Friday 15 November 2019

Irish warriors must strive to outflank Italian legions

Paul O'Connell leads the Irish team in the warm up before the captain's run at the Aviva Stadium yesterday
Paul O'Connell leads the Irish team in the warm up before the captain's run at the Aviva Stadium yesterday
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

The Italians will lock the ball in the giant clam's sealed and serrated embrace. It would be easier to prize a suckling polar bear from its mother. Easier to extract a corner molar from a hungry alligator with a plastic pliers.

The Italians must have great grip under the oxters for uilleann pipe playing or for carrying large items like Agas under their armpits. They could squeeze a rugby ball into a sliotar. Enough of the hyperbole. The Italian game plan is simple: 'the opposition cannot score if we have the ball.'

Now you know why it is they employ me here. It is to enlighten you in these dark ages of analysis when substance is deemed worthless and only the most visible moments are noticed.

Last time out against England, an out-half who made a dozen crunching tackles was deemed to have played badly. That's more than many 10s have made in a season.

Conor Murray was worn out before the end. He hit everything that moved. So too did Peter O'Mahony and he's still hurt. Johnny Sexton goes into battle with a badly bruised thumb and body. He doesn't have the luxury of a minder. This type of unselfish defence comes at a price but Ireland have conceded fewer tries than any team in the competition.

We were good against Wales but not outstanding. It was the genius of Joe Schmidt that set us up for that win. England were just too strong and they were playing at home.

Joe knows the opposition cannot run forwards when they are going backwards. The teacher probably studies history. The secret to beating Italy is to keep them on the back foot and in their own half. If they get up a head of steam, we will be in trouble.

Cassivellaunus and his cousin Vercingetorix were Celts who commanded 60,000 men. It was just as well the two lads were beaten by Julius Caesar. The composing of a victory song about two men whose names don't exactly dance off the tongue into cadences and quavers would be well-nigh impossible.

Caesar was in terrible trouble at the Siege of Alesia. The Gauls and Celts were making line break after line break. Their pack was utilising the rolling maul to deadly effect. Caesar gathered a legion of fast backs who sped around the flanks and attacked the Gauls from the rear. The day was won.

Joe will know we are not powerful enough to go through Italy. We must go around them.

More is needed today in attack. You need pace to go around players. Our fastest runner Simon Zebo is not playing and national treasures Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy have lost their zip.

The secret is to score early and force the Italians to take risks.

We have to put up a big score but a watched pot never boils. When Munster need big points they take the scores in front of them early on. If there's a penalty under the post at the start, Munster will take the three.

But Italy will not be easily beaten. The game could be in the balance for over an hour. We need to be creative but Ireland cannot, under any circumstances, risk the reckless game that ended the life of Marcus Licinius Crassus.

Marcus was a Roman general, and sources close to his camp tell us he badly wanted to become a war hero, like his ally Caesar. Maybe Marcus would have loved to have a salad named after him.

Glory-hunting Marcus took a short cut to face the Parthians and left thousands of potential Armenian allies on the long cut. The Parthians destroyed Marcus' army and his decapitated head finished up as a prop in a play long before Hamlet was first produced.

The Italians will be hoping our ball-carriers will get isolated. The Azzurri will rip the ball. Our lack of serious covering-back pace leaves us very vulnerable to a counter-attack. Ireland must support each other. Too often breaks have been made and there has been no one on the shoulder. But above all, we must be patient.


Today we say goodbye again to Brian O'Driscoll. This isn't so much a Six Nations as a farewell tour of major cities, but all the attention has helped our team to stay out of the glare. He deserves our absolute respect.

O'Driscoll's defence and courage is keeping him in the team but I have a feeling he will score today. No more Brian in Dublin in the green, but in a way I'm delighted he's getting out now. Our hero has taken too much punishment and we just hope he gets to finish off for Ireland on the field of play.

So we will not say goodbye, but au revoir. The last tango will be in Paris, if the body holds out.

The prize is the Six Nations, the championship of Europe. This is what we must focus on. We can get a decent score to boost our points difference, but only if the Italians make lots of errors after we go into an early lead. Ireland need points to stay ahead of the pack.

The points race will all depend on the trolley dash near the end.

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Champions Cup preview, the World Cup hangover and Joe Schmidt's next team

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport