Friday 15 December 2017

How can Ireland beat the All Blacks again? Here are five areas Joe Schmidt must focus on

Consecutive wins over New Zealand will take something new from Irish

Joe Schmidt has named his Ireland squad for the opening two Six Nations games
Joe Schmidt has named his Ireland squad for the opening two Six Nations games
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

In July 2009, South Africa beat New Zealand 28-19 in Bloemfontein. A week later, they took them to sea-level and did it again, running out 31-19 winners in Durban. The All Blacks got back to winning ways by beating Australia, but when the Springboks came to Hamilton they won 32-29.

Since that Tri-Nations, no one has beaten the men in black twice in a row, never mind three times. They have won five of the subsequent Rugby Championships and the two World Cups, losing only seven out of 98 games along the way.

Only three times since have they conceded more than the 32 points they did in September, 2009. The third, and highest points total, was against Ireland two weeks ago in Chicago.

Such is the scale of the task that awaits Joe Schmidt and his players as they look to follow history with history at the Aviva Stadium.

Beating the All Blacks required a performance of huge intensity and high accuracy. It helped that the world champions were missing key players, had an all-too-rare off-day and made uncharacteristic mistakes.

Although running in 10 tries against Italy last weekend would have been cathartic, their focus is on learning from Chicago and putting that day to rights.

Meanwhile, Ireland put their starters on ice for the Canada game and will hope for a repeat of their momentous result.

To do so, they will need to build on one of their greatest performances.

1. Learning from Chicago

No doubt Schmidt took the celebrations easy in Chicago given he and his team had to do it all over again and he has forensically gone through the game-tape to identify any sort of missed opportunities his team left behind at Solider Field.

Ireland scored five tries in their 40-29 win. Two came directly from their lineout mauls from penalties kicked to the corner, one was a retrieved high-ball from a contestable kick that New Zealand failed to deal with and another was a clever break from Conor Murray who spotted Aaron Smith drifting from his pillar position at the edge of the ruck and went for it. The winner came from a cleverly worked move from the back of a 5m scrum after a well-orchestratred wide-play and a hard kick-chase.

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Ireland players, from left, Devin Toner, Robbie Henshaw and Donnacha Ryan celebrate victory after the International rugby match between Ireland and New Zealand at Soldier Field in Chicago, USA. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

In defence, New Zealand's points total was the fourth-highest conceded under Schmidt and the coach has spoken about the need to avoid a repeat of the errors that led to their scores.

Crucially, Ireland held on to the ball for long phases of the first-half, kept their discipline and avoided cheap turnovers. They pressurised an understrength New Zealand lineout and executed with precision. Those are the basics on which a second victory can be secured.

2. The direct approach

It's safe to assume that New Zealand's first choice second-row pairing will fix their lineout problems, while there is likely to have been a major focus on discipline after they lost the penalty count 12-4 and conceded 12 points with Joe Moody in the sin-bin.

"We have to stop giving Ireland 25-point head starts," said coach Ian Foster and a quick start will be on the agenda out at their Castleknock base.

This is where Ireland's ball-carriers come in.

Despite Ireland's attacking success, it is remarkable to review the game and see how frequently the men in green failed to break the gainline in Chicago.

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Jonathan Sexton is tackled by Malakai Fekitoa, left, and Waisake Naholo. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

It was Ireland's backs who had most success as Schmidt moved the point of attack out wide, frequently utilising the combination of Conor Murray, Johnny Sexton and Jared Payne, with Robbie Henshaw running decoy, to get the ball out to Simon Zebo, Andrew Trimble or Rob Kearney who had plenty of space as New Zealand set themselves up for kicks.

From the start, Ireland looked to keep the All Blacks moving and Sexton only kicked six of 24 possessions. Murray took up some slack with 14, but most of those were exit plays or box-kicks when the attack failed to generate momentum.

In South Africa last summer, Ireland unveiled three markedly different game-plans for each Test and it would be no surprise for them to take a more direct approach this week.

With New Zealand expecting the ball to move wide, it is set up for CJ Stander, Sean O'Brien, Iain Henderson and Henshaw to run hard and straight at the suspect fringe that Ireland chose not to exploit at Soldier Field.

When they came so close in 2013, that was the line of attack and they could look to do the same again, winning collisions and putting the world champions on the back-foot.

3. Defensive mindset

Three of New Zealand's four tries against Ireland came from off-loads, but there is only so much you can do to prevent such talented players doing that.

Routinely, however, Ireland used the All Blacks' body position in contact and desire to keep play alive against them by holding up the tackled player and either forcing the off-load or executing the choke tackle.

In South Africa, Springbok coach Allister Coetzee complained that Ireland were lower in contact than his players and the All Blacks played into Irish hands at Soldier Field by carrying high.

Andy Farrell would have been pleased with the long defensive set before half-time when his side held out, while it would also have been satisfying to see Aaron Smith and Julian Savea frustratedly kick away despite being in good attacking position.

However, no good defence coach wants to see his side concede that many scores.

Schmidt mentioned the over-enthusiastic line-speed that cost the first, while there were basic errors in the build-up to Scott Barrett and TJ Peranara's scores.

If Ireland can learn from those and continue with their good habits, they'll be in a good place.

4. Keep their cool

Perhaps it is all part of the learning experience, but if Ireland do get themselves ahead on Saturday they will be careful not to get carried away.

Had the end-game come out differently, much of the focus would have centred on the minutes following the Simon Zebo try that appeared to put the result beyond doubt.

Certainly, the players' celebrations indicated they sensed history, but in the minutes that followed both a tiring Sexton and captain Rory Best made uncharacteristic errors and New Zealand scored 14 points in four minutes as a result and the 2013 flashbacks began to take hold.

When they enter what Schmidt refers to as the "mind gym" this week as part of their preparation, they may want to visualise a similar scenario and keep their calm.

5. Stay on the front-foot

Ireland know they can beat New Zealand. They should have done it in Dublin in 2013 and they got over the line two weeks ago.

They have created rare doubt in the All Black mindset and the worst mistake they can make would be to start slowly and hand the hard-earned momentum back to the world champions.

The home factor cannot be under-estimated against a team who are in the penultimate game of a long season. If Ireland can get the crowd involved early on by producing some big plays, they can make life uncomfortable for Steve Hansen's side who have been stewing on their defeat.

Ireland must take the sting out of the revenge mission by continuing on the front-foot and the crowd will row in behind them.

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