Friday 6 December 2019

Irish must make things happen to get shot at series glory

Conor Murray surfing in Jeffreys Bay yesterday during the squad’s rest day ahead of the third test match against the Springboks on Saturday. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Conor Murray surfing in Jeffreys Bay yesterday during the squad’s rest day ahead of the third test match against the Springboks on Saturday. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Fifty-one minutes into last week's game and Ireland, who only made two visits to the South African '22 all game, got possession through their lineout on the Springbok 10-metre line.

It was a prime attacking position, but the tourists had a 16-point lead and rather than build on that further, their intention appeared to be to hold it in place.

They go through three conservative carries, before Conor Murray box-kicks. Within minutes, Ruan Combrinck has steam-rolled Paddy Jackson to score and although Ireland still lead by nine points, the game has turned on its head.

"There's always a natural temptation to go into your shell a little bit and you just can't afford to do that with the Springboks," was Joe Schmidt's take on the comeback.

This week, he must replenish his tired side by changing some names, while attempting to rouse one last big performance from his key players.

South Africa have found their strongest team and their game-plan is coming together, while their error-count and ill-discipline is becoming less of a factor.

It's time for Ireland to stop relying on the Boks for their scores and create something to take the series.

Get to the edge

In the first Test in Cape Town, Ireland's first play saw them get the ball wide quickly for Andrew Trimble to find space yet they have rarely looked to the spaces out wide since.

That was understandable after CJ Stander saw red in that opening game, but when it was restored to 15 v 15 in Johannesburg, they rarely threatened in the wide channels.

The decision to kick in Ellis Park proved advantageous due to Lwazi Mvovo's poor positional work, but Combrinck is a different beast and he will relish the opportunity to counter.

With the Springboks defending tight to the ruck and the back three expecting a kick, there should be spaces on the fringes and in Jackson, Stuart Olding, Luke Marshall or Jared Payne, the tourists have a range of good passers in their midfield.

Last weekend, Ireland only passed the ball 74 times over the course of 80 minutes as they chose to run or kick with 99 possessions. There was a swing between Tests one and two from passes to kicks and when South Africa adjusted Ireland failed to react.

That no-risk approach can only get them so far at this level, it's time to attack. Rarely during this series have we seen anything from the Schmidt play-book and it's time for Ireland to use their box of tricks.

Keep line-speed consistent

The whole point of playing these games is that Ireland can learn to cope against the best and when the heat came on last week their good habits went out the window.

It took Paul O'Connell's team a couple of heartbreaking defeats to get to the level they reached in 2014 and 2015 and it is important to recall the big second-row leading the defensive line against Australia in November 2014 as the Wallabies launched one last attack.

That was the day that Ireland showed that they had learnt from their loss to the All Blacks, but this team are learning all over again.

As the Springbok onslaught ramped up, Ireland stood off and stopped getting in their faces. Hence, Damian de Allende, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Combrinck suddenly started blasting through tackles and making headway.

The altitude can't have helped, but the Boks are sure to try and blast their way through again. In that last 20, Ireland's line-speed disappeared and that cannot happen if they hope to win the series.

Bench impact

As it stands, 30 of the 32 players who have travelled to South Africa have had some involvement on the field and that is a success story for Schmidt who is learning himself about the new members of the squad.

However, his decision to change things up for Test two, in particular his bench selection, arguably cost Ireland the series because when the Kiwi coach looked at his options he was hesitant about putting them on.

He has spoken about second winds and the need for players to get up to speed, but the reality is that Allister Coetzee's bench won him the match and Ireland couldn't match the home side's firepower.

That can't happen this week, but the inclusion of Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong, Ultan Dillane and Rhys Ruddock should at least allow Ireland introduce some powerful players from the stands.

Contest every possession

So far, Ireland have failed to lay a glove on Eben Etzebeth's lineout and, while the Springboks have been good out of touch, they have surely shown some openings to Devin Toner and Simon Easterby to exploit.

Ireland only had 25pc possession and 22pc territory in the second half last week as their ability to turn ball over in the tackle area wilted with their energy.

Disrupting the quality of South African ball through their set-piece would put Faf de Klerk under pressure and force Elton Jantjies and his ball carriers on to the back foot.

The same goes for the breakdown where Ireland had success in the first 120 minutes of this series, but once the collisions started going South Africa's way then they struggled to make their mark at the ruck.

Stripping ball-carriers in possession has been a success, but the Boks have re-adjusted their body height to prevent the contest.

Ireland must be smarter to get more of the ball and not give it away as often themselves. They can't survive on such low possession in Port Elizabeth.

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