O'Driscoll is the master of time in a team performance

Mon, Feb 4, 2013, 00:00

Rugby Analysis:Rugby, like any other game played on a field, is about creating space and subsequently exploiting that space. To that end Ireland had a game plan full of clarity implemented with ruthless efficiency – they were especially impressive without the ball. But in Brian O’Driscoll Ireland have a player who goes beyond creation and exploitation of space, so beautifully achieved for Simon Zebo’s try. O’Driscoll creates time.

When occupying the same pitch as the centre, total concentration is required. His shoulders would shift one way, with his feet and hips dancing another. But the strength of his subterfuge lies deep in his eyes where defenders can’t but help being sucked in. Where he is looking is so distracting to the defence, who are trying to eke out any advantage from the insight into his soul. What is he going to do next?

The Irish scrum was a thing of beauty with many Lions’ battles unfolding. Clearly the Irish frontrow had a plan to destabilise their counterparts. Partly for self preservation, partly for their team but I imagine they were simply sick and tired of the plaudits Adams Jones and Gethin Jenkins (both well deserving of their combined 179 Welsh caps) have received and their perceived importance to Wales.

It would appear that Mike Ross in particular (with Mike McCarthy behind him) started the momentum when getting inside Jenkins. This afforded both Rory Best and Cian Healy the opportunity to attack Jones in a combined assault of the greatest tighthead scrummagers in the game.

Outrageous skills

Momentum has been a key word all week and the intelligence that went into the Irish scrum must not be forgotten when rightly applauding O’Driscoll and Zebo’s outrageous skills. That momentum was obvious, less so the Irish frontrow or Craig Gilroy consistently staying out of touch.

Moments after Zebo’s Maradonaesque play, Gilroy stayed in play when more “experienced” wingers would have been bundled into touch. Then Healy, having gone toe to toe with Jenkins, popped up and barrelled over Mike Phillips to score Ireland’s second try, which was mentally huge for Ireland.

What makes a team? On 10 minutes and three seconds Conor Murray fed the ball into an attacking scrum on the right hand side. Ross once again destabilised Jenkins and Jamie Heaslip went open to Murray who found blindside winger Gilroy. Off the breakdown Healy popped up in midfield. When Murray found his outhalf, Wales were comfortable in defence. Inside Jonny Sexton was Ross who worked hard to get there. Outside him were O’Driscoll, Rob Kearney and Zebo who faced four Welsh defenders.

Best was sensational throughout and now he was right behind Sexton and inside O’Driscoll which confused Jonathan Davies a tad. As the ball arrived into O’Driscoll’s hands Kearney ran a decoy which added to Davies’s confusion but put Kearney out of the game, leaving a Welsh four on two with Best trailing inside. At that point there were over 70,000 people in the ground watching O’Driscoll but only three, Davies, Leigh Halfpenny and Alex Cuthbert could see his eyes and all three were sucked into his soul, transfixed by his presence and his possibilities. What will he do next, I’m sure they mused, as he suspended time. All three were sucked in to his vortex with Zebo flying over.

Moments of clarity

In all this the Irish frontrow was crucial or as coach Tony D’Amato would say: “That’s a team, gentlemen.” At that point in time Declan Kidney, his staff and all the players created moments of clarity that maximised the concept of team. It was beautiful.

That first-half performance succeeded in many things through the violently low body positions of McCarthy, Donnacha Ryan and Peter O’Mahony at the breakdown which kept Phillips out of trouble meaning his power pass saw very little action. The Irish lineout mauled Wales and further sucked in their defence.

Defensively, much concern was voiced regarding our two wingers’ capabilities but their decision-making and execution was spot on. The lineout too brought its talking points where Seán O’Brien’s cameo at hooker brought a 100 per cent return.

Comfort and clarity in the game plan helps all but in particular the Irish halfbacks where Murray had a more honed machine around him. They were all picking up their points and lines allowing him to keep the engine greased which sped up the flow making it very difficult for Wales to slow down the ball or force turnovers. In effect it neutralised much of Wales’ perceived strengths by going hard and flat on the fringe and rewind down the blindside. Likewise Sexton looked very comfortable due to the comfort those around him had in their roles.

Then the second half Welsh onslaught arrived but with Irish unity of effort there was to be no delayed gratification. Fingers crossed for Gordon D’Arcy and Mike Ross.

PS. What a great weekend of rugby, starting out in Navan RFC on Friday night where unfortunately too much chaff invaded the wheat in a very laborious 42-minute long monologue! Best of luck to Navan and president Christy Moffett for the remainder of the season.

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