Errors, yes, but better to commend the effort
We must build on the value of Seán O’Brien and Co by being more positive in our ambitions
THE PRE-MATCH warm up is the classic tell-tale tactical insight into the ensuing battle. Given the last 10 minutes before you hand over the reins to the players what would you do with your team?
Clearly the French coach Marc Lièvremont had his priorities as his “tackle bag holders” were in total possession for that last but crucial five minutes.
From lineout plays the starting French team defended time and again, firstly racing up starving the Irish team of space and secondly, they elected every time for the double-team. This proved very profitable against Scotland and clearly the French were worried about the Irish lineout phase play.
I found myself wondering how this tactic would transfer into the match. Would Ireland employ the Italian job or would they go for Grand Slam 2009? For two minutes and 25 seconds they did neither, moving France around, punching holes in their double- team tactics and made not one mistake, culminating in Luke Fitzgerald’s “try” off Gordon D’Arcy. It wasn’t to be but what a start. Brilliant!
Then off the ensuing scrum France, with Clément Poitrenaud at fullback, couldn’t help themselves. Deep inside the French 22 Ireland had but D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll up. If Poitrenaud held the pass there were acres of space for France to exploit. He didn’t and Ireland were seven points up after four minutes. It was a good decision by France but poorly executed; the story of Ireland’s opening matches – errors.
The scrum, as always, provided buckets of talking points. I’m loath to link any to match day referees but Dave Pearson completely confused me. The French looked like a side that believed their own hype and focused all their attention on the Irish performance in Rome. Clearly they came to Dublin expecting several Irish weaknesses, handling errors for one (double-team tactics in warm up) and then the scrum.
From the off, the French backrow abdicated any scrummaging role on the Irish feed, aiming for at best semi-location to the scrum. This proved especially beneficial for Thierry Dusautoir. In the opening flurry of Ireland’s continuity, Dusautoir smashed O’Driscoll in midfield from a scrum. He had a five-metre head start.
Pearson failed to “notice” the French backrow completely detach but he managed to bounce scrum penalties around for fun. On their own put in the French scrummed with all eight.
But what of our general play? Luke Fitzgerald highlights a challenge. On the 25th minute he countered into French territory, breaking a couple of tackles. Right on cue, Cian Healy arrived like a charging bull penetrating further behind the French defence. What would the French do next?
Tomás O’Leary arrived to the breakdown and elected to kick towards the touch line. The fact it went straight in will vex many but why the kick in the first place?
Does this represent the key difference between Irish rugby and the top four? The French are a relatively poor side but given such opportunities would hammer through the gap created by Healy. No one ran into the hole.
This brings me to Ireland’s last five minutes of their warm-up. The forwards were in the in-goal area facing a narrow channel of tackle bag holders. Each forward would carry to the bag and pump his legs, old-school style.
If he hit the deck the next player arriving would pick and slip around the fringe but only when a second support runner would cover over the ball carrier. Ireland scored three brilliant tries all of which were based on that last five minutes of the warm up.
Is this contributing to the lack of time in the French 22? It took Ireland 32 minutes to re-threaten the French line when O’Leary crashed over from a series of the “warm up” rucking drills.
So much has improved over the weeks and the backrow, for one, are gelling very nicely. Seán O’Brien will receive many plaudits for yesterday but we can make even more from him.
On the 45th minute O’Leary was once again darting around the tail of a short lineout. As he had done this in the first half, a strong blindside wing runner would have been a brilliant alternative. O’Leary did well to hold on to possession.
For the first time in many matches David Wallace took from Jonny Sexton, and not as the first receiver. This afforded Wallace a far better run. From the quick O’Leary pass, O’Brien got on the ball. He is devastating but could you imagine the damage he’d do if he mimicked Wallace and took that ball off a gain-line back?
The players proved in Rome that stealing the match is well within them. But for yet another error they would have repeated the same yesterday. Like Poitrenaud above do you commend Seán Cronin for the effort or criticise the error?
Commend him and this Irish team, I say.
What of France and more importantly, of Lièvremont. Their Grand Slam is still on but they will struggle against the English in so many departments which makes our loss all the more difficult to take. Yannick Jauzion and Vincent Clerc must start to give them balance and creativity.
Damien Traille was our best player. With Jauzion’s arrival France perked up as his team-mates recognised his value and fed off him. We too must build on the value of O’Brien and Co.