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Irish must eradicate some uncharacteristic scrum woes ahead of Welsh test

Cian Tracey


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Cian Healy (c) had issues with the referee’s decisions at scrum-time against Scotland last weekend when he conceded two penalties

Cian Healy (c) had issues with the referee’s decisions at scrum-time against Scotland last weekend when he conceded two penalties

SPORTSFILE

Cian Tracey. Photo: Sportsfile

Cian Tracey. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

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Cian Healy (c) had issues with the referee’s decisions at scrum-time against Scotland last weekend when he conceded two penalties

It's hard to beat that perplexed look a prop gives a referee when he or she is penalised at scrum time.

Last weekend, Mathieu Raynal was at the end of a few bemused glares that screamed: 'What do you really know about goes on in the front-row?'

The majority of those scowls came from Cian Healy, who had a tough time in trying to stay on the right side of the fussy French official. He wasn't the only one, however.

Looking back on the two penalty concessions that went against Healy, they both looked very much on the harsh side.

Ultimately, that doesn't matter though because it's all about the picture that the referee sees and given Raynal's decision to allow a free-for-all at the breakdown, he seemed to adopt the same attitude around the scrum.

Another French man, Romain Poite, will take charge of Saturday's clash against Wales, and Ireland have been working hard behind the scenes this week to ensure they don't repeat the same mistakes.

It was interesting to hear Healy describe how they have gone about that in training as they have been making a concerted effort to ensure scrums are as messy as possible.

"If both of our packs are scrummaging the way we like to scrum, then we'll have a steady scrum and we will get the ball off the back, but that's not the perfect world, so we had to change it up a little, test each other with angles and messy binds," the loosehead said.

It's an interesting idea and one which many people may have considered before because when you think about it, if the second-string front-row are scrummaging against the likes of Healy and Tadhg Furlong, they will naturally want to impress the coaches rather than just create messy binds.

For all the focus on a new game-plan, Ireland will have been frustrated that a familiar pack, who know each other inside out, struggled in the win over Scotland.

They weren't as dominant in the collisions and two scrum penalties is not what we have come to expect from an area which has generally been rock-solid in recent years.

Greg Feek can take a huge amount of credit for that and if anyone was in any doubt about how vital he has, you need only look at how quickly the All Blacks snapped him up when his contract with Ireland ended after the World Cup.

John Fogarty has since joined Andy Farrell's backroom staff and replaced Feek as scrum coach.

The former Munster, Connacht and Leinster hooker, who was capped by Ireland in 2010, is a hugely popular figure amongst the players, but he faces a tough task to maintain the same high standards.

The set-piece has always been a crucial part of Ireland's game, and as much as Farrell will want to evolve the overall plan, he will recognise the kind of platform that the set-piece provides.

Ireland scored nine of their 14 tries in last season's Six Nations from the lineout and one from the scrum, a huge overall proportion.

At the same time, however, the front-row cannot afford to cough up cheap penalties, especially against a team as good as Wales.

Of the 37 penalties they conceded in last year's tournament, six came from the scrum. Given that Ireland's nine penalties against Scotland is already above their average (7.4) for last season, they will be mindful of reducing that tally.

For the first time in what feels like an age, there is genuine competition across the front-row, with Dave Kilcoyne piling the pressure on Healy, while Andrew Porter is doing the same to Furlong on the opposite side.

Rob Herring deserves another shot in the No 2 jersey, but you get the sense that Rónan Kelleher is edging ever closer to a first international start having made his debut off the bench last weekend.

That can only bode well for Ireland and Fogarty as he looks to build on the excellent work done by Feek.

Wales had their own scrum struggles against a poor Italian team, so there is nothing to fear from them in that regard on Saturday.

Poite's refereeing of the scrum can be questionable at times, but if Ireland can take him out of the equation by painting the right pictures, they can get an edge on Wales in that particular key battle.

Irish Independent