Liam Toland: Ireland must add value to ball to beat All Blacks

New Zealand’s forwards against Springboks showed level Ireland need to reach

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

With round three of the Guinness Pro12 already upon us there are trends that are evident to this observer. But with an eye on the gargantuan task lying ahead this November, I wonder what store has been placed on adding value to the ball?

Last week I noted the value Scotstoun’s synthetic pitch will have over time with the style and skill set of all players.

That goes especially for the front five who in most Northern hemisphere locations are the battering rams; certainly in the underage structures in Limerick where we played eight attackers versus three defenders in training, with the three in defence winning 9-1.

So the All Blacks await. It’s another opportunity to get that elusive win. It’s Lions season too, so an Ireland win in either Chicago or Dublin will propel many Irish boys into Warren Gatland’s squad.

After all, it is New Zealand the Lions are playing and any player who has tasted a win over the All Blacks must be high on Gatland’s radar.

What an opportunity it is. Bar injury or a strange loss of form, the obvious ones will go; Conor Murray et al. But what of an Ireland player over the coming weeks who forces himself into Joe Schmidt’s thinking and consequently earns a place in the Irish side in Chicago? What then if that same man is the fulcrum to a historic victory?

How will that impact Gatland’s ruthless thinking? All Gatland wants is a series win, so who can provide that? I can think of one or two.

Many of our players in these opening weeks may be missing a huge opportunity, still bogged down as they are in the lung-bursting acclimatisation of the opening games.

So what are we missing or, more accurately, what is it that will finally get us that win over the All Blacks? What is Joe Schmidt (above) looking for? We saw how Argentina challenged New Zealand for over an hour but ended up falling drastically short by the time 80 minutes had come around.

Second Captains

Decoy lines

As round three of the Pro12 progresses this weekend, I wonder are all of our players adding value to the ball: when carrying, when running support lines (decoy lines too) and when passing off either hand. Let’s contrast and compare.

A good place to start is the All Black’s second try over the Springboks last Saturday.

Fifteen metres from the right touchline the sub scrumhalf TJ Perenara fired to first receiver and inside centre Ryan Crotty 20metres from the right touchline.

Moments before he received the ball, Crotty had organised his assets to provide decoy runs (with an attitude to receive) and his outside ‘backs’ to maximise.

That his outside backs were two secondrows and a hooker in 50 metres of lateral space would put the fear of God into any Northern Hemisphere crowd. By the way, it was three attacking forwards on five defenders, with lateral space the enemy of defence; over to the ‘fatties’ and see what happens next.

So sub secondrow Luke Romano at 1.99m, who came on in the backrow, takes from Crotty and hits his hooker Dane Coles about eight metres from him. Eight metres: the limit of a front fives’ lateral passing distance?

But Coles is facing two Springboks, one of whom is none other than the intercept king himself Bryan Habana. His options? Obviously put the ball under his arm and carry into the safety of contact; remember, he is six metres from the Springbok line with only two backs defending. Easy choice: back yourself and plough over.

But what does he do? With the intercept man loitering between him and secondrow Sam Whitelock, he smashes a right-hander latterly out a full 23 metres to the secondrow, who evades Habana for a cracking ‘fatties’ try.

Ambition

Now please tell me: can our front five mimic this? Or better yet, can our backs? Is this part of their ambition? Are they exercising these skills? I think of those closing minutes when Munster had Leinster on the ropes in the Aviva last season and when Munster’s sub tighthead John Ryan got on the ball down the left-hand side. The overlap came and went and was totally missed.

That was an obvious overlap but before we go further, look at Israel Dagg’s try on 21:47min and what Dan Coles did with space and depth to afford the simplest of opportunities. Then look at Coles on the left-hand side managing depth, width and an offload to his left winger Julian Savea on 27:40min.

For New Zealand’s third try they came right with openside Ardie Savea taking the ball. But right before contact, he skips and pivots to feed his looping number nine Aaron Smith; try for fullback Ben Smith on 48:52min.

How many of our current powerful backrows would have powered instead of pivot in the same instance?

Eighth phase

Incidentally Bryan Habana’s opening try came on the eighth phase of play from the Springboks. Do we have a game and the players that can push the All Blacks to eight phases? And not eight phases around the fringe but eight challenging phases that shift the teak-tough New Zealand defence making them look ordinary for a change?

So with an eye on the Pro12 table, the Champions Cup, Chicago, the Six Nations and the Lions tour, I ask this weekend: what provincial system and what player is adding real value to the ball?

liamtoland@yahoo.com

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