Tuesday 21 November 2017

Alan Quinlan: Big worry to see us get beaten up in contact area

Dave Kearney fails to escape the clutches of England’s George Ford on Saturday
Dave Kearney fails to escape the clutches of England’s George Ford on Saturday

Alan Quinlan

That performance was well below what we expected from Ireland - no matter what we're keeping back or what point our preparations are at.

It was a very disappointing display. With the 31-man squad named I felt that we'd be a bit more calm and relaxed about this game and that we'd improve. We just looked a little bit flat - it's like individuals need a good run of games to get up to speed.

The worrying thing is that's two poor performances in a row now. You have to go back to the start of Joe Schmidt's tenure for our previous back-to-back defeats, against Australia and New Zealand.

Mentally, World Cup warm-ups are tough. You want them to go well, you want combinations to work, you want players to get match practice, but they are not the be-all and end-all.

We have the luxury that our group games will gradually build up from Canada and Romania to Italy and then on to the big one against France.

But players have definitely been playing within themselves; they need to up their efforts. We should be seeing more desire and hunger from them. There is aggression, accuracy and intent missing.


There was guys falling off tackles; we saw fellas dropping the ball and firing poor passes; guys are not realigning in attack; and on numerous occasions we were very, very slow to get back up off the ground and get into position.

When you don't hold onto the ball and you're defending a lot this is what can happen. The whole thing needs a shake-up, but it's early to start over-reacting - time is on our side.

In the last two years we have prided ourselves on high work-rate, high intensity and accuracy. Once that drops a few per cent we become beatable.

Paul O'Connell said they usually follow up a defeat with a big reaction. They didn't do that on Saturday, so maybe one or two of them will be questioning themselves now.

Collectively there will be some frustration creeping in about the team performance, and individuals will certainly be feeling some pressure.

For ten minutes after half-time we looked like the team that won two Six Nations, but by and large lads looked nervous and afraid to make a mistake.

It is not all doom and gloom though, but Dave Kearney and Paul O'Connell were the only players that stood out.

Kearney was outstanding. He was competitive, energetic, and his ability to break through tackles was head and shoulders above the rest.

Other lads need to assess where they are at and lift their intensity. That will come with matches - a lot of our top players need games. That sharpness is critical.

Much quicker ball has to be generated, so they need to start hitting rucks with intent and getting back to the basics and what brought them success in the past.

France will look at how Wales and England have slowed Ireland's ball down and beaten us up around the contact area.

That really worries me. I'm concerned that we have been physically outmuscled in the last two weeks. Wales did it a bit last year, and England did it to us the year before.

If a team matches us physically what do we do then? If we lose the aerial battle and teams slow down our ball we struggle. We don't have many brilliant flair players that can win you a game on their own and we don't have massive pace.

Look at England: Anthony Watson and Jonny May are lethal from a standing start - we don't have that but we've prided ourselves on great work ethic and it needs to return quickly.

Ireland will beat Canada and Romania, they'll beat Italy, but they cannot underestimate that challenge - especially physically.

It's not possible to just switch it on against France, so training in the next few weeks will have to see an increased aggression and accuracy to reach those standards.

I'm hoping that they have a plan up their sleeves because time is limited, but I'm confident that they can round off the rough edges in the next few weeks.

On the flip side, they'll all be very happy with how the scrum and lineout have gone in these four games. They are the keystone of Ireland's game-plan.

The other stuff can be worked on and improved, but it needs to happen fast.

The management will also be majorly relieved that there has been no other serious injury after Tommy O'Donnell's horrific blow.

But there are some doubts and questions lingering now which is not ideal.

For sure our starting 15 is not as nailed down as it was before these four games. Places are up for grabs unless some of the more senior, established guys find their form really quickly in training or against Canada and Romania.

In the back three there was a real mix of standards shown.

Tommy Bowe hasn't set the world alight for a while and he is now definitely under pressure in my opinion. He didn't have a good game in Twickenham, but he's mentally tough and hopefully will respond.

But it's not just Tommy that will feel that heat: plenty of guys need to up their performances.

Part of me is worried and nervous after these back-to-back defeats, and the other part is trying to tell me that there are mitigating factors to these two performances.

I hope I have no reason to be nervous.

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