Monday 19 February 2018

Kiss keen to restrict attacking 'potency' of England

Defence coach admits Ireland will be facing whole new set of challenges against old rivals

Robbie Henshaw signs autographs for supporters after training in Galway
Robbie Henshaw signs autographs for supporters after training in Galway

Ruaidhri O'Conor

BEFORE they left Galway yesterday for their long weekend of R and R, the Irish team lined up one by one and ran the gauntlet of tackle pads.

Four of their team-mates stood in a line within a five-metre perimeter and their job was to either run around or through their man. If they stepped out of the grid, Joe Schmidt was on their case and they were out.

It was one last show of intensity before they get to go back home for a few days. A refresher course in intensity and they went for it hell for leather to the delight of the Sportsground crowd who particularly enjoyed Sean O'Brien's direct route to the line and Rob Kearney's refusal to give an inch with the tackle pad in his hand.

Some will use the time off for rest, others to catch up with friends. Those in need of game time will go straight into provincial squads, while others have commercial engagements to fulfil.

At the back of their mind will be the three days of work done in the west of Ireland, the beginning stages of the plan to defeat England at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday week.

Joe Schmidt and his coaching team demand that their players turn up ready for work when they re-assemble on Monday and Iain Henderson explained how the week is structured in terms of knowing what you need to do - especially affter he's played for Ulster against Edinburgh tomorrow.

"I don't know if this is a bad analogy or not - but I'd imagine it would be like speaking a different language. I don't speak any other languages, unfortunately, but when I go back to Belfast tomorrow I'll hear a few calls and it will take a while to switch back in and remember different calls for playing off nine, 10 or a different lineout system," he said.

"Once you're back in the swing, once you've done it, it comes out as normal again and you come back down here on Sunday or Monday and you go back into Irish mode.

"We try and have all of our detail done by Tuesday evening. So, Monday's like an install session on a standard week, Tuesday everyone's got to be nailed on and from Thursday through the end of the week it's all about mentally preparing yourself in terms of the physicality and attitude.

"You've done all your detail, you know exactly what you're doing. You might only have two or three plays in the captain's run, that will be short and sharp. It's intensity and accuracy."

Those things are the baselines, but courage and commitment also play their part.

Les Kiss designs the system that has leaked just one excellent French try in two Six Nations games but the players still have to reach a level where they can meet a Mathieu Bastareaud or Jonathan Joseph halfway.

"It's one of the pillars of it (defence) for sure," he said of the players' courage. "I've been here seven years now. I get around to the provinces a lot. What they deliver in their technique work and tackle work, we have a lot of common things in our systems in defence now. When that's being delivered, there's a lot of accuracy being worked on in that area. It makes my job a lot easier for sure.

"When you step into the Test arena, there is another massive challenge. Courage and heart are always going to be an underpinning part of being able to deliver in defence.

"I am pretty blessed with a group of people who have that in bucket loads. It's part and parcel of the deal. That's for sure."

Over the course of those seven years, Kiss has watched the relationship between these two countries develop from a point where Ireland were the dominant force during the 2000s to England winning four in a row coming into this year's Six Nations.

"I don't know whether it's been a total upper hand. Maybe the game in England a couple of years ago (in 2012) was a massive one for us. But last year could have gone either way.

"We were so close it wasn't funny, so whether there's an upper hand I'm not so sure. I think since my time here there is a massive respect between the two teams and what each one can offer on any given day. Sometimes the home advantage is something that can always be the difference. That doesn't guarantee us anything this time, and we know that.

"I think they're also in a place where they've been so close to nailing a competition; that each year they just want to make sure they get over the line and do that, so they're driven and I don't think it's a case of having a total upper hand. They've worked and got the results and probably deserved a couple of them."

In terms of attacking threat, England will present Kiss's team with a whole new set of challenges - in particular their Bath axis of George Ford, Joseph and Anthony Watson.

"They probably have more potency from their organisation whereas the French have a structure but they can be a little bit more off the cuff. This team in terms of what England are putting together at the moment has an organised approach, and they're pretty lethal with it when they're given the space they're searching for and trying to create," Kiss said.

"I think Joseph, without a doubt, has given them something in terms of that bit of dance factor in that channel but he can also be a fairly hard runner of the ball. As well as Luther Burrell, they've also got Brad Barritt sitting under their wing ready to bring back at any stage. They're not similar but they can be hard and tough and I know they rate Barritt big time in terms of defence.

"The wingers, you look the depth there. You've got Jack Nowell - there's whispers about him (playing), Alex Goode, Mike Brown, Anthony Watson - you just can't take your eyes off those guys."

"But they are released into space in probably a more organised fashion than the French do, so it is lethal, but under any system you do need that space to be created somehow, and I think they do that very well with their back-row.

Momentum

"Their locks also create a lot of space from the way they carry, and the way they fight in the tackle and the way they clean that out and create that quick ball, and that gives Ford an opportunity to open up what he's after, so we need to be strong right through that mid part of the field so that we're not giving them that momentum that they're after.

"So we've always got to be cognisant of the space we're covering across the park because they can get to the edges pretty quickly, and I think you saw Joseph a couple of times; he just got that outside break, he steps and gets on the outside."

"So if you over-commit to him and leave him space, he will exploit it, that's for sure. You have to be aware of that, without a doubt. We were pretty frank about the review of the France game. We just wanted to make sure that there is work to be done there."

After their weekend to freshen up, the squad will report for duty at Carton House expected to hit the ground running, know their jobs inside out and add the courage and bravery expected as the week goes on. Anything less won't be good enough.

Irish Independent

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