Friday 23 February 2018

We need to be clinical for the entire 80 minutes

Keith Earls has been in blistering form this season.
Keith Earls has been in blistering form this season.
Paul O'Connell will be leading the pack against Dragons

Ian Costello

Any time you get five points away from home, you have to be delighted. That was our maximum expectation from the trip to Cardiff and to do it so early in the game was very pleasing.

But while we were very happy with the result, there is definitely room for improvement ahead of the Dragons game tonight.

With four tries in the bag, I don't think there is ever a conscious intent to relax, but we were disappointed that we took our foot off the gas -- we should have kicked on from there and maintained those standards for the full 80 minutes.

We had a very strong bench and they all contributed significantly. But our accuracy did drop off quite a bit in that closing 25 minutes. The overriding message this week is that, although we are pleased with the first 50 minutes, we need to be clinical for the entire 80.

Fair enough, if we are good enough to win by 20 points then that's what we should win by, but if we are capable of winning by 40, we have to win by 40. That's where our expectations are.

In the first 50 minutes, we played with an impressive intensity and our concentration and focus were much higher and exactly where we'd expect them to be. Our skill execution was of a high quality, our passing was precise and it was done at speed. The handling errors I spoke of last week were greatly reduced and, under pressure, our skills held up.

But late on we weren't as accurate in our execution and that was one of the main reasons that our attack wasn't as effective as in the first half.

The precision wasn't there and some of the decision-making that was good early on, also fell off. In fairness, Cardiff also upped their intensity and made us defend for longer periods, but a full 80-minute performance was what we had expected.

Overall it was another excellent result. It was a new experience playing on the 4G surface in the Arms Park. Despite some concerns, it was surprising that the feedback from the players was very positive.

They felt it contributed to a very high-tempo game and our GPS data backs that up, based on running speeds and accelerations on the firm surface.

For the first 15 minutes there was no time stoppage, which is highly unusual. As a consequence, we expected the guys to be a bit sore afterwards, but the reports were all good. They felt in decent shape and even two or three days later the standard markers were all met. The feedback was very positive.

We were barely on the flight home when the focus had turned to tonight's game against the Dragons. They picked up an exceptional result last weekend, as we know it's no mean feat to go to Glasgow and beat them quite comprehensively.

This will be our second Pro12 clash with the Dragons and it's not even Christmas yet. They were on a roll at the start of the season and they sent an understrength team over to Musgrave Park. That was a decision they took then, but it will be an entirely different prospect this weekend.

They have an exceptional home record and it's a very tough place to go and play. They play a very abrasive game. There will be a lot of stuff going on off the ball, the rules will be stretched, so it is vital that we deal with all the peripheral things going on. We have to hold our structures and our discipline.

We have been boosted by the return of a few of the Irish lads to the squad this week.

They had a tough day last weekend against New Zealand, but Paulie, Conor and Peter were all superb. It will be great to have them back, especially with so many big games just around the corner.

A six-day turnaround between games is never easy, but, thankfully, our S&C coaches have the boys in good shape with a major focus on recovery this week.

There won't be any significant difference in how we are trying to play against the Dragons, so any changes should be seamless. We trained well again this week, so will be looking for a sustained 80 minutes performance and, hopefully, a similar result.

Irish Independent

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