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Ireland forwards coach Paul O’Connell admits his side’s set-piece requires major improvements


Paul O'Connell speaks to Jordan Larmour

Paul O'Connell speaks to Jordan Larmour

Paul O'Connell speaks to Jordan Larmour

Ireland forwards coach Paul O'Connell has acknowledged that his side's set-piece requires major improvements, if they are to turn things around in next Saturday's second Test against the All Blacks.

Scrum and lineout issues again hampered Ireland in yesterday's 42-19 first Test defeat at Eden Park, as New Zealand went after Ireland at the set-piece.

Worryingly, from an Irish perspective, that is fast becoming a common theme against the best teams, with O'Connell under pressure to come up with the solutions in an attempt to rescue the Series in Dunedin next weekend.

“It was poor last night, there is no doubt about it,” O'Connell said of the set-piece.

“From a scrum point of view, some of the interpretation is frustrating but that is something we need to address and figure out and then lineout wise, we had 17 lineouts but we lost four of them.

“Another one we lost, we won, but lost on the ground, so effectively we lost five lineouts. Two of them were actually really good lineouts.

“We just got our drill wrong a little bit. Two of them they got their defence right which you expect against New Zealand, they have a very good mirror line out and historically they have been very good against us.

“That was a frustrating part of our game. It is an important part of our game in terms of being able to play our game and maybe stop the opposition play as well when we have the ball and they don’t have it is good for us.

“Those parts of the game where we don’t help another team get into the game are things we will have to address.”

For all that Ireland are up against in their bid to solidify their set-piece in the space of a week, O'Connell is also wary that New Zealand will be better again next weekend, having just played the first game of their Test season.

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“Yes, for sure, and you know, it is something we always say, they are going to score tries, they are going to make line breaks and we have to score as well,” O'Connell said.

“One of the ways that we score is by being very tidy in how we go about our own business and at times we were not that last night.

“Even we finished with the penalty count at 14-10 or something but up until the 70th minute it was 10-7 and one or two of those penalties are just penalties that we don’t need to give away.

“I think some penalties in rugby are inevitable; there is nothing you can do about it, it is the nature of the game. But there are some you can avoid giving away and we did not manage to do that. And when they get into your half, or your 22, they are just very effective.

“They have great speed, great power and are very good at unstructured play, once the ball has been in play for three or four phases, they are very good. We have to stop giving them those opportunities.”

Having not toured in recent years due to Covid, O'Connell is hoping that the Ireland players, particularly those less experienced ones, will quickly learn what it takes to win in these intense blocks of games.

“We probably haven’t been away from home as much as we should have in recent years. We haven’t had as many of these experiences as we should have,” the Limerick man said.

“When we played in Paris this year, it was a tough experience for us but it was a different experience to what we have been used to.

“So, for us, what we have had to put up with, having to manage things being thrown at us the last two weeks while touring away from home, we are finding out a lot about ourselves as coaches, we are finding out a lot about ourselves as players.

“It is a real tough challenge and then when you get to the ground, you get to a place like Eden Park, it is a real tough challenge as well. They have a great record there historically. They want to protect that record. They want to perform well at home.

“New Zealand’s last two games they lost at home to us and to France, we always knew they would be good here and we probably need to be better playing away from home than we have been in recent games.”

Meanwhile, O'Connell reiterated Andy Farrell's assessment that Johnny Sexton has not yet been ruled out of the second Test, while Dave Heffernan will definitely not play any part.

“Johnny passed his HIA 2 and he will do his HIA 3 in the next 24 hours,” O'Connell added.

“Dave Heffernan did not do a HIA so he has had a concussion confirmed so he is certainly going to be out until the third test.”

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