Sunday 22 September 2019

Brian Moore: 'Whatever Ireland's game plan is, it's barely fit for purpose'

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt leaves the team huddle before watching his team lose heavily to England at Twickenham. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt leaves the team huddle before watching his team lose heavily to England at Twickenham. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Brian Moore

I might have to reduce my list of teams who can win the World Cup from six to five having witnessed Ireland's 57-15 thrashing by England.

A knee-jerk reaction? Maybe, but the reasons Ireland should worry go beyond this one result.

Joe Schmidt did not seek to hide behind the fact that his team came into the game on the back of a heavy training camp, when interviewed after the match.

He knows that this accounted for some of the atypical inaccuracy in Ireland’s play, but it goes nowhere near to explaining all of it.

Irish fans will hope this was a blip, like Wales’ first warm-up game at Twickenham, but current problems are not current at all.

Ireland’s win/loss ratio since they beat the All Blacks last November is not disastrous but only a partisan would deny that they have not played anywhere near the standards they set then.

Their recent Six Nations campaign was underwhelming and the form of their international players in the subsequent European club competitions was similar.

Ireland were below par against England and listing the failures is easy – nearly everything. But doing so is not much help and, anyway, it is secondary to more important points.

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For the first time in several years I could not fathom what sort of game Ireland were trying to play.

Suffocating defence and a precise kicking game, augmented by febrile chasing, has been the foundation of previous successes.

The kick and chase was poorly executed on Saturday but the more important issue is that there was no coherent pattern as to when and where it was used.

When Ireland turned to their backs the attacks had no pace, little deception and contained so many badly-timed runs and passes that only twice did they look like getting around England’s defence.

Bundee Aki's try was a great piece of individual skill but that was it; nothing from the collective.

A couple of seasons ago, many people, including me, said that Ireland had the greatest depth of talent in their history.

It did not seem so when you witnessed the appreciable gap in talent between their starting XV and bench at Twickenham.

It only got worse when this translated into an incomprehensible tactical performance where a good few players looked lost, with no idea how to find lucidity.

In 2018, some rugby writers (not including me, by the way) claimed that England were on their way down and Ireland were the coming team.

On Saturday you got the feeling that claim was wrong on both counts.

Ireland could still prosper in Japan; they have a relatively easy pool.

Whether some of their stalwarts can still hack it and whether their game strategy is still fit for purpose is open to doubt.

In stark, and welcome contrast if you are English, Eddie Jones has reassembled his squad and revised his tactics since their 2018 downturn. If people want to stereotype their style as biff and bash, so what?

Descriptions do not matter and that one is simplistic and used by people who do not understand how difficult it is to carry the ball in the intelligent and effective way that England do when they play well. It is not just a case of big men running straight over defenders.

Carriers must maintain their discipline and repeatedly keep the depth, angle and timing of their runs on to the ball.

They must take passes flat, on the gain line, under immediate pressure from defenders, then retain the ball in contact and either place it for quick rucked ball or pass out of the tackle.

When you add carriers such as Kyle Sinckler and Mako Vunipola – both capable of sublime dexterity – you can confound even the best defences.

Elliot Daly’s first-half try was created by four superb carries and offloads that shredded Ireland’s defence and credit England’s backs, who were ruthless in taking advantage of the subsequent overlap. It looked pretty simple; it was not.

Eddie Jones' preparations have focused on dealing with game situations when planned first and second combinations get disrupted and teams must adapt in real time.

Barring injury, England will arrive in Japan near the peak of their preparation schedule.

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