Liam Toland: Set piece and breakdown two areas where Ireland can target All Blacks
Variety in point of attack is also crucial to unleashing Ireland’s potent backline
Practise the skill and not the drill. And, of course, the crucial decision-making process. In attack or defence, when hunting to convert pressure into points, we need to ask where is the opportunity? Where is the overlap? Without a decision built into the skill, the drill is useless.
Steve Hansen respects Ireland, but there’s a key differential based on decision-making and skills execution in real time. All players need this or opportunities will be missed.
Tomorrow represents a huge opportunity and Ireland will have prepared, but Hansen knows that the All Blacks themselves don’t always know what they are doing moments before they do it. Yes, they’ve a system such as their 1-2-3-2 attacking layout but this merely underpins the supreme decision-making and skill set they use to combat opposition actions.
In contrast, let’s look back at Ireland’s win over Russia. CJ Stander made a great break off a rehearsed 68th-minute lineout move. Russia were all at sea with only one last lonely defender, Denis Simplikevich, to beat. Stander took contact and barrelled over but chose not to fix Simplikevich and release either Rhys Ruddock and Luke McGrath powering outside him with no defenders.
Transitioning is New Zealand’s biggest strength and Ireland’s greatest defensive challenge
Joe Schmidt has consistently prioritised high-end functional players to implement his game plan which has brought huge success for player and coach (and the rest of us). But I’m convinced that passing that precious ball makes life easier and less physical and opportunities are rewarded.
New Zealand’s first ability is to withstand an onslaught while figuring out what they need to do. They manage the moments through their obvious team leaders, but blindside wing forward Ardie Savea was phenomenal as South Africa ran riot over the All Blacks in those opening 20 minutes. It was Matrix-like how Savea powered over everything, totally eclipsing the legend that is Siya Kolisi through contact, with a post-tackle influence that ruined Springbok recycle.
On the ball he was simply brilliant, especially out on the flanks where New Zealand deploy him much more regularly since they changed their attack shape from 1-3-3-1 to 1-2-3-2 as Savea joins his hooker Codie Taylor out wide. Both have the skills and physique that will inflict damage on Ireland unless they can prevent them getting the ball.
Stander break against Russia
And with Beauden Barrett at fullback, New Zealand can alter and adjust with pivots either side of the breakdown, as Barrett did to grab the game from South Africa. This makes Irish defensive line speed and numbers hugely challenging. Barrett can also turn defence into attack. Transitioning is their biggest strength and Ireland’s greatest defensive challenge.
Next is their ability, when vulnerable, to concede crucial penalties which denies the opposition seven points in favour of three. Ireland will build their chances in multiple exhausting layers to score a try but referee Nigel Owens will exert huge influence in this aspect of the game. The offside line, breakdown infringements, lineout skulduggery and, given it is our most obvious strength, the scrum, need to be policed properly.
In 2012, Owens had a totally different interpretation on those closing scrums when Ireland had New Zealand on the ropes in Christchurch at 19-19. He neglected to value this scrum pressure as the All Blacks’ set-piece crumbled due to Cian Healy, Rory Best and Mike Ross and failed to penalise the All Blacks.
They consistently choose wisely when to concede as they’ve the lowest penalty count at this World Cup (an average of six per game with Ireland next). Clearly Owens needs to punish both sides equally, but especially where pressure leads to vulnerability.
Ireland have many options to place pressure on the All Blacks. The set piece is one, especially the scrum. I’ve flagged Owen Franks’ omission from the All Blacks squad weeks ago because he didn’t impact the ball enough. The All Black solution was to select ball carriers. This is a massive scrum and subsequent attacking platform opportunity. Ireland’s closing scrum is a concern with turnovers or penalties a possibility that may haunt us.
Ireland’s breakdown play is another opportunity but variety – such as the tip-on and point of contact – has been a struggle, especially when not used. Or even worse, when the passing player doesn’t sell a strong carry to interest the defence.
Iain Henderson needs a monster game tomorrow and here is a good place to start. Force the All Blacks defence to honey pot on him through much harder running which will add value to his tip-ons when executed. It’s for this reason, allied to the defence of Savea, that I’m disappointed Ruddock is not starting with Peter O’Mahony shifting to seven.
A varied kicking game, especially Conor Murray’s box kicks, is required. Variety is always helpful, especially when the world expects Murray to do exactly what he’s been doing for years.
Variety in point of attack is also crucial as Ireland have a far greater backline skill set compared with South Africa. In Chicago, I’d felt that Ireland had a cracking chance. For the rematch I expected New Zealand to mimic the Kilkenny hurlers – physical first then skills.
For the second Ireland win the All Blacks were vulnerable to the Irish set piece platform. Can Ireland create a varied attack to confuse the All Blacks’ defence, affording Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale their first try of this World Cup?
Finally, German philosopher Immanuel Kant framed music as the “quickening art” where national anthems have moved not just the players but us too.
The Haka is a most wonderful part of our game but I do feel that this particular quickening mental art is an unfair advantage for World Cup knockout games.