Wednesday 13 December 2017

It's time to sort out our narrowness in defence, it's been a big weakness for far too long

Peter O'Mahony was a big loss Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Peter O'Mahony was a big loss Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Fiona Coghlan

Whatever the reason for Ireland's bus turning up late to Murrayfield these are professional players. Things can go wrong on game days but you have to be able to adjust. As a player, once you walk on to that pitch there's no excuse.

I expected this game to be all about Ireland's forwards dominating the ruck, lineout and maul, so their lack of control around the ruck area in the first-half was unusual. We gave Scotland the ball way too easily and they didn't really have to work for two of their three tries.

Their second one was complete naivety; no one saw a Scottish centre standing in the lineout. Hogg's other try came off our lost lineout, then one phase and they outflanked us. That's just not good enough.

We are still too narrow in defence. People say we sorted it in the second-half but Scotland didn't actually have that much ball in the second-half so I don't know if it is sorted.

It's about work-rate and getting your spacing right. There was no reason for them to be so tight defensively, especially given that Scotland's attack was quite wide. At times our players were actually defending no one.

Joe Schmidt said afterwards that it's something they've worked on so you can't blame him. It's the players on the pitch who are responsible.

Our rucking improved immensely in the second half. That gave us better ball and our tries came from excellent control and working through phases.

It could be argued that Peter O'Mahony was a loss in the lineout because otherwise Devin Toner is our only out-and-out lineout jumper. Heaslip and Stander have worked out well in the past but the Gray brothers marshalled them well.

Reducing numbers in the lineout means they can't defend with two pods. When something's not working you need to change it up and maybe we should have used a shortened, four or five-man lineout more.

Even when our lineout did function Scotland sacked the maul and pulled it down legally. We only got it going once and when we did we sheared off the side and got called for it because we had players in front of the ball carrier. Those were uncharacteristic Irish errors in a game full of them.

Our scrum was outstanding but there were very few scrums to use as an attacking platform. Scotland held their defensive line well even as they tired, but one-out passing is a really easy thing to defend. It's fine if you're sucking in enough players to create space on the outside but we weren't doing that.

Sean O'Brien was one of the few who played well. Conor Murray didn't boss the game as well as he normally does. Paddy Jackson came into it more in the second half but I don't think the Jonathan Sexton-Jackson thing was the winning and losing of it. It was our lack of accuracy in the first-half and our unforced errors.

While Ireland definitely managed to improve after the break, we still lacked fluency. Even when we did claw ourselves back into the lead the knock-ons and errors still crept in, like Murray's final box-kick.

Tactically it probably wasn't the worst decision but technically it was poorly executed. That let Scotland run back down the field and into a position to get another penalty.

Let's not take away from Scotland though. Their intensity was unbelievable in that first-half, especially their line-speed and urgency at the ruck, areas I expected Ireland to dominate.

I think every team will be beaten at some stage so hopefully that's our one loss out of the way. You obviously learn more in defeat than victory and Schmidt's ruthlessness in planning and reviewing means he'll look at why things didn't go to plan.

Sorting out that defensive narrowness, which has been ongoing, will take some work.

Ireland's women beat Scotland in Broadwood Stadium with a bonus point but it was also a poor performance. We couldn't get past three to four phases, which needs to be addressed.

Irish Independent

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