With a new game plan like this, many reasons to be cheerful
A moment I described on Friday from the England v Australia match happened exactly again when Argentina kicked poorly to a waiting line of four Irish players primed for counter-attack. Sexton chose to kick it back and Bowe followed up by fielding it brilliantly.
What happened next is crucial to our future, with positive additions and value added to the ball. Most notably Cian Healy, finding himself down the blindside, targeted two defenders and offloaded inside to a better placed player even though his instinct is to crash through.
Herein lies the difference. Each player was part of a system that added value to the ball and ultimately opened up space where there was none. Sexton and co did it through the boot at times, exposing space behind the Pumas. In the tightest of channels through hard running, full of decoys, they fixed Puma defenders to eventually put Gilroy through holes.
Both wingers mimicked England’s Chris Ashton’s trail running, but crucially their team-mates were alive to them. At times Ireland drifted into lateral running, giving Argentina easier side-on tackles that slowed down the ruck, but it was vastly superior in its simplicity and application.
The attack was pacey, finding a target and full of rewinds to create mismatches where Argentina tended to leave fatties on the blindside in defence. The real beauty was not searching for space out wide but cracking it open much closer. The end result produces greater dividends. This all encompassing game plan achieves many outcomes, but notably it relies less on its “stars” where the team function much better with all contributing equally. In this environment both half backs looked confident and unburdened, very much like the crowd drifting away from the Aviva; very happy and optimistic for the future.
Looking forward to the Six Nations and the issues I’ll examine in Friday’s article. How should we judge the past months? The real question is whether last Saturday was a blip or part of a master plan. Lest we get carried away with all the positives should we ask deeper questions? Why are there 23 players available on a match day squad and what is their purpose? Why does it take massive injuries to hunt for and discover the quality such as Saturday’s man of the match Donnacha Ryan, the find of the autumn Mike McCarthy and the youthful optimist Craig Gilroy.
Where did Saturday’s game plan come from and why has it been hidden, a style of rugby we all buy into? Who demanded that change and hence who is best to lead us into the Six Nations?