Sunday 22 September 2019

Diplomatic Best laments lineouts lost

'We've had a few iffy days before and come back again the next week against some of the best teams and performed really well'

Rory Best looks dejected after an off-day for the Irish lineout in Twickenham. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Rory Best looks dejected after an off-day for the Irish lineout in Twickenham. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

"For you Rory! I saw you walk out, there was a huge intake of breath - I know it's only a friendly but are you determined to savour all these kind of final moments? You're not going to be back here with Ireland are you?"

To his eternal credit, Rory Best sailed right past this stupefying question - asked moments after Ireland had been emptied by a record margin by England - and delivered a couple of lines that, in the circumstances, were perfectly acceptable.

We may think Ireland's captain has exceeded his shelf life but still he is consummate in his dealings with the media.

Soon enough it will all be over for him. With Ulster over the years he has had heaps of practice of putting lipstick on a pig and presenting it as a beauty queen.

The way Ireland are looking now his last lap as captain will involve more of the same. You'd back him to carry it off with dignity.

Tricky

It will be taxing though. Captaincy is a tricky business but never more so than when you are asking your players to do what you say, not what you do.

It is simplistic to lump all the lineout woes on the hooker. For example when Wallaby Owen Finegan fetched up to Leinster - by which point he was so far over the hill as to be almost out of sight - some of his teammates worried about his eagerness to call lineout ball on himself, regardless of the traffic around him.

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Rugby is a team game, and nowhere is it more important than at the lineout where the combination of calling, throwing and lifting is complex. So Iain Henderson will review his calls and conclude he got a couple wrong. When Devin Toner picked up the tab after Henderson went off things didn't get much better. Best and Sean Cronin have their share of can- carrying to do. "I think it is fixable," Best said. "When you look at our set-piece over the last while, it's been a strength for us, something we launch off. Obviously, that horrific day in Cardiff, it malfunctioned a little bit and that was disappointing.

"It was disappointing today and we're big enough to wear that. We've had a few iffy days before and come back again the next week against some of the best teams and performed really well. I think we have a good process there.

"Sometimes you think you're going well and you come up against something where the confidence gets knocked a little bit because it was the first game, and there were a few combinations that didn't perform as well as we would have liked but we're going to work on that. It wasn't good enough but I know we can be a lot better than that."

It is not an excuse to acknowledge that part of Ireland's awfulness was down to England having more game time under their belts.

But once that's out of the way, it's all uphill. Best maintained that the difference between preparing to face a top-of-the-range side and actually running headlong into them is chalk and cheese. He's stretching a bit on that one.

"We won the first one (lineout) and it went well," he said. "But then they competed on the second and I think we just got within ourselves a little bit and everyone got a little bit nervous and they kept coming after us there. There's no doubt that it affected our game.

"We've got to look at why it affected our game, how we can be better. I think we can increase the pace we come in at. They gave us a lesson in (that) whenever a team is not ready to just hit the line and go.

"Whereas we were a bit laboured coming in and gave them a few pictures to look at and move around and read. A combination of a couple of throws not right, a couple of calls, a couple of the movements being a bit slow. I thought we were in a good place but it was a big lesson for us today."

With blood in the water now you'd expect Wales - a much changed outfit to the side who played England back to back already this month - will come after the Irish lineout as well.

In the Six Nations game in Cardiff last March, where Ireland were second best on pretty much every metric, the away side didn't have a statistical meltdown out of touch, with only two of 15 throws picked off.

But in the downpour on the day they struggled to use that platform to achieve something useful.

That lineouts lost stat went up to six from the same number of throws against England. And that's a long way from workable.

Irish Independent

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