Tuesday 16 January 2018

Ireland must do what it takes to win, even if that means "turgid rugby" - Fiona Coghlan

Ireland's Conor Murray, left, with Simon Zebo during squad training. Carton House, Maynooth, Co. Kildare
Ireland's Conor Murray, left, with Simon Zebo during squad training. Carton House, Maynooth, Co. Kildare

Fiona Coghlan

Former Ireland international Fiona Coghlan writes exclusively for Independent.ie as she weighs up Ireland's chances of a Six Nations double this weekend.

Joe Schmidt feels that his Ireland team needs something different in attack against Scotland on Saturday and Simon Zebo is the one to miss out.

Personally, I don’t think that Zebo has done a whole lot wrong. In the Welsh performance, a lot of things didn’t go Ireland’s way but he wasn’t a player who stood out as not being up to it. He didn’t get much ball, didn’t get much opportunity and the kicks didn’t go his way. It happens.

In the previous match, his kick-chase was outstanding. But Wales were so good in the air that it limited Zebo’s chances to get on the ball. Joe is obviously looking for something different in Luke Fitzgerald. Maybe he will come in off the wing a bit more and offer a bit more footwork.

The mention of the name Simon Zebo and you think of attacking rugby. People are looking for a bit more running rugby and a bit of flair but at the end of the day when your team is winning that’s all you want.

Whatever it takes to win you do it and Joe Schmidt had it spot on for the first three games of this Six Nations. If that means ‘turgid’ rugby, then that’s what is needed to get wins on the board.

It was always in Schmidt and Ireland’s sights to open their game up a bit more once they got that winning momentum behind them but you need that momentum first in order to get the confidence up to implement a more attacking style of play.

That momentum was ripped to pieces against Wales and now it’s time to reassess the game plan and Schmidt has done that with Fitzgerald and Cian Healy coming into the starting 15.

While the Welsh defeat was a crushing blow, to suggest that it would dampen any Championship victory this Saturday is nonsense. Six Nations Championships are extremely hard to win and you can be damn sure that the players are fully focused on the job in hand.

Gatland got it right last week. Defensively Wales were absolutely outstanding, particularly in that period where we were on the line for so many phases, battering away. While many were left questioning Ireland’s ability to pull off something special and break the Welsh down, I was left in awe of the Welsh defending. They were absolutely outstanding and I am not so sure many teams would have got through them on the day.

Paul O'Connell, Ireland. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Wales v Ireland. Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Paul O'Connell, Ireland. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Wales v Ireland. Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Others were left questioning why we didn’t get the ball wide in the last few minutes when there were men over on the right wing. It is easy for some to say that the ball should have went wide when Jared Payne and Tommy Bowe were screaming for it.

But as a forward it can be very hard to see them overlaps. You could see Payne screaming for the ball but from a forward’s perspective, when you are in there, there is not much else you can see bar that white line and with 70,000 fans screaming, it’s very hard to hear that on the pitch.

Communication is a two-way thing. It’s listening as well as calling and obviously they were not seen. But that wasn’t the losing of the game, it was lost before that and Wales were the better team on the day. That’s sport and that’s why it engrosses us so much.

But the disappointment from last weekend is well and truly behind them and it’s business as usual. It was business as usual once they left the dressing room in Cardiff last Saturday afternoon.

As players you don’t look too far beyond your next game so I am not so sure the Irish lads were thinking about a Grand Slam before the Wales game. When you don’t win, after putting so much into it, it is bitterly disappointing, especially after seeing our Grand Slam hopes go up in smoke.

You don’t have much of a turn around within a week. You have to pick yourself up fairly quickly and get back on that pitch and try and sort things out.

I am sure the lads were recovering on Sunday and back on the training pitch Monday with the focus fully on Scotland. That’s the way Joe and Les Kiss work. What do we have to do next? Joe and the team will have learnt from the past but there is no point in dwelling on it. They were fully aware last Monday that they had five days to get ready for the next match and that’s all that will be on their minds.

You learn more from the games you lose than the games you win. Scotland won’t be easy and the last time we went there we lost the game.

They have been playing some really good rugby. I know results have not been going their way but the performances have been there. Stuart Hogg has been outstanding for them, but If we get into our stride and get a bit of momentum I think we will pull away but it will be tough.

I have no doubt Ireland will get the job done and then it is an agonising waiting game. It’s tough having to wait to see what happens on Saturday. You have to prepare, go out and play your own game before sitting around and waiting for the next one. That is really tough.

England and France know what they have to do going into their games and we can’t worry about that. We can only go out and win the game first and foremost and then concentrate on getting the points.

I think Ireland will win by quite a few points and while England should see off France at Twickenham, it really depends on what French team turns up. It’s typical France. Even within a game they can go from the sublime to the ridiculous. If it’s a wet day they may not want to play. It’s a French thing.

They won’t be happy with their performances so far. They are going to England and they will want to spoil their party. The Six Nations Championship is very much there for Ireland.

 

All eyes on Twickenham

Here’s hoping England can do us a big, big favour on Saturday.

I expect the Irish girls to rack up a big win against Scotland in their last Six Nations game and then it’s over to Twickenham where England play France. Buoyed by one of their players making her 100th appearance, they have a real chance to beat the French and if they don’t, hopefully they can keep the score down which would give us a great chance of winning the Championship.

I have to say I was really disappointed with Ireland’s performance against England. This was a team we should have beaten well and it took us a late try to finally get over the line.

But looking back, there has been a good few changes, both on the coaching staff and the players so there is a bedding in process.

I don’t think we have played part well in the first three games but the display last weekend in Wales, which is always a tough place to go, was really really good. Really controlled. Their defence was outstanding. The 20-0 scoreboard makes it look a bit easier than it was. It was a serious physical battle.

Ireland were calm and collected and I was really impressed because I was worried. I think Ireland will now rue that game against France when we didn’t get that final try and didn’t play as well as we could have.  If we had, we would be talking about a Grand Slam now but hopefully the Championship is on the way.

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