Indifference would be the most mortal poison against not great Scots
Once again, the breakdown is where Ireland must break down a troubled foe at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday
Iain Henderson, seen here beating England Saxons captain Calum Clark to a lineout ball at Kingsholm Stadium last week, could force his way into the senior Ireland reckoning. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images)
“There is no more mortal poison than indifference”. Irish Times columnist Lara Marlowe, reflecting on French President François Hollande in her piece on January 18th Inside Hollande’s love triangle, was referring to Valérie Trierweiler musings about a book on a forgotten Resistance hero. I can’t imagine a Joe Schmidt team containing Brian O’Driscoll in his last Six Nations would fall foul of indifference this Sunday. But it has happened to Ireland in the past, especially against Scotland.
Our resistance hero, O’Driscoll, will never be forgotten, not with all he has achieved and hardly with the Welsh circus around the corner but his recent low profile hints at a man intent on getting the job done.
And Schmidt, for all his success and world-class coaching, must also get the job done.
As I am not privy to today’s team selection as I write I would assume Schmidt will play his strongest hand. However, I would be amazed if, even in the ruthless Six Nations he doesn’t dilute his options over the coming weeks.
One possible is Ulster’s Iain Henderson, who made three big hits in the opening one minute and 45 seconds against the Saxons and landed a monster on 31 minutes 26 seconds when Saxons’ flying winger Charlie Sharples cut a line in midfield.
Dexterity of feet
Connacht’s Fionn Carr ran a very similar line on Saracens secondrow Steve Borthwick and skinned him. Most impressively, Henderson had the dexterity of feet and confidence in his pace to track Sharples down and smash him.
Add to Henderson, Munster prop James Cronin and Leinster prop Martin Moore. And with only a handful of games remaining till RWC 2015 Schmidt must get the balance right in his back line where immense experience in midfield must be diluted gently.
Luke Marshall is obviously raising his stock but huge unknown unknowns surround the future number 13. It is unlikely this campaign will unearth major answers there.
Based on Scottish club rugby – Connacht have more European points than Glasgow and Edinburgh – and especially Munster’s convincing Heineken Cup defeat of the latter there is loads of scope for Irish indifference on Sunday.
There are understandably only three Edinburgh players in Scotland’s starting 15, two of them in the pack. At Thomond Park, hooker Ross Ford and scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw battled bravely for Edinburgh to no avail and in the middle of the backrow David Denton was a grey man of indifference.
He rarely popped up and when he did it was a half-hearted effort, leading to errors.
Denton is a very talented backrow, with pace and power but was awful in Thomond Park. Is that his true level? Hardly, but how can Scotland manufacture more from him?
If Scotland ran out on Sunday in either Glasgow or especially Edinburgh jerseys Ireland would expect to canter home but, man for man, there are interesting contests that could unsettle us.
So how can Scotland make it thus? In previous seasons they have played some amazing rugby, full of quality multi-phases and multi-offloads.
Castres second row Richie Gray is a window into what can be achieved by Scotland; a highly-talented, athletic and a ferocious competitor. In fact, if you cut up a video of Scottish highlights it would paint a story of real quality.
Their problem is the video tape keeps rolling where their error count under pressure grows, and quality opposition do put them under pressure.
The Scottish rugby website refers to Scotland’s midfield pairing of Alex Dunbar and Duncan Taylor as “hard running”and “strong running” centres and that is exactly what they are. Especially Taylor, who at 6ft 3ins and 15st 7lbs will be a handful.
The loss of Seán O’Brien will be felt most by Ireland’s midfield as the yards after contact he ekes out get everything moving forward. There are faster passing scrumhalves than Conor Murray but few with his overall game so it’ll be interesting to see him adjust to life without O’Brien.
Leinster struggled to adapt to his absence against Northampton Saints in Dublin.
So where will this go forward come from on Sunday?
Last season Ireland failed to keep Scotland in that pressured environment and paid a huge price. Will Ireland’s style be an international version of Leinster’s and will this survive at international level?
No doubt some of the parts have dramatically improved; pay particular attention to the 14 Irish players not on the ball. Watch their activity, their lines of running, their decoy runs.
The best place for Ireland not to be indifferent is at the breakdown. This is where Leinster’s methodology may not suffice and the absence of O’Brien’s yards after contact, could add time to Murray’s pass, affording Dunbar and Taylor more time to organise their defence, cutting down O’Driscoll’s options.
So, resistance, no indifference, especially at the breakdown.
PS. I know the big game is on Sunday but I implore you to YouTube A Guide To American Football and watch the next biggest one on Sunday, the Superbowl.