Saturday 18 November 2017

Easterby vows to take Barnes out of the equation

Controversial ref had big say in clash two years ago but coach confident Ireland can stay on his good side

Sean O'Brien debates a call with Wayne Barnes in the Millennium Stadium two years ago Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images
Sean O'Brien debates a call with Wayne Barnes in the Millennium Stadium two years ago Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

A month had passed but Sean O'Brien wasn't of a mind to forgive and forget.

Wayne Barnes' role in Ireland's defeat to Wales in 2015 still stung, and as he prepared to face the English official again the Tullow Tank was asked about the lines of communication.

Simon Easterby Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Simon Easterby Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

"You can't say anything to that man," said O'Brien. "He's not open to any kind of feedback, we've learned that in the past. So it was just one of those things where you get on with it and try and sort it out yourselves."

There are a lot of variables at play for Ireland this week as they return to Cardiff on Friday night, but managing the referee is among the most important.

Chasing a Grand Slam on the penultimate weekend of the 2015 Championship, Paul O'Connell's team were caught cold by Barnes' interpretation of the rolling away law in the first half.

Collapsed

By the time they got to grips with it, they were 12-0 down after 14 minutes but they fought back to get within range of winning only to be penalised on the Welsh line twice, first when their maul came down en route to the line and again when the scrum collapsed.

The Irish players were visibly furious in the aftermath, and the coach matched their mood. Two years on, their mission is ensure the referee's influence is kept to a minimum.

"We always try to take the referee out of the equation," Simon Easterby said yesterday.

"He obviously has a massive part to play in the game, but we're looking to be disciplined at scrum and lineout time, in the contact area. . . there's a lot going on for a referee.

"We're not saying we want everything to be picked up, just consistency, and I think Wayne Barnes is an excellent referee.

"He has massive experience now and we feel really confident that having him in the middle at the weekend will allow the game to flow.

"We just have to make sure that we keep ourselves disciplined and with that discipline it doesn't allow them that access into the game.

"You'll see as the game progresses that there will be things that are picked up more than others and we have to be good enough to react to that

"We can't come off the back of a game and say 'this and that', we need to make sure we deal with that in the moment, and don't lose too much focus on what we have to do.

"We certainly didn't give ourselves the best chance two years ago when we went there and gave them a 12-0 lead.

"So it's important that our discipline is good across the board and we work with the referee and make sure we're on song there, so we give (Wales) no access, because they are the sort of team that builds momentum , then they are very difficult to stop, because they have so many quality individuals who can get go-forward."

Of course, communication with the referee isn't the only lesson Ireland will take from that tumultuous afternoon in Cardiff two years ago.

Some of the names might have changed, but many of the issues remain the same.

On that day, Wales neutralised Ireland's aerial game and dominated their visitors at lineout time, thus demolishing the pillars of strength that had got Schmidt's side into such a good position with two games remaining in the tournament.

They used their maul to good effect and dominated collisions. Defensively, they banked on Ireland not attacking them on the edge and won the collisions inside.

For all that Barnes featured in the post-match analysis, Ireland's inability to exploit clear overlaps in the Welsh '22' and over-reliance on one-out carries dominated the discussion. Plus ça change.

Once again, Wales are concerned with their wide defence after Scotland found space on the edge.

"When it comes to conceding tries, we have conceded tries on our edge, usually our right edge and one on the left side," defence coach Shaun Edwards said yesterday.

"They were individual mistakes because they didn't do what they practised in the build-up to the game.

"They decided to do what they wanted and not what the rest of their team-mates expected them to do."

And, while the Welsh look to correct that issue, Ireland are hoping that their maul can dominate as it did against France two weeks ago after struggling on their last Six Nations trip to Cardiff.

"There's still more in us I think," said Easterby. "There's still more in our control that we can get better, and if we do that we have the makings of a maul that can be really effective.

"But we know how aggressive certain individuals in their pack are at trying to disrupt that, and they'll also feel that two years ago they got a bit of go-forward from their maul and we didn't manage that very well and that gave them the access to get three, six, nine points ahead; again that's something that we're conscious of."

The biggest difference between this week and two years ago is that Wales are out of the title running and are coming into the final two games with their backs to the wall and under fire from their passionate fans.

"They'll feel they've been performing in games. The England game in particular, they will feel like they were the better team, but England found a way to win," Easterby said.

"They maybe felt like they threw that game away. They're not a million miles away. They are incredibly passionate and proud, but so is every nation, and we have to go over there and match them, fire with fire. We have to match them physically, we have to be smart in the way we play the game."

Given the Friday night kick-off things will be hard enough without getting on the wrong side of Barnes to boot.

Irish Independent

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