Tuesday 20 March 2018

Here are the five way's Joe Schmidt's Ireland are going to inflict a lot of pain on Italy


Ireland players go through their paces in training at Carton House yesterday Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Ireland players go through their paces in training at Carton House yesterday Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

It is rare to hear Joe Schmidt look beyond the task at hand, but at the onset of his briefing with newspaper journalists at yesterday's team announcement press conference, the Ireland coach conceded that the bigger picture is on his mind.

Tries are on the agenda for his team.

They didn't mind not scoring one or two in Paris last week, although it would have saved them plenty of stress, but this week the need to build a score is very apparent.

It is England and Wales' turn to play a tight, attritional game at Twickenham immediately after proceedings draw to a close in Dublin and it is up to Ireland to take advantage.

Conor O'Shea's Italy arrive in Dublin on the back of a heavy loss last Sunday. They have a day less to prepare and have had to deal with travelling over, something the Ireland coach always points to as a challenge to overcome when his side have to do it.

They showed moments against England last week to suggest they can cause Ireland problems in defence, but they also displayed vulnerabilities that Schmidt will expect his side to exploit as they look to build cohesion, confidence and, perhaps most importantly, a score in front of their home crowd.

If they can build on their promising moments in Paris, they should have no problem doing just that.

Pace and ball retention

Ireland have had a template for beating Italy in the last two seasons and it has resulted in nine-try wins on both occasions.

Unfortunately, the weather forecast is not great for tomorrow's game and their skills will be tested - just as they were during the miracle 41-phase play they carried out in the build-up for Johnny Sexton's drop-goal and they can build on that in Dublin tomorrow.

The pace with which Ireland play will have to be high if they are to exploit the short Italian turnaround.

They kicked less than 6pc of possession against the Italians in each of their last two meetings and their relentless running game led to convincing wins.

With Conor Murray keeping the tempo high, the injection of power from ball carriers like Dan Leavy and Jack Conan can help set the Azzurri going backwards and open up space for the backs.

If they can win the gainline in tight, the game will open up for them.

England showed them the issues in the Italian defensive line and if they can run the legs off their opponents they'll hope for a big reward when they empty a powerful bench in the second half.

Keep shape through phases

Ireland's attacking shape looked excellent off first phase in Paris, but as the phase-counter ticked upwards, the ball carriers got narrower and the structure disappeared.

Schmidt has kept the backline intact to help with this issue and he needs Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki directing traffic when Johnny Sexton is sucked in. Conan gives them a game-breaking runner, while Aki will hope to free his hands more frequently against the Italians.

But coping through the phases is key if Ireland want to score tries.

"Our training is multi-phased and there's a hell of a lot of pressure," skills coach Richie Murphy said this week. We always work two sides of the ball, attack and defence, and the turnovers that will happen within that. Having guys who are comfortable is massive for us, and it's their decision-making.

"Everyone has the skill level to make the pass. It comes down to the decision-making and trying to pick the right one to pick. Sometimes at the weekend we got it right and sometimes we probably just picked the wrong one or the timing of a run was slightly wrong. Tidying up on those things will help us with that continuity within the team and everybody understanding their roles."

Get maul going forward

Italy have lineout issues and Ireland are primed to exploit them.

With Devin Toner back as the fulcrum of their maul, Schmidt's side will hope to have plenty of joy driving at the Italians.

They rarely went to the maul in Paris and, having had such success in November, they may regret that fact.

This game is a perfect opportunity to go back to an area of real strength. Fans are demanding tries and they won't care if they come through grunt.

Clear the deck

Quick ball is the key to everything Ireland do and the breakdown was a mess in Paris.

It may concern Schmidt that there were defenders lying all over the ball in Rome a day later and it would be no surprise to find it was part of the coach's feedback to the referees.

The officials can help, but Ireland need to be better in contact - using footwork in contact, presenting the ball for Murray better and shifting the flopping player in whatever way possible.

In the old days, they'd apply a boot but now it's more difficult.

Stricter officiating will help, but they can't rely on the ref. No one is saying they need to take the law into their own hands, but there are techniques they can use to take the tackler out of the equation.

If they can do that and provide quick ball then they have the weapons to hurt the Italians, who struggled when England hit them wide.

Unleash the beasts

Rarely, if ever, has an Irish team possessed quite so much oomph off the bench.

Schmidt has assembled a collection of power athletes to roll on in the pack, while Kieran Marmion, Joey Carbery and Jordan Larmour offer a change of pace and alternative skill-set behind the scrum.

If Italy are tiring, the sight of a front-row of Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and Andrew Porter, supported by the ballast of Quinn Roux behind them, will be a frightening prospect. Add in CJ Stander's relentless carrying and you have a potent mix.

They all have plenty to prove and offer something different to the man they'll replace.

Expect them to have a big impact.

Irish Independent

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