Tuesday 17 July 2018

Alan Quinlan: Ireland must be more cynical if they are to avoid dead rubber in Sydney

Taking time out earlier this week to interview Ireland out-half Johnny
Sexton after training Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Taking time out earlier this week to interview Ireland out-half Johnny Sexton after training Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Alan Quinlan

There is no hiding place in Test rugby and the margins between success and failure are so fine that if a team are operating even slightly below-par, coming out on the right side of the result is exponentially more difficult.

Joe Schmidt has, of course, made a few changes in personnel but the reality is, if Ireland don't improve on three key fronts - accuracy, aggression and ruthlessness - they will likely find themselves facing the underwhelming prospect of a dead rubber in Sydney next weekend.

This side pride themselves on their efficiency, so the 21 turnovers conceded last weekend will really have stung, and I'm sure every one of them will have been reviewed in great detail this week.

Other than the obvious disparity in the 'tries scored' column, the number of turnovers was the most notable differential between the sides last week, with Australia conceding nine fewer than their visitors.

It is one of the most important statistics in modern rugby. If you look at Ireland's two most recent Test matches; last week in Brisbane and the historic St Patrick's Day clash in Twickenham, the side that lost the game matched their opposition in most departments, and even had more possession and territory, but sloppiness with the ball ultimately proved costly.

To put Ireland's volume of turnovers last week in perspective, it's two more than they conceded across their final two Six Nations games - against England and Scotland - and nine more than they averaged throughout that campaign.

A lot of focus has been placed on the breakdown capabilities of David Pocock and Michael Hooper, and while they had some success in that area last weekend, only a handful of Ireland's turnovers came from steals on the ground and six of our nine points came via penalties for Pocock's indiscretions in that department.

Cheika had the Wallabies fired up last weekend. They were ready to tear into Ireland and had a plan to rattle and frustrate their opponents; leaving a mark through a number of big - and some late - hits, and repeatedly cutting off the oxygen supply to Ireland's attack by slowing down the ball, and by playing right on the edge of the game's laws.

Their relentless attempts to poach at the breakdown are draining to deal with, even when they are unsuccessful.

The Wallabies played with a level of cynicism that Ireland must bring today.

Schmidt's side need to play closer to the edge of the laws and get an early read on what referee Paul Williams is willing to let go.

The selection of Dan Leavy should bring a harder edge, and also strengthen Ireland's hand at the breakdown.

Cheika knows that if you let Ireland dictate terms you are already facing an uphill battle.

The tactics to ruffle Ireland's feathers worked a treat, and uncharacteristic loose play from the Grand Slam winners was a reflection of the pressure they were being put under by the men in green and gold.

It's been a long season for the majority of this Irish squad, and trying to get into a cup-final mentality every other week is difficult. However, defeats focus the mind pretty quickly in this game, and I am expecting a big reaction from Schmidt's side today.

The pack need to be more aggressive and more dynamic with their carries. They will also be desperate to lay down a marker in the scrum - the crucial concession against the head last week was a rare stumble in the set-piece and will have dented the pride of the front-row union.

The Australians may have wheeled the scrum but you have to take it on the chin, learn from it and get your own back the following week.

I lost a few scrums like that over the years and it is utterly deflating as a pack to be shunted off your own ball in that manner, never mind when you're defending a one-point lead with only 12 minutes left to play.

Ireland weren't the only ones who were shocked by Australia's performance last week; the media here were also taken aback by how physical and clinical Cheika's side were.

Despite the disappointment of last week, there were a number of positives in the first Test for Ireland - namely the performances of Joey Carbery, Rob Herring and John Ryan in terms of building for the future.

However, last week's result has ensured that the future is now - building towards Japan is no longer the priority.

We have already learned some valuable lessons on this tour, now it's essential that this outstanding season is concluded with the series victory it deserves, and that starts in Melbourne this morning.

Irish Independent

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