Tuesday 28 January 2020

Time to lay down marker by ramping up the creativity

Ireland must prove that flaws exposed in opening victory were just a blip as they look to blitz minnows Japan

Katie Fitzhenry (left) and Alison Miller will be hoping to be celebrating again after Ireland’s match against Japan tomorrow Photo: Sportsfile
Katie Fitzhenry (left) and Alison Miller will be hoping to be celebrating again after Ireland’s match against Japan tomorrow Photo: Sportsfile

Fiona Coghlan

I'd say there were sleepless nights for a lot of the Irish team on Wednesday. Firstly because, win or lose, it's really hard to come down off the adrenalin after a late game. Your body is completely fatigued but your brain is in over-drive.

Secondly, because our win over Australia was so tight that some players will have sat around wondering where they can improve. 

Thursday will have been all recovery sessions, and the team went to Riverdance that night. That was a great idea because, after such a build-up of pre-tournament pressure and a game of such physical and mental intensity, the players needed a complete break.

However I don't really buy into this thing of 'host pressure' and first-game nerves getting to the team.

Yes, there would have been a lot of pressure beforehand, but once you get into a game and find your groove that's not a factor.

Once the game is up and running, you're thinking about what you're doing on the pitch, nothing outside it. So when Ireland scored that try on 20 minutes, things should have settled.

They'll have done plenty of video analysis since to identify the problems before facing Japan tomorrow.

Defensively their line-speed was really poor. They stood back and let Australia run at them, and the Aussies completely dominated the collisions.

Their defensive integrity wasn't great either, especially the outside backs. Jenny Murphy made some crunching tackles but she bit down a few times and allowed Sharni Williams to get outside her.

That's sometimes not just the individual player's fault but caused by the inside defensive line not pushing out or not communicating. So everyone needs to be sure they're covering either side of them.

Our rucking wasn't as efficient as it can be either. Australia were only committing ball-carrier plus two at the breakdown. Ireland had ball-carrier plus three and the ball still wasn't quick enough!

The scrum was most disappointing for me as it has been one of our strengths all this year.

Paula Fitzpatrick isn't normally a second-row but she was behind Lindsay Peat, who seemed quite solid. The trouble seemed to be more on the right-hand side.

I was a prop so I'm not going to blame Ailis Egan individually but Liz Patu got in under her a number of times. When that happens, herself and the hooker, and the whole scrum usually, need to adjust and change the angle.

I think all of those issues can be fixed. They weren't issues in the Six Nations so it's not a trend - Ireland just didn't implement well.

The one worrying trend is the lack of creativity and variety in the backline. This was something that I questioned during the Six Nations and it still doesn't appear to have improved.

It just seemed to be hands, hands, hands trying to get the ball into the space that was created by Australia's back three playing incredibly deep.

At times the ruck ball was slow, which took away time to get the ball into space, but the backline were running into one another and just didn't really create anything.

Our replacements had a huge impact and certainly put their hands up for selection. Ciara Griffin, in just 25 minutes, had 16 carries, more than any Irish player.

But management have a tough challenge because you have to rotate players and also be thinking about the French game.

Ireland beat Japan (24-22 and 24-15) in warm-ups here in June but they were just training games.

After watching those I described Japan as "a pack of ants". That's a compliment - they work incredibly hard for each other - but I don't think they have the depth for a tournament like this.

They lost 72-14 to France, have lost centre Makiko Tomita to a red card and could be without their key player, No 8 Mateitoga Bogidraumainadave, who was injured in that match.

They've a 17-year-old scrum-half who's a fine player, but they'll have a lot of hurt bodies and all that takes a toll.

Against Australia I felt a kick was on at times, especially when we were so strong in the line-out.

Ideally you'd like to see that utilised more and Ireland lay down a marker now with intensity in defence and more creativity from the backs.

But Ireland's resilience and grit has got them through a lot this year and, in knockout rugby, you sometimes have to take your win whatever way you can.

Irish Independent

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