Hugh Farrelly: Vital line-out tips to stop us losing touch
IT has been a torrid week in Camp Ireland. A six-day turnaround was challenging enough, especially after the physical and emotional drain of last weekend's draw in Paris, but to lose your captain and line-out lynchpin, your scrum-half and your European Player of the Year flanker in a couple of days would test any squad.
Nonetheless, Ireland cannot afford to dwell on the negatives and a frantic search for nuggets of positivity unearths a couple of intriguing ones.
First, the news that Michael O'Leary addressed the squad this week seems to have given everyone a boost, a clever move by Declan Kidney as the Ryanair chief is all about the positive.
Also, Sean O'Brien joining the injured list alongside Paul O'Connell and Conor Murray has, in a bizarre way, almost eased the pressure on Kidney's side. Scotland, despite five losses on the bounce, are showing signs of improvement and always reckoned they had a real shot at victory over Ireland -- now they really fancy it.
Their supporters and media are in bullish form heading over to Dublin and that can place its own pressure on their players, while Ireland's expectations have been lowered considerably and Kidney is a master at bringing players together in adversity.
O'Brien had a big game in Paris, hence his frustration at being taken out of it, and against a quality Scotland back-row his absence will be felt.
However, the upside is that it strengthens the Irish line-out, a major area of concern going into this match. Already without their line-out mastermind Gert Smal, losing O'Connell rips the heart out of Ireland's aerial operation. Donnacha Ryan is now charged with making the calls and acting as primary ball-winner when all he wanted was a start.
Scotland have the best and biggest line-out in the competition, but Peter O'Mahony's introduction to the back-row in place of O'Brien gives Ireland more options. The 22-year-old is a quality operator out of touch.
The line-out is something of an 'anoraky' topic and those of us who date back to the pre-lifting, 'lob it in, boss' days like to bore the pants off anyone who'll listen about how it was in the amateur era.
Those were the days of 'low and hard to 2' when you nodded at the hooker to start his one-handed throw and launched your backside at your opponent before trying to catch the ball on your shoulder, having jumped only a few inches off the ground.
There were none of today's complicated calls -- most teams went with "F*ck the dog", the letters from each word corresponding to 2, 4 or 6. Variations might have substituted "pig" for "dog", while calling a peel around the back introduced the unimaginative "orange" or "banana" addendum.
One of the fun aspects was calling two and four-man line-outs, which could be differentiated by shouting out an alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink. Given that many teams merely shouted "2-up" or "4-up" for short line-outs, calling "7-up" would always send cerebrally challenged props into a spiral of confusion.
Maybe harking back to the old days is out of touch in every sense, but line-outs could be the deciding area in this match, and there are a couple of core principles which could help Ryan tomorrow.
One -- possession comes first and when you are under pressure, you use your 'banker ball' with Donncha O'Callaghan more than capable of providing this at the front.
Two -- speed is your friend. The hooker gets there early, the call is made on the way into position, hit the line and go: do not give Richie Gray and Co time to settle. Also quick line-outs, when appropriate, take the contest out of it.
Three -- mix it up. Variation reduces the opportunities for opposition analysis: five-man line-outs, throws to an unmarked prop -- keep Scotland guessing.
So, a tough week all round but a fantastic one for O'Mahony on his first start. Any team would miss O'Brien but O'Mahony has the bit of dog that is needed. Use him.
PS: Hats off to Cork Con for their victory over Dolphin last Friday. A cracking contest in a superb atmosphere, this game was an example of how vibrant the AIL still can be but also a lesson learned: never do a victory song and dance when you are 22-5 up against Con with 30 minutes to go -- you could suffer for it afterwards.