Sunday 17 December 2017

Hugh Farrelly: Reddan dynamism can help Irish throw off the shackles

It is fair to say that Saturday's routine win over Italy did not produce an avalanche of talking points and any excitement stemming from Ireland's five tries was tempered by the fact that they came against an outgunned Italian outfit that tired mentally and physically as the game wore on.

The main area of debate centred around the marked increase in tempo and intensity which coincided with Eoin Reddan's appearance after 54 minutes and Conor Murray was swiftly hauled out, Lee Harvey Oswald-style, as the scapegoat for the relative turgidity of Ireland's previous play.

That was unfair on Murray, who remains Ireland's best shot at a touring Lion scrum-half since John Robbie and Colin Patterson went to South Africa 32 years ago.

On Saturday, as coach Declan Kidney pointed out afterwards, Murray had to cope with slow ruck ball and a fired-up opposition who still believed they had a shot at an upset.

As a consequence, some of the scrum-half's option-taking and distribution was a little laboured but that was offset by good use of his size and strength against a quality Italian back-row and some excellent cover work in defence.

There is every likelihood that Murray will retain his place in the side to face France but, as Ireland go in search of only their second win in Paris for 40 years, the case for starting Reddan -- on a 'horses for courses' basis -- is a powerful one.

Ireland have a record of conceding points and momentum to the French in the first half and the theme of the week has been the importance of making a good start, something they have failed to do in their last three matches going back to the World Cup quarter-final.

The accepted approach to trips to Paris has revolved around 'hanging in there' -- trying to prevent France gaining early confidence on the scoreboard and hopefully turning their demanding fans against the home team.

Murray's physicality would be central to this game plan -- as was Tomas O'Leary's in 2010 -- but history shows that the containment policy does not work in Paris and, for a game where they are widely expected to lose, it is surely time for Ireland to go for broke.

Enter Reddan. When he arrived on Saturday, the Leinster No 9 made excellent use of the quicker ball the forwards were providing, he was decisive, accurate and driven by the need to keep up the pace of Ireland's attack.

That is exactly what Ireland need from the first whistle on Sunday -- hit them hard and hit them early.

There is also Reddan's established partnership with Jonathan Sexton. While the out-half and Murray are now well used to working with each other after extensive time in camp together, Reddan operates with Sexton on a daily basis at Leinster -- which has to provide a greater instinctive understanding of what the other is likely to do.

It is not as if Murray is incapable of generating tempo -- as he showed in Munster's thumping win over Northampton -- but Reddan, while not as physical, has the edge in this area and the experience not to be cowed by the peculiarities of the Parisian challenge.

Murray will probably start with Reddan brought on to inject energy in the same manner as he did last weekend -- the problem is that by then it could be too late.

Irish Independent

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