Monday 19 March 2018

Fiona Coghlan: We can't keep depending on just our grit and resilience

A determined Alison Miller of Ireland battles againts Japan’s Mayo Shimizu and Ayano Sakurai. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
A determined Alison Miller of Ireland battles againts Japan’s Mayo Shimizu and Ayano Sakurai. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Fiona Coghlan

Ireland live to fight another day. They pulled it out of the bag yet again thankfully, but talk about making it hard for themselves.

I never doubted their ability to claw it back because that is what they do. We've seen it time and time again, in the Six Nations this year and also against Australia.

To be 14-0 down at half-time, lose a player to a yellow card, and still claw it back to win by 10 points is impressive. The sin-bin actually seemed to be the kick up the backside that they needed.

At half-time the crowd was so subdued. It was like they were in shock. It took them some time to get behind the team, but in fairness they didn't really have anything to cheer until that great fightback.

The players should take some confidence from that comeback. It's a great thing to have that sort of grit and resilience and want and hunger. You'd just rather they didn't have to depend on it all the time.

We should give great credit to Japan as well.

I was at our two warm-up games against them in June and saw the improvement in their skill level and just how hard they were willing to work for each other. But, having taken such a battering from France and lost two key players, I really thought their confidence would be knocked.


It seemed to have the opposite effect and galvanised them. They put it up to Ireland in every element of the game and some of their skills were really fantastic.

The Japanese No 10 Yamamoto controlled the game really well and was probably the Player of the Match.

However, Paula Fitzpatrick also made a big difference when she came on. She scored two tries and gave the team new impetus and only had a few uncharacteristic errors with kick-offs.

Our replacements have been great in both games so far, but we still need more continuity and variety.

We still have this recurring problem with our line-speed. We were letting Japan move the ball across the pitch as opposed to putting them under pressure and we missed so many tackles.

In the first-half, especially, we didn't play for territory so it put us under pressure, and the amount of unforced errors again was just ridiculous.

We also had problems with our scrum again, but management spotted that earlier and the subs who came on made a difference there.

Ailis Egan came in at tight-head for Ciara O'Connor and made an impact. Leah Lyons added more weight to the front row, Paula Fitzpatrick came in and switched to eight, which let Claire Molloy go to her usual seven spot.

That immediately gave us a better platform and gave Nora Stapleton more time to look for the kick option.

But we still didn't see anything from the backs in terms of attack, apart from one good line-break from Sene Naoupu. Even that was on a short-line which was really bad defence from Japan.

The ruck was much better than the first game, but that was partly because Japan didn't commit to it at all.

I thought Nicole Cronin had a fine first cap at scrum-half, apart from a few errors.

However, the backs are still not asking enough questions. There doesn't seem to be anyone taking control there, it's just shipping hands out all the time. No one is running a line and a few times players collided again.

I don't know if we've developed our backs to be creative, decision-making players. We just seem to go back to the forwards every time.

They did amazingly well in the second-half. They reverted to the maul, went to the pick-and-go and we got change out of that for all our tries. Even Ali Miller's try came off the base of the scrum. You need that strong set-piece platform and we kicked a lot more and better in the second-half because of it.

I understand Tom Tierney had to rotate his side for this game, but just how much he rotated it, and in what positions, those are the harder questions to answer.

Going in to the French game on Thursday, I genuinely don't know who the starting 15 will be and that's still a problem.

Selection is going to be interesting, to say the least.

I don't know if we've seen the starting 15 that will be there against France at any stage this year.

Even if we have the best 15 on the pitch, I'm not sure some of the combinations will have played together before. That is a worry.

I really hope I'm wrong, but that could potentially come back to haunt us.

However, no matter who starts, that shouldn't change our line-speed and line integrity. That really has to be seriously looked at and improved now, irrespective of who is selected.

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