Les Kiss outlines Ireland’s strategy for evolution
Defensive coach says Joe Schmidt’s side are working to build variation in their game
Five Ireland players – Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony, Jamie Heaslip, Rhys Ruddock and Jack McGrath – broke the 24-tackle count over two games during Autumn Internationals. The choke still works. Photograph: Inpho
Ireland are a transparent side that play for territory, man up in defence and possess a general at outhalf who rarely misses. In the two matches Jonathan Sexton missed one from 13 shots at goal.
Both Southern Hemisphere rugby gurus were correct about the defence.
Enormous credit must be directed at defence coach Les Kiss and particularly five players – Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony, Jamie Heaslip, Rhys Ruddock and Jack McGrath – who broke the 24-tackle count over two games. The choke still works.
But, as Cheika said, Ireland’s is a very clear style of rugby. It’s, currently, working. Not unlike November 2006. “My response to that is we’re working on all parts of our game to build some variation,” said Kiss. “We don’t want to be a one-trick pony by any means and I don’t think we are.
“In the Six Nations we used the ball in hand a little bit more, this time we kicked a little more, maybe some of it was around a plan, maybe some of it was because players read the situation. We’re just trying to a build a more complete way that we can evolve our game as a whole.”
“I’d be reticent to say it’s in one particular area. I think it’s a combination of things and I think it’s a strength of our team that all parts work together and sometimes some parts aren’t as good as they can be while other parts have to work harder to negate any negative effect in that area.”
Coach Joe Schmidt would approve of that answer. However, despite two heroic performances when several new players proved their worth at this level, questions about Ireland’s attacking philosophy still exist.
Since the 2011 World Cup Geordan Murphy and Brian O’Driscoll have bemoaned the fact Ireland lacked a coherent attacking strategy at that tournament. It showed in the quarter-final defeat to Wales once the charges of Stephen Ferris and Seán O’Brien were repelled.
Ireland scored four tries, two each, in victories over the Springboks and the Wallabies. Against South Africa the Rhys Ruddock try came off Ireland’s maul – reignited by departed coach John Plumtree last season – with Tommy Bowe gathering a pre-approved Conor Murray kick for the second. Versus Australia Simon Zebo outsprinted Nick Phipps to Sexton’s well-weighted kick while Bowe’s try was a cleverly read intercept. The other scores came off the boots of Sexton and Ian Madigan.
“I think it’s important to realise the game as a whole,” Kiss answered to a question about Ireland’s evolving attacking strategy. “It may not please you the answer but, like defence, it doesn’t work in isolation from other parts of the game. They all contribute to each other.
“Our set-piece is not just built around winning the ball or stopping the opposition ball, it’s part of the connected strategy around what it does to the opposition and what it provides for you. It’s hard to isolate one area and forensically look at it in that way, I think it’s combination with a lot of things and that’s the way we prefer to approach it.
Ireland’s defensive solidity leaves Kiss beyond reproach. Yesterday’s gathering at Clontarf RFC - for a sponsor’s function – was curtailed to 10 minutes (we squeezed 12 minutes despite protestations from the “communications” man) making a genuine debriefing of the November series impossible.
This meant the assistant coach got peppered yesterday with questions from several reporters all, understandably, seeking different angles.
The rugby journalists will just have to dig a little deeper on their own. Which is a shame. Other serious rugby nations see the value in avoiding hectic media gatherings like this. Not Ireland. It’s the only disappointing aspect of this tightly run ship.It’s the only disappointing aspect of this tightly run ship
On the issue of strength in depth, another giant leap under Schmidt, Kiss signalled out Dave Foley for praise. Those caught up in the blur of Saturday’s game might only remember Will Skelton bowling him over but Foley made some telling contributions and he ran the lineout – losing only one of 20 throws – on his debut against Georgia.
The propping issue can also be painted in a positive light. Granted, Mike Ross and Jack McGrath were flogged for 80 minutes against Australia – 74 minutes against South Africa – as Rodney Ah You and to a lesser extent Dave Kilcoyne weren’t primed for such intense scrum engagements.
The bright side of all this is Marty Moore and Cian Healy will return while James Cronin, Nathan White and even Tadhg Furlong could surpass the benchmark over the ensuing 10 months. “Things don’t always work out the way some feel they should,” said Kiss of the length of time Ross and McGrath spent on the field. “They were still in pretty good shape. We were watching them and assessing them . . . that’s just how it played out.”
Ireland’s lineout malfunctioned, as O’Connell conceded, losing eight of 30 throws and only stealing one off the Wallabies and none from Victor Matfield. Much of what they did hold was mauled but this could be offered as an excuse for the lack of mesmerising three-quarter assaults people grew so accustomed to watching from Schmidt’s Leinster. Kiss dismissed the statistics as teething problems under new forwards coach Simon Easterby.
“Simon has really put another different level on the lineout. It didn’t come through but that doesn’t mean it is not in a good place. Paul and Simon have worked really hard building their options.” So there is a lot more to come from Ireland as an attacking force? “It might be a throwaway answer but we do just feel there is always more to come from ourselves.”