Ireland easy to read if they don't get offloading
ON RUGBY:Looking across the rest of the opening round of fixtures in this November window will be a cause of mixed feelings from an Irish viewpoint. If it comes to pass that the Springboks are as vulnerable in Murrayfield next Saturday and the Scots take advantage of this to subsequently usurp Ireland in the second tier of seeds for the World Cup draw, then fair enough.
Scotland may have been fortunate to have run into a weakened Australia on a midweek mudbath in Newcastle five days before the Wallabies hosted Wales in the first of a three-Test series, but strictly on current form, Ireland would deserve no better.
This in turn would run the risk of Ireland being permed with two heavyweights in their World Cup pool in 2015, which make this an especially damaging November window.
Admittedly, there is a one-in-four chance of Ireland and Scotland, whether eighth and ninth or vice versa in the rankings, being drawn in the same group with one of the top four seeds, which could in effect make all the focus on the rankings and ramifications relatively meaningless.
If the prize at stake when Ireland meet Argentina is seventh or eighth place, then it will have nothing like the implications of the corresponding arm wrestle four years ago when eight place was on the line.
In that scenario too, the importance of the Six Nations would be far greater than this November window, but with both this team’s current needs and that tournament in mind, Ireland are in acute need of a restorative win to avoid going into the new year on the back of a sixth successive defeat.
To that end, Ireland have to sharpen other arrows in their quiver. For all their pace and dexterity, and the invention of the reborn Freddie Michalak, even France’s hammering of Australia was predicated on the kind of physicality in defence and scrummaging power which is beyond Ireland right now.
In the professional era, Ireland have been blessed with some truly world-class, dynamic ball-carriers up front, such as Keith Wood, Victor Costello, David Wallace, Seán O’Brien and Stephen Ferris, but as this list highlights they tend to come along about one every generation.
Occasionally, two overlap, and Ireland have always looked more potent when they do, such as when Ferris and Wallace were combining in the Grand Slam, or Ferris and O’Brien in the World Cup.
Hence, trojanly though both Peter O’Mahony and Chris Henry played on Saturday, to lose Ferris and O’Brien simultaneously for this autumn window was always going to leave them short of players capable of busting tackles. This in turn prohibits Ireland from generating quick ball.
It would help if Ireland had more of a developed offloading game, for which Brian O’Driscoll has been almost single-handedly responsible for a number of years. Ireland managed only five on Saturday, which admittedly was three more than the bludgeoning Boks, but France managed this in single passages of play when routing the under-strength Wallabies.