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Paul O’Connell is clear on the areas Ireland need to improve on

Rucks and turnovers the focus as visitors bid to bounce back from first Test disappointment

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Josh van der Flier of Ireland is driven back at the breakdown during the match against New Zealand at Eden Park in Auckland. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Josh van der Flier of Ireland is driven back at the breakdown during the match against New Zealand at Eden Park in Auckland. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Josh van der Flier of Ireland is driven back at the breakdown during the match against New Zealand at Eden Park in Auckland. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

True to form, Paul O’Connell wasn’t about to look for excuses or put the blame for Ireland’s shortcomings on the referee. In fairness, no one in the Ireland squad has.

Instead, there is an acceptance and recognition that improvements are needed across the board, if they are to bounce back in this weekend’s second Test.

The All Blacks flew to Dunedin on Sunday to spend a full week in the city, whereas Ireland opted for a few extra days in Auckland, before making the journey to the South Island tomorrow.

Preparations will ramp up once again today at North Harbour Stadium, which has become a home away from home for Ireland since they first arrived in New Zealand.

Having reshaped the structure of last week due to the game against the Maori, this week will have a much more familiar feel to it. That in itself should help preparations.

With bodies still battered and bruised following the tough 42-19 first Test defeat, today’s session will be designed to dust off the cobwebs and make the necessary adjustments to the game-plan.

The All Blacks didn’t exactly implement radically different tactics at Eden Park last weekend, yet they added enough subtle tweaks to their attack, which meant they posed a much more difficult challenge than they did in Dublin last November.

In reality, Farrell isn’t about to rip up the script, nor should he, but at the same time, Ireland must be smarter in their approach.

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They saw enough last Saturday to have a better handle on New Zealand’s game-plan. Now, it’s about finding a way to stop it.

“Just in their attack, in their pod of three forwards, they were hitting the outside forward quite a lot,” O’Connell explained.

“It probably worked in some regards and then in other regards, one time that third guy in the pod of the three was a guy called Ardie Savea, who is a pretty good player and was able to create a little bit of magic on the end of it.

“That’s probably the big change they have made. They went hard at our ruck as well at times, and very hard at their own ruck.

“It’s such a big part of the game now. I think we had 126 rucks, they had 90-odd rucks. It plays such a big role.

“If you can grab a few penalties there and if you can deny the opposition grabbing a few penalties, you can affect the game in terms of points on the board. You can affect the game in terms of being able to exit from your own half, in terms of being able to get field position.

“So I think that’s a part of the game that they were quite effective at. We were good as well but at the same time, we gave up a few important turnovers in that part of the game and probably didn’t grab as many as we would have liked ourselves.

“Sometimes that happens in a game and you talk about the scrum giving a team access into the game, or a lineout giving them access into the game, the breakdown probably gave them a bit of access as well.”

The perception of touring teams in New Zealand has long been that the ‘cloak of invisibility’ invariably means it’s much more difficult for decisions to go your way on Kiwi soil.

However, as a former player, who himself knew the importance of playing on the edge, O’Connell doesn’t buy into the suggestion that the All Blacks got away with a lot last weekend. Rather than point the finger at the opposition, the Limerick man believes he and his side should start by looking in the mirror.

“There are a few bits that we would look to chat to the referees about from the weekend, but not a lot,” O’Connell insisted.

“I think a lot of it is down to our own work and how we go about our business. We had 126 rucks, the vast majority of them were really good.

“Unfortunately, we got hurt really badly off a few of the turnovers, so one in particular off the five-man lineout where Jamison (Gibson-Park) had a crack. That was really unfortunate and it shines a light on some of your bad ones.

“We have to look at ourselves first and foremost in terms of the support we have off the breakdown when we do go to ground and to solve that.

“There might be one or two things to address with the ref but the majority of it lies with ourselves and how we go about our business.”

O’Connell’s playing career was ended in brutal fashion at a breakdown during the 2015 World Cup, so the former Munster and Ireland captain knows all about the dangers involved in attempting to poach the ball in such a vulnerable position.

A key area of his remit as forwards coach, O’Connell also understands the need for Ireland to improve their breakdown work in Dunedin on Saturday, and while he acknowledged that some of that is down to the referee’s interpretation, he stressed that his side also need to be more adaptable.

“You hear refs saying you have to lift it (ball) but it’s hard to lift it sometimes if a guy is lying on top of it with his chest,” O’Connell added.

“That’s one part of it. I think referees are probably a little bit softer on side entry because they don’t want to always penalise the tackles that are on the wrong side.

“Look, I think you have to be adaptable. I think it’s a big part of our game, it’s a big strength of our game.

“But it’s like anything else, if you don’t stay on top of it, if you don’t learn every week and keep improving on it every week, it can set you back a little bit. They were certainly in the ascendancy in that regard.”


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