Sport Rugby

Friday 23 March 2018

Pre-match chat can prove very beneficial


Declan Kidney is not a huge fan of pre-match meetings with referees. It's not that he's anti-social, rather he seems unconvinced of their merit. He's not sure that you won't come across as a whinger, arriving with a list of your opponents' illegal weapons of choice. Moreover, he suspects that referees will ref how they want to ref, regardless of what you point out to them beforehand.

He might want to reassess this position. A week ago in Perth, Australia survived an horrendous shellacking at the set-scrum largely because of the pace and athleticism of their backs, and the defence of their forwards, especially around the fringe. Those defenders made England look witless. And while Martin Johnson's mob are clearly not the most creative side on the planet, frequently they were beaten before they started.

Why? Because Australia set their defensive line halfway up each ruck rather than behind the back foot. In a war of inches this has a massive influence. They smashed England back time and again.

So when it came to meeting referee Romain Poite before yesterday's second Test in Sydney, which the tourists won 21-20, the England management dwelt on this issue. In Perth, Nigel Owens had ignored it. It was as bad a refereeing day out as he has ever had.

Monsieur Poite wasn't flawless yesterday but he made an effort to close this loophole and it gave England precious space to play. If he had gone the whole hog then he would have insisted that scrum-half Will Genia feed the ball straight occasionally to the scrum, or that either of their hookers did the same to any line-out called to the front.

Dealing with Bryce Lawrence this week is a bit trickier, and certainly he would consider himself very important in the whole mix, which is not the impression you get from Poite. But it's worth the effort because already England have made it an issue and Ireland should do the same.

It will be interesting to see the effect of this defeat on the Wallabies. In a one-third empty stadium they were beaten by a hungrier team. And while their scrum was somewhat improved it was perhaps because there were fewer set-pieces than in Perth.

What will enthuse the Ireland coach, however, is that England made life a lot harder for the Wallabies by defending much more aggressively on the fringe, and against Quade Cooper who is the best running out-half in world rugby. Moreover they did well when they shifted the point of attack and forced the Wallaby defensive line to reorganise.

These are things Ireland can manage. If they can limit the attacking potential of the Aussie back three, which looks sure to be without Digby Ioane, they will help themselves. And of course nobody expects them to do anything too dangerous. In their preview of the game, Fox Sports flashed up on screen an Ireland squad replete with about half a dozen players who either never made the trip or are already invalided out. Not much changes down here.

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