Thursday 22 February 2018

Irish paid All Blacks too much respect: Gaffney

Backs coach insists cool heads can make tourists a major threat

Hugh Farrelly

NO let-up for the battered Irish. Following their 66-28 mauling by the All Blacks at the weekend, Ireland are now settled into their hotel in Rotorua, contemplating the prospect of Friday night's daunting assignment against the New Zealand Maori.

The last couple of days have been spent analysing the effects and consequences of Saturday night. Jamie Heaslip's red card and subsequent five-week suspension changed the complexion of the match and tour entirely and now there is a determination to try and get the demoralising events of New Plymouth out of their collective systems by turning in a redemptive performance against the Maori.

But first, Saturday had to be addressed and, through a series of meetings, the squad and management team have set about doing that.

"It's been very difficult," acknowledged Ireland backs coach Alan Gaffney yesterday.

"It's never easy when you have been dinked by that number of points. You've always got to play the opposition respect but I don't think you have to play them undue respect and I think that's what we did in the first-half.

"Even when we got down to 13 men, we still had the ability of controlling the ball at that time; we've chatted with the boys about it and I think we panicked a bit. We needed to slow the game down and put the ball into touch; unfortunately we didn't.


"We only had the ball twice during that period of 13 men and we kicked it twice and they scored from both kicks. They scored two tries without us touching the ball at one point in time so we've just got to back ourselves and I think that's what came out of the meeting that we had.

"We're realistic about the fact that we created a lot of opportunities at the weekend but we are equally realistic that we did not deserve to win the game.

"But we've got to look at it as though the glass was half full. And it is. The game is a game of small margins. We're attacking on their '22', turn the ball over and all of a sudden it's 10-0. When we're attacking the line, we get a man sent off and all of a sudden we're down 38-0.

"We did play some good rugby in parts, we just have to have the confidence to play that type all the way. Today we've agreed that that's what we've got to go and do. The new interpretations allow us to play and allow us to control the ball and play it at pace. Once we become accustomed to that, I think we're going to become quite a force to be reckoned with."

Rhys Ruddock arrived at the hotel yesterday afternoon after a 15-hour flight from Argentina, where he had been captaining the Ireland U-20s at the World Cup. Being called up to the senior Irish squad is a serious step up for the young Leinster flanker and Gaffney explained why the son of former Wales Grand Slam-winning coach Mike Ruddock got the nod ahead of more experienced back-rows such as Alan Quinlan and Neil Best.

"He was one of a number of people considered to come over. The simple solution would have been to bring Quinny or Besty into the fold given their experience but, on the other hand, with a view to the future, Rhys Ruddock will do the job," he said.

"I think he's an exceptional player. He's only played so many games in the Magners League but the ones he has played he's shown a nice skill level and a high level of intensity. He comes from pretty good stock, he's a tough boy, a very, very skilful boy and has got all the attributes to make it in the professional game and at the highest level."

Last night Ruddock said the call-up came as a huge surprise as he had been focusing all his energies on the Ireland U-20s.

"This is an incredible honour for me and something I never expected," said the 19-year-old. "I trained for the first time this afternoon and the welcome from the guys was great. I just want to train hard over the next couple of days and if the coaches feel they want me, I am ready to do whatever they need me to do."

The injury problems that have beset this expedition show no sign of letting up as team manager Paul McNaughton outlined yesterday.

John Muldoon, who bravely played on for several minutes after breaking his wrist on Saturday night, had an operation yesterday and is due to stay in New Zealand until Friday at least as the consultant wants to assess the injury before the Connacht flanker flies home.

McNaughton said Muldoon could be out of action for "three to four months" and likened the fracture to the injury suffered by centre Gordon D'Arcy in the Six Nations a couple of season ago.

Second row Mick O'Driscoll and flanker Shane Jennings are receiving treatment for back and ankle injuries respectively, while the virus that ruled prop John Hayes out of the Test also prevented him training yesterday.

Andrew Trimble, one of Ireland's best performers on Saturday, has a thigh injury but is expected to be available for the Australia Test on Saturday week, while hooker Damien Varley is also being treated for a back strain.

The Maori, despite being pushed close by the New Zealand Barbarians on Saturday, are in no mood to go easy on the visitors. Aside from the deep desire to properly mark their centenary in one of the New Zealand's most prominent centres of Maori culture, this match also constitutes a de facto All Blacks trial, with many of the home side desperate to be part of the senior side's summer schedule.

Luke McAlister, Hosea Gear, Stephen Brett, Isaac Ross, Corey Flynn -- this Maori side carries a powerful punch, something Ireland are acutely aware of.

"They are a very, very strong team, there's a lot of All Blacks, who recently represented the All Blacks, so it's not as though they are guys put out to pasture," said Gaffney.

"And mixing them with a lot of young boys will make it a very difficult game on the weekend. And it's good because we'll have the same mix-up -- we'll have a lot of experience with a lot of young boys and it's going to be a great challenge for them."

Irish Independent

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