

"Yeah, the lads put in a good 80 minutes; maybe the first 20 wasn't ideal but they played extremely well to claw back and it was unfortunate, the scoreline, in the end," added the Connacht man.

"The lads were very disappointed because they believed the game was there to be won but there were lots of positives to take out of the game. But we just have to try to keep the confidence high and bring it into this week."

Irish Independent

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