Monday 22 January 2018

Fiona Coghlan: Forward momentum holds the key

Paddy Jackson is stepping into the role of out-half for Ireland Photo: PA
Paddy Jackson is stepping into the role of out-half for Ireland Photo: PA

Fiona Coghlan

All the talk before this game has been about losing Johnny Sexton at out-half but Paddy Jackson has actually played more than him in the last few months and I wouldn't fear him starting.

To me, this is more about the forwards doing their job well in attack and defence.

Ireland's discipline has been outstanding which gives them penalties to kick to touch, to use the lineout and maul as one of their best attacking platforms. That's why Devin Toner's control in this area is vital.

So many scores in the autumn internationals came off lineouts, not just five metres out but line-outs further out the pitch which created space for the backs.

Ireland's maul is really impressive. I don't think people appreciate sometimes how intricate and subtle a maul can be.

It's all about the set-up, the work-rate of the players, the understanding when pressure comes on one side and how players can shear off into space.

A good maul is very hard to stop and Ireland do it so well. I think it'll be a key area that Scotland will try to disrupt but I think Ireland will still get change out of it. With Joe Schmidt's ever-evolving game-plan, he will add more to this area too.

I don't think Ireland will take Scotland for granted because our provinces have been playing the likes of Glasgow this year and seen Scotland's development.

They obviously have world-class players in the likes of Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg and the Gray brothers but I think, overall, we're more balanced , experienced and cohesive if we play to our potential.

Ireland's ruck efficiency over the summer Tests and November internationals improved so much.

The ball-carrier is always looking to get that extra yard and fight hard in contact and the next person in is identifying whether to latch on and push the player through, or ruck the opposition out.

There is a very clear decision-making process that Ireland players go through as they approach the ruck. That, coupled with intensity, has improved Ireland's ruck efficiency and ball retention.

An area that Ireland will be looking to improve is their defence as we leaked 13 tries over the autumn internationals which isn't good enough. That's definitely an area Andy Farrell will have worked on and he has had more time with the players on this.

At times we got caught out in wider channels because, in multi-phase defence, our forwards can get a little bit narrow which causes problems in the outer channels. That's where Australia and New Zealand got ground on us.

That's about work-rate from the forwards and their spacing in the interior defence, particularly as the game wears on.

Conor Murray was targeted by Glasgow particularly when box-kicking and you'd expect Scotland to have a similar plan so it's up to the Irish forwards to give him more protection now.

We might need to put an extra blocker on the blind side of the ruck which would take someone out of our attacking line, but that might be necessary to allow a better kick.

Scotland only lost to Australia by a point in the last minute. Was that the greatest Australian team that either of us has played? No, but they're still a southern hemisphere team who were in the World Cup final the year before.

Scotland were probably robbed with a bad lineout call, coupled with a bad refereeing decision, in those quarter-finals so they've proved their worth, but their problem has been inconsistency whereas Ireland have been much more consistent.

Irish Independent

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