Friday 18 October 2019

Ireland's ground and pound paves way for electric Larmour to excel

'Larmour may have to return to the bench for the All Blacks but his time as a reserve must be coming to a close soon.' Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
'Larmour may have to return to the bench for the All Blacks but his time as a reserve must be coming to a close soon.' Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

When the Chicago Bears won their one and only Super Bowl in 1986, famed coach Mike Dikta based his success on a mean defence and a strong running game.

At the Bears' Soldier Field home on Saturday night, Ireland and Italy adopted their own version of ground and pound football as they largely eschewed the boot, turned down points and kept the ball in hand.

The results weren't always pretty and the tactics clearly suited Ireland's superior players and hungry bench. Ultimately, they led to the space for Jordan Larmour to inject a memorable try into an eminently forgettable occasion.

The first-half was turgid enough, but it was clear from early in the second that the relentless tackling and continuous series of rucks had eaten into the Azzurri's fitness and when the Irish bench began rolling with dynamic players eager to impress, the floodgates soon opened.

Saturday's clash was a sub-standard Test match played in unusual conditions and the real meat of the month awaits. But Joe Schmidt would have found it a worthwhile exercise as he turns his attention to Argentina and New Zealand.

1 - Finding a home for Larmour

Six different Italian players made 15 or more tackles and those unsustainable numbers told when Larmour began to shake off defenders and find room to manoeuvre.

When he did, he cut loose with a hat-trick of second-half tries, but even in the more congested first 40 the full-back was electric on the ball and created Luke McGrath's try.

Schmidt's mission is to find a way of getting the 21-year-old into his team.

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Early indications suggest Rob Kearney may struggle to be fit for the Argentina game which could afford Larmour another opportunity in the No 15 shirt, but the youngster's struggles in Toulouse will have been noted by Schmidt, who prizes Kearney's fundamentals highly.

Keith Earls was also watching from afar, while Jacob Stockdale had a quiet outing on the wing but it is hard to envisage either of them losing their place.

Larmour may have to return to the bench for the All Blacks game but his time as a reserve must be coming to a close soon.

His talents simply have to be accommodated.

2 - Breakdown work can improve

There was an understandable scratchiness to Ireland's first-half work given the lack of preparation time and unfamiliar line-up, but Schmidt will hone in on their ruck-work in particular as an area requiring improvement.

In particular, he may focus on the numbers they committed to the breakdown on attacking ball in the first-half when they allowed Italy slow them down.

Use of the 'latch' support player has been a particularly successful tactic for Leinster and Ireland in particular, but at times on Saturday the secondary man was too high and then slipped over the ruck allowing the opposition poacher a chance to slow things down.This then led to a frustratingly slow supply for Luke McGrath and Joey Carbery.

On the Italian ball, Ireland could barely lay a glove for 40 minutes but then exploited the tiring men in blue as Andrew Porter and Josh van der Flier won turnovers. Still, the coach will want more menace at the ruck and it would be no surprise to see Seán O'Brien in situ for the big ones.

3 - Carbery needs more time

Back at the venue when he made a spectacular entrance to international rugby two years ago, Joey Carbery produced a decent display in the Ireland No 10 shirt.

However, there are clear signs that the Munster out-half needs as much time in that jersey in the next 11 months as possible to iron out the creases that exist in his game.

Johnny Sexton will come in for the next two games, while Ross Byrne might feel he should get at least one start, but the reality is that time is of the essence and Carbery needs the investment.

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