Monday 19 March 2018

Fiona Coghlan - I still can’t figure out what Ireland’s game-plan is – but it needs to be clear in players’ minds

Ireland's Nora Stapleton. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland's Nora Stapleton. Photo: Sportsfile

Fiona Coghlan

Before this World Cup I felt we could make the last four based on seeing France earlier this year but I always felt a semi-final was as far as we would go.

You would have expected that we'd improve since the Six Nations because the team has had more time than ever together.

However, Ireland's style of play over the last 18 months has not changed at all, has been very one-dimensional and lacking in creativity.

I think expectations of the team were a little blurred because we got results in the Six Nations while not playing particularly well.

We played well against a French team who didn't want to play but it was still one-dimensional rugby, with a lack of cohesion between the forwards and backs.

Winning games playing that way may have lulled the team and the public into a false sense of security.

Ireland's Jenny Murphy. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland's Jenny Murphy. Photo: Sportsfile

Our last game was the best I have seen that French team play and their preparations were interesting - they didn't play any warm-up games.

People have argued we needed more training camps. That's fine once the camps are right and the training is specific. Other teams appear to have reincorporated their sevens players back into their squad better and are getting more from them than Ireland.

Six of that back-line have been playing on the sevens circuit, Nora Stapleton (right, above) is the only one who hasn't.

Still, you look at any back-line attack we've had. We do everything deep and have difficulty breaking the gain-line or even identifying space, so we revert to our forwards' pick-and-go.

Our defensive system has also lacked communication. The amount of missed tackles, at 21pc, is far too high. Is that technical or tactical?

For example, Jenny Murphy (right, below) gets praise for these technically good, big hits but a lot of the time she bites down and it's tactically not the right hit to make.

I'm not pinning that on her. It's on what's going on around her and her team-mates' actions.

Making the right decisions, looking up and seeing what the opposition are doing, I'm not seeing that consistently.

I don't think the middle of a World Cup is the time to be talking about who is to blame. The important thing now for the players is their mental strength. I've been where they are before.

In 2010, after beating the USA in the pool, we got hammered by them in the knock-out stages. Likewise, the semi-final against England in 2014 when we played so badly.

It's much tougher to take those kind of losses because you have not only the horror of a loss but not performing as well.

You're looking for answers and asking questions and, in the World Cup, you only have a day to do that. We used to call that day 'Black Thursday'.

You just have to get over it because ranking games are really important. We don't know yet what the qualification standard for the next World Cup will be but, last time, it was the top seven who got through so rankings are really important.

Finishing fifth must be Ireland's focus now.

I think Australia will be tired today because they've had very little rotation so far and have lost their captain. They're still able to put up points - they beat Japan 29-15 - so they are a threat.

We had cracks in our scrum against them and have got to sort out our set-up. I've felt it's been very high from the start. There's a lack of stability before we even go into the scrum, so I hope that's improved.

The French game will have been bruising but one positive thing is that there were less unforced errors and Ireland had so much second-half possession. The negative is that they did very little with that possession.

We did not kick enough against Australia the first day which put us under untold pressure but Stapleton's strategic kicking was much better against France.

Australia's back three sit deep but they're quite inexperienced. Their positioning isn't great sometimes and we could do with getting a good kick-chase or vary our options with a grubber kick or chip over the top.

I still can't figure out what Ireland's game-plan is.

They just need a plan that is made clear in every player's mind, and to reduce the unforced errors.

If we beat Australia again then we'll face the winners of Canada versus Wales.

I'd imagine that would be Canada, who haven't produced their best in this tournament.

As for the semi-finals, I don't see the USA beating New Zealand.

They've performed well to date and Pete Steinberg is a very good coach but I think New Zealand will still have too much for them.

France will have a real go at England who have, noticeably, leaked some tries.

France have been unfortunate to lose their brilliant flanker Romane Menager to injury.

That could affect their game as she was one of the front-runners for Player of the Tournament.

England are the defending champions but if France play to their best this will be a cracker.

Irish Independent

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