I struggle with the logic of Declan Kidney taking Conor Murray off with 20 minutes left
I have huge admiration for the Irish frontrow but there is something rotten in the state of Denmark if a hooker only gets pitch time if a scrumhalf is injured
As stated here many times; when you lose you can deserve praise andwhen you win you can deserve criticism but when you draw it can be most confusing, especially against the French, twice in a row.
So in watching the game many aspects struck a chord with me. I remember back to that line kick young Paddy Jackson missed in Edinburgh that was cordially returned with interest to Rob Kearney who, defying the odds, ran back into a wall of blue clad Scots with the inevitable penalty arriving to give Scotland victory.
This time Kearney was supreme in every touch of the ball. Most impressively he did the complete opposite of that counter against Scotland. On Saturday he chose to field the ball and immediately trade space for time.
There are many complicated principles in rugby that are crucial but none more so than “go forward” but Kearney decided that going laterally from the French, thus avoiding their physicality, to find green grass deep in their territory was how wet weather rugby should be played.
Aligned to him Conor Murray was immense in his appreciation of the conditions and the young man outside him at outhalf. I gave up logging the box kicks from his boot but each time he kicked he added value to the game plan and took untold amounts of pressure off Jackson.
I often marvelled at Peter Stringer’s manic type delivery of the ball which gave outhalves such opportunity based on accuracy and speed of delivery. But on Saturday Murray’s kicking gave Jackson time to read and appreciate the environment he faced. Hence in just his second cap Jackson looked comfortable and at ease, which manifested itself in his brilliant place kicking.
[CROSSHEAD]Taking Murray off
[/CROSSHEAD]Perversely, and considering my constant focus on the bench and the need for a full 23 man approach, I was very surprised and struggled to understand the logic in taking Murray off with 20 minutes remaining. I’m a huge fan of Eoin Reddan but the conditions and the score suggested that Murray was the best option.
Align that with Seán Cronin’s entry to the fray and once again the use of the bench was perplexing. Why does it take a suspected broken leg to a scrumhalf before our sub hooker gets introduced? In fact when was the last time an international frontrow completed a full 80 minutes?
Many will highlight the youth and inexperience of players numbers 17 and 18 but Mike Ross was barely able to stand and deliver as the game ticked by. The quality of the French opposition was evident in the two free kicks and two penalties conceded by Ireland after just 25 minutes.
On 52 minutes and 26 seconds Ross found himself double teamed by Thomas Domingo at loosehead and Benjamin Kayser at hooker. Domingo slipped outside Ross with Kayser attacking him and the great enemy of big tightheads, height came to play. Just as Ross became vulnerable both French men lifted the height and Ross was exposed.
Another enemy for Ross is the pitch or the inability to gain a purchase therein. Referee Steve Walsh had to constantly shift the scrums laterally to find clean grass. This is hardly inconvenient but to Ross it is tantamount to his very survival. The time of that scrum was crucial as Ross had another half hour’s rugby to play with both Domingo and Kayser departing for fresh legs.
I have huge admiration for the Irish frontrow and their unbridled effort for the Irish cause but there is something rotten in the state of Denmark if a hooker only gets pitch time if a scrumhalf is injured.
The Irish lineout was a thing of beauty to watch with Rory Best in total control of his environment. They elected to go short or target various locations. The first lineout was short and caught clean.
The next was full but hit Seán O’Brien at the front for a maul to be set up. The third lineout was short again and resulted in a box kick. The fourth was full and hit O’Brien at the front for another maul to start.
The fifth lineout was beautiful with Best finding Peter O'Mahony in the middle for yet another maul but this one hammered France backwards into their half for a timely boost to the morale.
[CROSSHEAD]Suck in the opposition
[/CROSSHEAD]Not being entirely satisfied with that outcome I wanted more. A lineout maul has many purposes but fundamentally it is to suck in the opposition, maintain possession while going forward. Ideally it results in a try when launched from five metres but outfield it becomes useless when it stops dead as all the momentum dies and with it the advantage.
Coaches will constantly work on converting advantage into points and in drawing the match Ireland could have won had advantages being converted. Knowing when to pass towards space when overlaps are created is hampering Ireland and so too the bench. In those closing minutes as Louis Picamoles began to exert influence it was the introduction of fresh legs that eked out space for him to exploit.
There were many moments that sucked me in and a bobbling ball on 21 minutes was one. The lineout off the top to Murray resulted in yet another great box kick which the extremely hard working Fergus McFadden chased and contested with the ball bobbling and spilling towards deck.
Along came Jamie Heaslip, who beautifully controlled the ball and Ireland powered on. Some weeks back a far easier ball was spilled by the Irish captain but to his eternal credit he worked his socks off on Saturday and those awkward balls stuck.
Murray received man of the match but Picamoles, Kearney, Heaslip and Best led throughout chasing every possible outcome which must be somewhat rewarding for them in figuring out the value of a draw.