Ireland-Efficient for 79 Minutes.

Posted: March 2, 2015 in International Rugby, World Cup

After the game between England and Ireland on Sunday, George Hook described Ireland as an efficient team who were now able to win out the tight games. Usually I turn a deaf ear when it comes to his analysis, but for once I found myself agreeing with him.

The Irish scrum was in the limelight all week, with the majority of talk being based on whether Mike Ross would be able to deal with Joe Marler after how Harlequins prop dealt with him when they met earlier in the year. Greg Feek, the Irish scrum coach, would have been dancing at full time. Not only did Ross hold up, but the scrum as a whole did. It gave the backs a solid platform, and it even went as far as to win penalties. McGrath also scrummaged well, and bringing Moore and Healy off the bench far from weakened it. One or two scrums went against the Irish pack, but in comparison to the trouble they were thought to have been in all week, it was a case of job well done for Ross and company.

The lineout also gave a solid platform  (bar one drop from Toner) and the second rows put in a massive shift again today (when it comes to O’Connell, when doesn’t he?). But the plaudits must go to the Irish back row. Billy Vunipola, James Haskell and Chris Robshaw were tipped to come into this game and dominate with complete effect and the absence of Jamie Heaslip was noticeable when the teams were announced during the week. But cometh the hour, cometh the man. There’s a phrase which says if he’s good enough, he’s old enough, and Jordi Murphy put paid to that Sunday. He was monumental in the breakdown, be it on his own ball, creating turnovers or winning penalties. Losing Sean O’Brien so early in the game could have been a disaster, but Tommy O’Donnell came on and put in a shift worthy of a start in Wales. Their work effort meant that although Vunipola showed flashes of brilliance, most obvious his 50 odd meter carry, he wasn’t allowed to influence the game, nor was Haskell allowed to bully the Irish in the same way he had done to the Welsh two weeks prior.

In terms of the half-backs, Murray and Sexton make up the most influential and skillful partnership in the northern hemisphere. Murray dictated the pace of the game wonderfully today. He was aggressive with ball in hand and his box kicking was, 90% of the time, excellent. It was fitting that it was his chip that set up Henshaw’s first international try. In comparison to Murray, Ben Youngs had barely any influence on the game, with Wigglesworth’s introduction proving futile. Sexton, meanwhile, played like a man possessed. He played with such passion and aggression that his tackles forced knock-ons and his successful penalty attempts earned fist pumps and roars of encouragement. In light of this, Ford had no chance. He was bombarded with high balls and big runners coming down his channel. While we did well, he never impacted the game in the way Sexton did.

In the midfield, the Irish centres did well. Henshaw gave everything, his try being a just reward for his efforts. If there was one weakness in the Irish team, however, it was Payne’s effectiveness at 13. He is going to need to bring more to his game, and soon, as in-form players such as Keith Earls and Luke Fitzgerald are only waiting for an opportunity. The Irish back three also dominated the aerial today. While Alex Goode was impressive  (bar turning his back for the Henshaw try), Nowell and Watson were poor when it came to the ball being in the air. The fact Lancaster knew this was the game Ireland were going to play (44 kicks from hand shows it was the game Ireland played) will be a worry to him. But, it’s all relative. A full strength back line for England could, and probably would, include names such as Owen Farrell, Brad Barrett, Manu Tualagi and Mike Brown. What a different game it would have been then, especially given Zebo’s inability to defend.

The vast majority of Irish play today was, to use Hook’s adjective, efficient. But doubt slowly crept in, and as the euphoria of winning slipped away, I thought about Ireland’s biggest inefficiency. My biggest concern came not from the scrum, or the fact that Madigan was extremely poor when he made his appearance for Sexton, but from the last play of the game. My biggest concern came from a memory. On the 24th November, 2013, Ryan Crotty scored a last gap try to deny Ireland their first ever win against the All Blacks. In the dying seconds on Sunday, Jack Nowell crossed for a try which was disallowed. Although Ireland would still have won had Nowell’s effort not been disallowed for a forward pass, it still showed Ireland switched off in the dying seconds of a game. Had the last pass not been deemed forward, the Irish defence would have committed the same mistake which cost them one of their biggest ever victories 16 months ago. I think as long as that defensive error occurs, Ireland will not be 100% efficient. With a World Cup in 6 month’s time, that mistake needs to be addressed and eradicated.

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