Foley accentuates the positives as Ireland move to seal defensive gaps


It took just one question and answer to reveal the Ireland coaching ticket’s increased value now Anthony Foley is fully ensconced in the Carton House bubble.

We sought the defence coach’s assessment of Saturday’s defeat to South Africa, with particular emphasis on the glitch in the system that led to a try for Ulster scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar when Ireland were reduced to 14 men.

Many viewers would have learnt from Shane Horgan’s refreshing observation on RTÉ that the human pillar at a ruck must never leave his post.

Not even, as in the otherwise impressive Donnacha Ryan’s case for Pienaar’s try, for a split second. Unless they are moving forward.

“I think we had 112 attempted tackles, made 103 of them. We forced 13 turnovers. We put a lot of pressure on their starter plays,” said Foley.

With the positives succinctly laid out, Foley delved into the little mistakes that proved so costly in a game decided by inches. It all happened in those dizzy moments after half-time when Jamie Heaslip was sinbinned and Cian Healy got knocked unconscious.

“We got ourselves into a little bit of a rut off a kick chase, ball bounced up into Pienaar’s hands around the midfield. They came down the blindside, we gave away a penalty on the touchline that possibly we shouldn’t have given away and from that we got ourselves into what South African teams love.”

The dreaded Springbok maul cranked into gear.

“They mauled us into the corner twice and then had a quick tap and from that scored under the posts.

“Now, what can we do better?” Foley rhetorically asked. “You might question the penalty in terms of our actions there, not the referee’s actions, we knew what he was going to penalise us on. Getting off the line five metres from the line, making sure they had no momentum. It was working during the game but unfortunately our guards got caught on the side of the ruck and instead of moving forward moved laterally. These are the little things you get caught at and Pienaar was very opportunist to get in there.”

In the immediate aftermath new Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip heaped most of the blame on himself. Just before the Pienaar try the number eight may have presumed he was protected by the captaincy – as Richie McCaw and John Smit have been for years – when dragging down a rolling maul that seemed certain to yield a Springbok try.

“At that time South Africa were (mauling) over our line and somebody needed to do something about it and Jamie decided to do something about it and unfortunately he got a yellow card for his actions. You deal with the consequences there for the next 10 minutes.”

The consequences were 10 unanswered South Africa points in a game that only coughed up a combined 28.

The squad move on with confirmation yesterday that Stephen Ferris has joined Paul O’Connell as a definite to miss the Argentina game on November 24th. There is no timescale for O’Connell’s return from a bulging disc in his back and it may require surgery.

Ulster flanker Ferris’s latest problem was described by Ireland team manager Mick Kearney as “significant ankle ligament damage”.

Scrumhalf Eoin Reddan is unlikely to feature in Saturday’s non-cap game against Fiji at Thomond Park having hurt his ankle after coming off the bench against South Africa.

That opens the door for Ulster’s Paul Marshall, called up for training this week along with Munster prop Stephen Archer, Leinster lock Devin Toner and another Ulster trio in winger Craig Gilroy, recently discarded prop Tom Court and fit-again number eight Roger Wilson.

Ryan and Healy were passed fit by the new concussion testing system. “Post-match tests were normal and they’ve been cleared to resume training this week,” added Kearney.

Jonathan Sexton took a blow to his shoulder and hand but has been passed fit. Mike Ross also appeared in some distress after a collapsed scrum that resulted in a South African penalty on 63 minutes. He also, uncharacteristically, caved in the next scrum six minutes later, after pressure from Leinster team-mate Heinke van der Merwe, which resulted in the penalty that made it 16-12, and was replaced by Michael Bent.

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