Wednesday 20 November 2019

Discipline key to silencing Cardiff cauldron

Best preaching control as Ireland enter the intimidating Millennium Stadium

Rory Best is urging Ireland not to concede penalties or attract yellow cards
Rory Best is urging Ireland not to concede penalties or attract yellow cards
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

RORY BEST looked white as a sheet as he removed his scrum-cap and made his way to the touchline, expelled from battle just as things were heating up.

His yellow card did not ultimately cost his team against France, but he knew that Joe Schmidt's hair-dryer would have him its cross-hairs when the curtains were drawn for the video review.

Ireland under the New Zealander have become Europe's most disciplined team and Best's sin-binning was a rare outing to the naughty step for a player in green. You can be sure he knew all about it.

Ireland consistently end up on the right side of the penalty count, keeping their own end of the bargain tight while living off the errors of others.

At some stage, an opponent will surely figure out that keeping their discipline against them could lead to great things, but no-one appears to have joined the dots.

"I suppose we like to think it's the pressure we're putting on teams, we'd like to think it's the way we prepare to give away less penalties," Best says.

"When the pressure comes on. . . we put a lot of emphasis on making sure we train as close to match intensity as we can get and if you're used to working in that, then your decisions become a bit more automated.

Infringe

"If you can make the right decision automated then when the pressure comes on in a game, you're less likely to infringe."

The sin-bin takes the form of laps during Schmidt's training sessions at Carton House. If you overstep the mark during the team runs, you're out and around the pitch, and someone takes your place.

"There's an emphasis on discipline, I know when I picked up the yellow against France you were dreading the review," Best recalls. "Even though we've won, you still kind of feel that you've let people down.

"Obviously 14 against 15 is a big advantage. You redouble your efforts the next time to make sure you are more disciplined. A lot of the discipline is just being prepared. There are going to be a few penalties because you're playing quite close to the edge, but I think a lot of them are very avoidable.

"If you can be the team that doesn't give away a lot of penalties, and the ref isn't giving three, four, five penalties in a row against your team, then you're less likely to get the yellow cards."

Having conceded 37 penalties so far in this Six Nations to Ireland's 26, Wales are fully aware of the need to tighten up their discipline.

Last season at the Aviva Stadium, they conceded 16 to Ireland's nine and were beaten out the gate. Asked about their costly lack of composure in Dublin, Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards accepted that they need to tighten up.

"I couldn't agree more with what you were saying. It was something we did relatively well against France and probably had a couple of tough calls out in Paris," he said. "That is a big key, the halfway line battle throughout the Six Nations Championships. It's pivotal in who comes out the victors."

The man in the middle this weekend is Wayne Barnes, who produced the yellow card for Best a few weeks back. Ireland have enjoyed a mixed relationship with the fussy English official, who has taken charge of four meetings between these sides and is no stranger to controversy in the fixture.

"He definitely penalises you if you infringe, and if you infringe consistently he is not afraid to go to his pocket," says Best. "Both teams would be fully aware of it, if you get on the right side of him and play pro-active and go and play rugby he will reward you."

"I think the big thing is that if you get into niggly stuff, if you start to get him frustrated with the game, then of course he is going to get frustrated and you are going to get yellow cards."

If Barnes needs to keep his head, so do Ireland. The Millennium Stadium will be more intimidating than any of the venues Schmidt's side have visited during their 10-match unbeaten run and it will present a new challenge.

"That's why it's a tougher game than against England last time out," Best says. "England are a quality side and they put it up just the way we thought, but ultimately we were at home and we had that crowd support; we knew if we got a good start the momentum would build, whereas Wales in Cardiff, you're always trying to fight against momentum.

"The crowd are always trying to swing it against you and they're a passionate, knowledgable crowd and the Welsh will probably see it as a chance to right a few wrongs.

"It's about making sure we're properly prepared because ultimately everything is a sideshow and it's 15 v 15 - the crowd can give them momentum, can get on your back and make you do things you don't want to if you're not fully prepared.

"It's going to be an unbelievable atmosphere, an unbelievable occasion so it's about making sure we're prepared to win a rugby match."

Doing so would set up a tilt at a Grand Slam, but you won't hear those words uttered around the Ireland camp this week. The players describe Carton House as their "bubble" and they are protected from hype and the criticism that has accompanied their style of play this season.

Best reckons that Ireland are enduring something of a second season syndrome.

"Last year, we were a bit of an unknown, teams probably didn't know what to expect. Now, there's possibly a lot more research and homework done, we're a lot further down the line with Joe as a coach," says the Ulster hooker.

"Last year, no one was really sure whether Joe would bring in what he did at Leinster, change things, so it was a little bit of a surprise for teams, but this year teams know us a little bit more so we have to keep evolving, keep changing the way we're playing.

"Ultimately, we want to go and play rugby. We have an exciting group of players, an exciting backline who you want to get the ball into their hands, but sometimes you have to grind teams down.

"Last year, we scored a lot of points in the last quarter whereas this year we haven't broken away. I think that's no reflection on anything other than teams are better prepared."

Irish Independent

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