Monday 26 February 2018

Henry feels bubbling Irish set to erupt

IT was just as well they turfed out a lot of the onlookers at Irish training. For, if Chris Henry is to be believed, things got pretty hot and heavy behind closed doors at Carton House.

About time too.

After being unceremoniously repelled by the green Springbok wall two weeks ago and ruthlessly exposed at collision and breakdown, Ireland's squad know a reprise against Argentina will doom them to ignominious failure.

Anthony Foley will have watched proceedings and smiled discreetly. He always knew that when the edginess crept into Munster training sessions, predominantly his side would produce on the weekend.


Now it is his Ireland who need to produce. Ensuring that the feistiness that threatened to erupt volcanically at yesterday's training session is repeated on Saturday is the minimum requirement for Ireland to even hope to remain within world rugby's elite.

"It's been bubbling this week," enthuses Ulster back-rower Henry, a player who has been involved in the fringes of enough Irish squads to be able to gauge the mood of the collective.

And, besides, he is not the type to flog cliches for the sake of filling air.

"Yesterday, not everyone trained, but it definitely started to bubble today," he says, fidgeting in his seat as if to replicate the sensation.

"Today was the edgiest training session of this campaign. In teams I've been involved in before, if you're edgy at this stage of the week and you're getting tetchy with your team-mates, then that's a good sign.

"It's boiling up. Losing two weeks ago for, for me, was one of the hardest moments I've had to face in my rugby career. Losing at home, it was hard to take. I didn't think it would hurt as much, but it did.

"We have talked about believing in each other and having confidence in the team even with the injuries and the new faces.

"Everyone put everything into South Africa and that was disappointing. But I don't think we're far off. Even when we were playing the last six minutes, even the last play before unfortunately Rog decided to kick the ball, we had the belief we were going to come back and get the win. That's why it was so heartbreaking.

"Although people talk about Fiji not being a test match, it was great to score tries and enjoy rugby again. If we can get the balance of that enjoyment and the hurt of South Africa, we'll be in a good place."

Ireland must marry craft and graft; one cannot be produced without the other.


For all of the criticism aimed at Ireland's paucity in attack against South Africa, their attempts were already handicapped by a difficulty in securing their own ball to begin with.

Even Giovanni Trapattoni will tell you – as he always does in several tongues – there is only one ball. Inability to win it, or even hold on to it in dangerous enough or advancing positions against South Africa rendered Ireland's task impossible.

Argentina's strength in that tussle for primary possession in phased play will be just as foreboding as the Springboks'.

"They won't be as mobile, so it will be slightly different," he appreciates. "We know what a massive challenge the breakdown will be. The breakdown at this level is what the game is all about, slowing their ball and winning your own ball."

That even hapless Fiji earned a modicum of success in this area flags a severe warning for an Irish team clearly struggling to achieve consistency. Henry, a replacement last Saturday, almost met himself coming off as he picked up a yellow card for flopping off his feet.

"I came on and gave away a stupid yellow," he admits. "It was Jamie the previous week. I was massively disappointed with myself going for a 50-50 and giving away a penalty. In another game, you stay on your feet and some refs might give it your way.

"But it's about keeping your head, I came on and had a rush of blood. South Africa was the same and sometimes we need to take the safer options."

There is little room for safe manoeuvre against the imposing Pumas, however. Time is limited in terms of training to put matters right, even if one suspects that Ireland should be improving from week to week in each facet of the game.

Yesterday, they would have enjoyed about eight to 10 minutes on their mauling, another weapon which both sides seem certain to eagerly trade as is their traditional wont.

Then there was the critical work on the tackle zone, with Foley taking a particular interest in this segment. Translating the labour from the realm of ideal to reality is the next step.

"There's a bite there and people fighting for places," Henry says. "You can do all the training you want, but it's bringing that physicality and aggression into the match.

"You need to have that adrenalin pumping come kick-off and not leave it on the training field."

Irish Independent

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