Liam Toland: Carbery’s performance is crucial against Wales

Is his lack of real pitch-time impacting his natural skillset for spotting space?

“Carbery is a wonderfully talented player – possibly the most talented in the Irish squad – but...?” Photograph: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Carbery is a wonderfully talented player – possibly the most talented in the Irish squad – but...?” Photograph: Billy Stickland/INPHO

 

It’s not evident on TV but had Joey Carbery passed the ball on 65:07 instead of kicking it, what might have happened? Carbery did kick and found green grass. To be fair Ireland had been under wonderful pressure from Italy and clearing the lines was not a bad option at 49 v 7. The ball bounced on the crossed lines; Italy’s 10m and 15m from touch, out of danger.

That it was Italian fullback Matteo Minozzi collecting, pitched like against like with Ireland’s winger Jordan Larmour approaching; still out of danger. Well we all know what happened next, but it could have been oh so different.

What is not obvious from TV was that Carbery had a fatiguing Dan Leavy outside him but beyond him was Jordan Larmour; far from fatiguing. Carbery kicked and Larmour chased. But Larmour should have got the ball in hand. Carbery is a wonderfully talented player – possibly the most talented in the Irish squad – but...?

As Larmour learned a valuable lesson in defence, I wonder did Carbery learn in attack? Did he notice as Bundee Aki stole that, although Italy had a phenomenal minute-long attacking spell from 64:02min from Kieran Marmion’s clearance kick, transitioning/pushing Ireland from half way into their 22 and in doing so that Italy had over committed around their attack leaving the Italian front row (attacking) fatties out wide; now forced to defend in open field. Larmour would have had them vomiting from seasickness; twisting them inside out. Had the ball gone to Larmour I have no doubt he would have scored an 85m try. Turnovers have value regardless of where they happen.

No fault of his own

Is Carbery’s lack of real pitch-time impacting his natural skillset for spotting and exploiting space? Through no fault of his own, how costly might this be in the Six Nations?

Leinster entertain Scarlets tomorrow in the RDS and Carbery’s selection and at outhalf is crucial for Ireland where Ross Byrne has been Leinster’s choice. A Triple Crown against Wales, Scotland and England brings with it a Grand Slam. Achievable, but are tweaks required? Is there another competition where the opposition impacts tactics as much as the Six Nations? Trench warfare against France, speed it up against Italy, slow it down against Scotland, speed it up against England and what against Wales? A hybrid? Can Carbery adjust? Of course, but has he the air miles when it gets really, really tight? No.

Andrew Porter had a wonderful match last Saturday; 77mins of all-out offensive defence and offensive attack. In between he managed the scrum and provided in the lineouts; no small achievement. But a word of caution. Should he start against Wales – and he has earned it – the Welsh scrum will ignore looseheads Jack McGrath/Cian Healy and target Porter, shifting all their weight, knowledge and tactics in an effort to exhaust and neutralise him. If he plays, do not expect an open field performance as against Italy. For this reason a seasoned prop like Stephen Archer, who has learned many lessons as only tightheads can, would be of great value.

Of the two backrowers who started against Italy I noted on Monday the value of a number 8 with Jack Conan’s creative ball skills for both Conor Murray and Keith Earls’ tries. Superb selfless football knowledge to maximise the turnover for Earls and knowledge of space and angles for Murray. Leavy is another with vast amounts to offer of pure quality but I wonder the cause of his defensive misses: was it concentration, fatigue or pace that got him? Either way, competition is hotting up.

Exit strategy

Like Ireland’s comfortable possession exit strategy, the lineout strategy is evolving where key tactics are evident. Firstly, it says something of Ireland’s on-field tactics that they have enjoyed 15 lineouts over Italy’s 7; and 14 Irish lineouts to French 9. This is not a coincidence. Why have we nearly twice the lineouts? Our kicking game; lack of kicking game and happiness to keep the ball in play is contributing, so to Andy Farrell’s defence.

Ireland are comfortable keeping the ball on the pitch. They are also conceding so few penalties that the opposition are not kicking to touch. This will be especially important when examining where England source their tries; be warned!

So what are Ireland doing with all these lineouts? Ireland are at their most dangerous from 40m out so it’s no coincidence that they are launching their backline from the 20m corridor between the 10s. In two ways; off the top and down and give. Yes, off the top as when Conan was in midfield. Inside their own half Ireland elect for either option with the down and give, affording Ireland a massive pre-planned decoy set up in midfield.

A great example of the down and give is inside Italy’s half on 26:11. Devin Toner the target, but Leavy was waiting as Toner hit the deck (down and give) with Italy’s backrow fixed Murray creeps into the wider receiving channel with a packed midfield full of options; first line Sexton (peeling away), Conan and Aki; but with Earls and Robbie Henshaw hiding. Aki attracts lots of defensive attention ditto Conan so Murray hits Sexton and up from “nowhere” pops Henshaw; beautiful with myriads of options.

But the assuredness slips a tad when closer to the line. The 30-min attacking lineout maul, having rumbled infield, created a 3v2 around the front. Murray spotted it but passed to Johnny Sexton much too early; converting 3v2 and certain try into a 2v2 and no try. However, by halftime the Irish lineout provided an attacking platform from deep that earned four tries directly or indirectly. A “fit” Carbery, a fresh Larmour and footballing Conan can help finish more off.

liamtoland@yahoo.com

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