Tuesday 23 January 2018

Time for all-out attack

Ireland scrum-half Conor
Murray in action during
training ahead of their
Pool C game against the
USA tomorrow
Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray in action during training ahead of their Pool C game against the USA tomorrow

Hugh Farrelly

IT was an American, General George S Patton, who offered the following tactical observation: "No-one ever defended anything successfully, there is only attack and attack and attack some more."

Not a bad approach for Ireland to take into their opening World Cup assignment against the US Eagles at Stadium Taranaki. All week, the Irish camp has been stressing that their primary focus is to gain a victory and, of course, that is the case, but they also need to make a statement.

Given the disparity between the teams in terms of playing experience and achievement, it is impossible to conceive anything other than an Irish victory and, in these circumstances, it is the nature of that victory that assumes greatest significance.

Go for the jugular

It has been a long build-up, the planning dating back to the immediate aftermath of the 2007 calamity and production and application of the Genesis Report. Two years ago, when the Grand Slam was annexed for the first time in 61 years, things seemed on track.

However, Ireland have not managed to kick on from that triumph and go into their first match with a degree of doubt hovering over their heads. As well as horrid World Cup history, the last few weeks have thrown up their own problems, a confidence-draining warm-up series and the unavailability of front-liners Cian Healy, Rob Kearney and Sean O'Brien chief among them.

However, any negative thoughts must be banished from Irish minds, as must the emotional sideshows generated by the 10-year anniversary of September 11 -- there is no room for sentiment once the action gets under way.

The Americans, under former Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan, will be well versed in perceived Irish weaknesses and have several useful performers in their ranks. However, the pressure that goes with being the only national representatives on such a momentous occasion for their nation makes them vulnerable.

Adrenalin in the US ranks is likely to lead to indiscipline and Ireland need to blitz their opponents from the off. Kidney has selected a team to do just that.

Go wide, and wide again

A powerful pack should be able to dominate set-piece possession relatively comfortably, Shane Jennings can control the breakdown and Stephen Ferris and Jamie Heaslip are there to punch holes.

All of which should provide front-foot ball for Conor Murray, who can seize the initiative and stake his claim to go up against the world's best scrum-half when Ireland take on the Wallabies and Will Genia next week.

Outside him, Jonathan Sexton will benefit from Murray's consistent service and while the Irish midfield of Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy is comparatively rusty given their respective injury problems, they know each other well enough to find their rhythm.

Both Leinster centres have the capacity to find gaps and hit their wide men. Geordan Murphy will be keen to hit the line as often as possible from full-back and wingers Tommy Bowe and Keith Earls will be equally hungry for ball -- although for different reasons.

Bowe is playing just his second game after recovering from a foot injury and knows he needs to get up to battle-speed before next week and Earls needs a confidence-restoring performance after struggling on the wing last time out. This undoubtedly explains his selection ahead of the in-form Andrew Trimble, who is still favourite to be picked for the Australian game.

The Olympic speed of Takudzwa Ngwenya presents an obvious threat but the US-Zimbabwean needs ball to prosper and, if the Irish pack does its job, that should be in short supply.

Go straight

The paucity of Ireland's attacking play in August was extremely concerning -- even allowing for the fact that they were clearly keeping moves in reserve.

Shovelling the ball across the line while running diagonally and cutting down space is not acceptable in Newcastle West RFC -- never mind in New Plymouth tomorrow. Against lesser opponents like the US, basic moves might still lead to scores but that achieves nothing.

No more holding back. Ireland's backline moves must be cleverly conceived and executed; in their better moments yesterday, the All Blacks showed the power of the simple fix-and-give.

Go deep

Sean O'Brien is Ireland's best strike-runner and, aside from his power and pace, the reason he is so effective is that he runs hard from deep.

Too many of Ireland's carriers take the ball with no momentum and in O'Brien's absence, others need to step up to the mark. The back three should also be brought into the line at angles and from depth -- while it would be massively encouraging, looking ahead, if the forwards ran onto the ball from further back with a head of steam rather than from a standing start.

Go for a shut-out

It's a good day for the Les Kiss defence system to reassert itself. The US are likely to get several kickable penalty opportunities but a defence with the pedigree of Ireland's should not be conceding any tries against opponents of this calibre. Even if the game is won in the second half, concentration should not be allowed to slip because bad habits are hard to shake and the Wallabies will be watching.

Go off early

If things go according to plan, Ireland will be well in control not long after half-time and then it is time to take off the key men -- starting with Mike Ross.

A good 55-minute hit-out will suffice for Ireland's scrum enforcer and it will also allow the opportunity for Tony Buckley to allay fears regarding his scrummaging.

Paul O'Connell and O'Driscoll should also be protected and the presence of Donnacha Ryan and Denis Leamy on the bench allows Kidney to take off Ferris and Heaslip also.

Ronan O'Gara deserves a decent run to state his case for the Australia game, given his good form last month, and if both 10s go well it will strengthen confidence for that assignment.

Go as you mean to continue

A nasty weather forecast complicates matters but, wind and rain aside, Ireland need a comprehensive victory and performance to get their campaign up and running. If anyone doubts this, think of Namibia and Georgia four years ago.

Attack from the off and keep attacking until the end, then Ireland can assess where they are because they know where they are coming from. Patton had another saying about success being judged by how high you bounce after hitting bottom -- and he had a bit of Irish in him too.

Verdict: Ireland

Irish Independent

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