Wednesday 20 February 2019

Bernard Jackman: 'Ireland put disappointment in rear-view mirror and do what they do best'

'Schmidt was very honest in his assessment of Ireland after the defeat to England, saying that in terms of energy, intensity and physicality Ireland weren't at the level we have become used to.' (Niall Carson/PA)
'Schmidt was very honest in his assessment of Ireland after the defeat to England, saying that in terms of energy, intensity and physicality Ireland weren't at the level we have become used to.' (Niall Carson/PA)

Bernard Jackman

High-performance coaching is about the aggregation of marginal gains. It is sometimes brushed over how crucial pre-designed strike plays or 'power plays' have been for teams coached by Joe Schmidt during his time in Ireland.

The two first-half tries perfectly personified different cornerstones of Ireland's attacking game. The first, by Conor Murray, may have looked fortuitous but the skill in the accurate chip from Jacob Stockdale and then the pressure applied by Chris Farrell forced the mistake from Tommy Seymour.

The second was designed from smart video analysis and put together last week on the training pitch. Johnny Sexton played a switch with Peter O'Mahony and then exploited the space left by the Scottish defence close to the ruck through the pace and power of Stockdale.

Schmidt was very honest in his assessment of Ireland after the defeat to England, saying that in terms of energy, intensity and physicality Ireland weren't at the level we have become used to. A huge part of the problem was our inability to win the gainline battle. The fundamentals of a good ball-carry can be summed up in the three F's - Feet, Fight, Finish - and yesterday, our ball-carry was much more effective. True, Scotland don't have the power of England, but it was still a big improvement.

Ireland were also happy to play more phases in their own half than normal, which probably illustrates their respect for Scotland's counter-attack game.

Both teams lost influential players in the first half to injury. Stuart Hogg hurt his shoulder after a clash with Rory Best and that robbed Scotland of their most dangerous open-field runner. We lost Sexton, who was consistently tackled late in his time on the pitch, and had to leave the field in the 23rd minute.

It was an ideal opportunity for Joey Carbery to steer Ireland to victory in a hugely tense away match. He was far from perfect but his break and perfectly placed pass to Keith Earls for Ireland's crucial third try showed his class. His goal-kicking was also top drawer and it's great to have a quality back-up to Sexton. Carbery is clearly benefiting from his move to Munster. He will be very important to Ireland's cause at the World Cup.

Another big improvement on last week was in the back field, which was covered much better. Rob Kearney's ability to predict where the kick is likely to come from before it's made is a huge asset to the team in games like this. Kearney worked very well in connecting with Earls and Stockdale, and Andy Farrell will be delighted with our defensive reaction. Kearney will have two weeks more training under his belt for the trip to Rome and I expect he will be even sharper by that stage.

The changes forced on Schmidt by injuries didn't hurt us, which just goes to show the depth of the squad. Quinn Roux may have come into the tournament as fifth or even sixth choice but he repaid Schmidt's faith in him yesterday. He ran the lineout well and was a great partner for James Ryan. Jack Conan and Seán O'Brien added ballast to our back-row and combined brilliantly as a unit with the man of the match Peter O'Mahony. Chris Farrell was also his usual dominant presence physically. Additionally, I felt the bench played an important role too, and David Kilcoyne in particular was very busy.

After Earls went over for that third try, I am sure some people had thoughts of a bonus-point win, which would have been very welcome indeed after coughing up five points to England. But the match finished with something of a purple patch for Scotland, although they failed to capitalise. Ireland withstood the onslaught and managed the last ten minutes expertly.

I think Ireland will now use the two-week break to focus on attacking efficiency in the opposition 22, which wasn't as good as it has been.

The main objective was to get the win and get our Six Nations campaign back on track, and we did that. The team responded to the England disappointment with a very professional performance. Against a confident Scottish team, it was never a foregone conclusion, but they did exactly what was needed.

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