Pumas' kicking game begs for planned Irish counter-attacks

Fri, Nov 23, 2012, 00:00

Well the Fiji fixture was a success after all and congrats to Craig Gilroy, not for his three tries but for his unbridled relentless optimism.

During the England-Australia game at Twickenham, on 36 minutes and 25 seconds, English scrumhalf Danny Care from a ruck on his 22, seven metres from the touchline, box-kicked. As Wallaby Berrick Barnes fielded inside his half there existed two distinct, intact Australian lines. The first, a perfect line of 11 Wallabies; the second contained Barnes and three others spread across the field with England in pursuit.

The Wallaby four were numbers 15, 10, 9 and 14, all prepared for a counter-attack left to right off a poor box kick from Care.

With the exception of Nick Cummins, the runners were small and slight but they all understand space, with Kurtley Beale putting his scrumhalf Nick Phipps on an outside line to skin secondrow Tom Palmer for Cummins to score.

Having the best players exploiting opposition weaknesses is how tries are scored. How often did Tommy Bowe touch the ball against the Springboks?

Argentina have massive variety in their lineout: over the back, old school, or short and off the top. From it there is a big emphasis on crossing the gain line quick and narrow. They power rumble their mauls and always hit narrow targets, open. From the recycle they do a simple one out switch.

Their success is that their game plan is clear and simple and they all buy into it. This is impressive considering the ridiculous degrees of styles their players play throughout the world. Their 10-12 axis is crucial, targeting the easy pass and attacking the opposition 10 channel through lots of circle passes to 12 or 13, targeting narrow.

Always narrow, around the fringe, up the guts with the threat of a drop goal; when space opens, they are alive. The advantage of these one-pass plays are three-fold: fewer errors, never far from support, and it’s exhausting to defend against. It’ll be a very tough, sore day for Gordon D’Arcy in defence.

Clever use of the Irish bench is required because Argentina get fresh Pumas on very early.

Argentina test every tackle, backing themselves, brilliantly funnelling, moving hips, shifting feet, twisting upper bodies, like the French, down narrow channels. Their brilliance occurs on multiphase as their support runners always take going forward, attacking tiny space.

Major influence

Nicolas Sanchez at outhalf adjusts his depth as first receiver; off fast ruck, he’s flat and off slow, he’s deep. Clearly Felipe Contepomi is a major influence on him.

He is ably supported by Juan Martin Hernandez, whose right-footed kicks-offs go right, providing huge hang time, where the Irish ball-catcher will be hit.

In possession, Gilroy and Bowe must ape England’s Chris Ashton’s trail running throughout, but especially off the lineout, affording Jonathan Sexton quick ball and enhanced opportunity to hit the gain line and holes therein.

Having wingers attack the fringe sucks in their very hungry tail defence, creating valuable space for Sexton.

Against Argentina, Wales were far too slow in general movement and got chopped down, causing massive spills. Both Puma wings cut the Welsh big runners dead at the ankles. With this in mind, Conor Murray must watch out as they counter-ruck and pile into 50-50 rucks with arrow runners through to attack the scrumhalf; go around the corner at your peril.

Ireland must straighten the line and avoid drifting open with the ball as they’ll be hammered and the Pumas brilliantly get over the ball-carrier on the deck with ferocious body height and wide feet to slip over and make it impossible to win back. In this case Ireland will have to over-commit numbers, killing any future attack.

Kicking game

But Argentina’s kicking game begs for planned Irish counter-attacks, like Australia’s one described above. Conversely, the Pumas will counter so box kicks must be as good as Murray’s last weekend.

I expect the scrum to be a mixed bag where referee’s interpretation is crucial. Mike Ross and Jamie Heaslip must play him to a tee.

Scrumhalves have an enormous effect on the players around them, and Murray’s speed of thought and movement will impact on his team-mates, forcing them into position much earlier. If he is fast, loose forwards will get into position earlier, running harder lines earlier and so on.

The real value is out wide where centres and wingers expect the ball perfectly timed and run accordingly. This has not happened enough where our nine, through pace, gets players subconsciously involved in the use of the ball.

Finally, like Ireland, Wales were down key forwards in Dan Lydiate, Adam Jones and Ryan Jones but, their counter-attack and counter-ruck were toothless. If Ireland get these right, with the scrumhalf working at pace, a win is on.

PS. What a shame the last of the Mohicans, Contepomi, is absent tomorrow.

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