Time for Ireland to drop the dead donkey act
We’ve got to up the pace to meet the predictable French onslaught in Paris
YOUNG PADDY bought a donkey from a farmer for €100. The next day, however, the farmer announced, “I have some bad news. The donkey’s died.” Paddy obviously demanded his money back. The farmer couldn’t do that as he’d already spent it. “Okay, then,” says Paddy, “just bring me the dead donkey as I’m going to raffle him off.” But “You can’t raffle a dead donkey!” “Sure I can,” says Paddy. “I just won’t tell anybody he’s dead.” A month later, the farmer met up with Paddy, who stated proudly: “I raffled him off, selling 500 tickets at €2 each and made a profit of €898.” “Didn’t anyone complain?” retorted the farmer, to which Paddy replied, “Just the guy who won, so I gave him his €2 back!”
Last Sunday’s loss to Wales, fuelled in part by a trip to Paris, has panicked many. Why? Because evidence has been floating under the radar that provincial form is not being transferred into the national ranks (management’s role?). Australia apart, it’s been a long time since this team played to its potential, such as in the autumn series, the Russia match, the previous Six Nations, etc. Supporters are struggling to find fault, who to blame. Many theories abound but I can’t believe the donkey is dead, there’s too much talent which must bring us back into profit.
Last Monday I chose to highlight the reasons why Ireland lost to Wales at the World Cup, ignoring at times some very obvious under-par performances. I focused on the Welsh, a team in unison, dancing to the same beat in a multi-phase approach to unearth space for their big men.
Post match, I found myself in the Berkeley Court Hotel. The victorious Welsh team arrived into the foyer and I couldn’t believe their size. Several rugby campaigns have brought me into contact with big men but Alex Cuthbert, Mike Philips, Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies and George North are backs. Fergus McFadden did not miss a tackle on North, but each time, the phases leading to that point put North in total advantage, allowing him to hit McFadden at his weakest.
How often are Ireland replicating this? Keith Earls back in harness, even Paul O’Connell himself, would struggle with North.
The fundamental difference: Wales maximise their assets, Ireland don’t. Why?
Ireland are a very potent team against any opposition when they maintain pace and intensity and without these we don’t have the game plan (management) to punish quality opposition. The provinces have a ferocious breakdown and real pace from the subsequent ball allied to a game plan the players have bought into with enormous confidence.
The opposition we faced last Sunday, and more importantly tomorrow, have many threats and assets in their armoury that when Ireland’s pace dips, we will continue to be punished unless we develop a more rounded performance to get the most from our considerable assets, or at least a game plan all 15 totally commit to; time is against us.
The good news first! France will start at 100mph tomorrow, and their defensive line speed is excellent. Worse, the quality of their one-on-one hits is sensational. Take their captain, Thierry Dusautoir. His brilliance can be explained by his tackle technique. At 6ft 2in and 15st 10lbs, he is no Welsh back but check out his 42nd-minute hit during an Italian counter-attack (on Andrea Masi) last weekend.
All through their defensive line, which fills the field exceptionally well, there are monster hitters and they trust each other. They have also bought into the choke tackle through Louis Picamoles and Pascal Pape (and Lionel Nallet, bench).
That’s hardly good news but then France under certain circumstances go to sleep, allowing time to slip by. Unfortunately, they tend to wake up, so it’s maximum Irish effort when they’re asleep.
When they’re awake, the French lineout maul (improved with Imanol Harinordoquy’s addition), from miles out generates a spin and heads into open field, launching Morgan Parra and his back line. Our fringe defence must be ruthless to stop this dynamic maul. The French have many potent moves off lineouts, with several channels to be struck. Aurelien Rougerie at 13 and Wesley Fofana at 12 switch in arriving for the flat, off-the-top ball, confusing the Irish midfield, not to mention the sensational Julien Malzieu off the wing; a big day for Earls.
Ireland stole Welsh ball last week but the task is much more difficult with Harinordoquy popping up all along the line; in attack and defence, interestingly, the French struggled when up a man to maul Italy over from a lineout penalty. Ireland must to go back to the maul, big time.
Ireland must weather the opening perfect storm from France before re-engaging in their own attack. Most disappointedly, Ireland failed to weather the closing Welsh storm by conceding enormous tranches of land through meagre defence. This can’t happen in reverse tomorrow, especially in broken field.
Italy were much more structured against France but were simply incapable of 80 minutes. Like the scorpion and the frog, the French back three can resist their instinct under their new coach Philippe Saint-Andre for only so long. On 39 minutes against Italy, Vincent Clerc fielded a “mark” and immediately all three at the back attacked the opportunity. It’s going to happen; they’re fantastic at it and we must not switch off. And if you need an insight to the front five check out new boy in the secondrow Yoann Maestri’s skills on iti.ms/A2zIT1
François Trinh-Duc affords us another chink of light. It doesn’t take a huge amount to unnerve him where his precision from the boot drops a tad. The French weakness can be an abrupt drop in unity of effort. After a flying start they dipped against Italy for over 10 minutes before Rougerie’s try as Italy themselves went to sleep. Then another 15 minutes passed before the Malzieu’s try from Picamole’s brilliant carry in both hands. Then 20 minutes later, Clerc’s try from nothing but brilliance from the French.
Ireland must move France in a structured way; precision kicking, unlike last Sunday, monstrous chasing lines after the brilliant Conor Murray box kicks. The backrow must pop up in a structured way all along the channels and Murray attack the blindside with structured support.
We must reduce the one-up carries (French too offensive in defence) and ensure a structured in-your-face defence throughout. Rob Kearney’s energy and influence is growing and he must change the point of contact to maximise Andrew Trimble and Tommy Bowe, but Jonathan Sexton must dominate the quarter-back position and Murray like never before.
Never give up. Wake up, Ireland, I can’t believe the donkey’s dead, it’s just asleep!