Tuesday 23 July 2019

'Midfield isn't anything special and Johnny Sexton misses kicks when the pressure is on' – Welsh media on Irish weaknesses

Declan Whooley

The pressure is cranking up ahead of Ireland's Six Nations visit to Cardiff on Saturday week and one Welsh outlet has been dissecting the Ireland game plan and their perceived weaknesses.

Victory in Paris for Warren Gatland's side has renewed hope of championship glory after an opening day defeat to England.

The former All Black will be bullish over their chances and WalesOnline has been looking at the strengths and weaknesses of their next opponents who will be harbouring hopes of Grand Slam.

Andy Howell goes into great detail on the areas where Wales need to focus their attentions for the meeting in the Millennium Stadium.

Discussing Irish strengths first, he lauds Ireland's pin-point kicking game and the aerial abilities of the back three, adding that George North is likely to be targeted.

"George North might be taller but isn’t known for his work under the high ball and is often targeted by teams with cross-kicks in the belief he can be exposed."

Wales George North is tackled during the RBS Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France

Ireland's ability to isolate tacklers and gain turnovers and their driving lineout are also highlighted.

"Ireland have adopted the tactic and, despite the changes in personnel, are masters of it. Wales were inept dealing with it 13 months ago and will have to improve significantly."

The nous of Joe Schmidt, soaring confidence following 10 successive Test victories and an ability to defend a lead are put forward as reasons why the boys in green could well make it four wins from four.

However, a number of weaknesses are also put forward.

'Their tactical plan is based around a kicking game'

The kicking strength can also be a weakness as Ireland have according to the media outlet "shown a reluctance to move the ball."

Schmidt is having to play with the cards he’s been dealt but, if their pack can be put on the back-foot, those tactics aren’t half as effective.

'When Jonny Sexton isn’t on the field they aren’t the same force'

An obvious point considering he is the form number 10 in world rugby, but pertinent nonetheless.

Jonathan Sexton of Ireland kicks a penalty during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium

They suggest his leadership skills were missed when he departed the field of play in the 54th minute against England. Will he come in for Bastareaud-like attention from the Welsh?

'Make them chase a game and a lack of creativity can surface'

While Schmidt's side are now comfortable, relatively speaking, to see out a win, WalesOnline questions whether they have the nous to chase a lead, especially with a lack of creativity thus far.

Despite his man-of-the-match performance against England, Robbie Henshaw and his partner Jared Payne don't seem to strike fear into the Welsh hearts.

Robbie Henshaw, left, and Jared Payne

"Their passing game in midfield isn’t anything special and Wales have a big advantage over them at centre in size, power and experience."

"O’Driscoll and D’Arcy were among the best centre partnerships in the world and their successors, Henshaw and Jared Payne, aren’t in the same league."

'They lack out-and-out pace'

A contentious point this one. According to Howell, Zebo, Bowe and Kearney may be "extraordinary" footballers, but "none of them is blessed with extraordinary pace."

He argues that the likes of George North and Leigh Halfpenny are superior in the sprinting stakes and the home side won't have to worry over an intercept try.

Tommy Bowe, Ireland, scores his side's second try of the game despite the tackle of Bryan Habana, South Africa

A highly questionable point given Bowe's distinguished record for Ireland and one needs to think of the harrowing defeat to the All Blacks to be reminded of Kearney's ability to race the length of the pitch.

Zebo and Henshaw will be difficult to catch in full flight, though the bigger question remains if they will be given the opportunity.

'Their goal-kicking isn’t in the same league as Wales’

It is doubtful Sexton requires motivation such is his current form, but this might give him food for thought ahead of the visit to Wales.

"Some elements of the Irish media kicked up a fuss during the Lions tour of Australia when Halfpenny was made first-choice goal-kicker ahead of Sexton," Howell writes. "With all due respect to them and Sexton, he’s not in the same league as Halfpenny. Sexton does miss vital kicks when the pressure is really on."

Wales Leigh Halfpenny attempts a conversion during the RBS Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris, France

They point to THAT missed kick against New Zealand, "which wasn't too difficult" and add that the second best kicker on the pitch will also be in red.


"Dan Biggar also more accurate than any of the Irish goal-kickers."

'Their midfield defence hasn’t been severely tested this Six Nations'

Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts will be another stern test for the rookie Irish midfield and again the Connacht midfielder comes in for special critique.

"Henshaw doesn’t always get his positioning right, or his angles and sometimes comes flying out of defence."

Man of the match Robbie Henshaw after the RBS Six Nations match against England

'Ireland didn’t look as good when they allowed England to come on to them'

It is true that after Sexton's departure and changes to personnel on both sides, Schmidt's side lacked the dominance they had enjoyed earlier. The Welsh outlet suggests that Stuart Lancaster's charges missed an opportunity.

"England opened them up and should have had tries but a lack of skill and finesse was to cost them a potential Grand Slam."

Online Editors

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