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Dublin: 2 °C Saturday 17 March, 2018

Peter Stringer: Honing basic skills the key to improving Ireland’s gameplan A, B and C

“When you come up against a more physical team than you, you need a plan B.”

AS A WHOLE this World Cup has been unbelievable. It’s certainly been the best one that I’ve seen and I’m sorry to see the end of it.

Almost right from the off, the second day of the tournament, the tone was set by that brilliant Japan win over South Africa.

That’s my tournament highlight. Nobody gave them a shout, the bravery they showed throughout and then at the end to go for a win rather than settle for a draw – it was just astonishing. That gave every other the second tier nation that extra glimmer of hope and it added to their performances whenever they faced the big boys.

IrelandÕs head coach Joe Schmidt before the match in a team huddle Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

For an Irishman, the win over France was a great day to be in Cardiff. To witness the atmosphere in the Millennium Stadium and the attitude of everyone on the field was incredible. Now France, we know, were cut apart a week later, but Ireland showed up that day and the way they pulled away in the second half was a really proud moment.

Unfortunately that euphoria didn’t continue for long and we’re back in the familiar position of picking through the bones of a quarter-final exit. I’ve been in the situation the lads are in now a couple of times, all you want to do is get back home, get back to your own province, back on to the training pitch. Because after any defeat on any weekend, all you want to do is get back out on that pitch on a Monday morning, put your focus on the following game so you can physically and mentally move on.

For coaches it’s very different. The management team will go away and put a plan together for the next Six Nations, drawing up a squad of guys that they feel are capable of doing a job and looking towards the future.

There isn’t a lot to change needed to keep at the top of our game at Six Nations level. But, as a country, if we want to progress and compete against the southern hemisphere we’re going to have to do something different than what we’ve been doing.

The game we played in the last few seasons, we haven’t played too much rugby – certainly from our 10 metre line back – it’s very much a kick-pressure game and get the ball back.

It’s all well and good competing against Scotland, Italy and France (who are far from their best at the moment). But when you come up against more physical teams than you, who understand your game and have big-ball carriers waiting for kicks to the backfield, they’ll get a gainline when they run it back and, all of a sudden, that gameplan isn’t working.

From playing with different clubs over the last few years, I’ve definitely see the changes in the game and the different approaches to it. It’s about being able to adapt.

For the successful teams, it ultimately goes back to the skill-set and having confidence in all your players to move the ball around and to have an understanding of the gameplan.

Israel Folau is tackled by Dane Coles and Conrad Smith Even though he was never quite fully fit, Wallaby fullback Israel Folau always seemed to make gainlines after the ball was kicked his way. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

For me, the focus for Ireland players between now and January should be improving the simple basics, continue working on them making sure they’re up to scratch. Because you don’t want to be coming in the week before a Six Nations match working on fundamentals. At that stage, it’s about getting back within a team and getting plays organised.

I’m sure Joe Schmidt will be keeping a close eye on the provincial games and popping along to training sessions. Because what we’ve seen in this World Cup is a different skill-set from the southern hemisphere teams to the northern hemisphere teams.

Teams up here have mostly relied on a power game. And that works when you come up against so-called weaker opposition, but when you come up against a more physical team than you, you need a plan B and you need the skill-set to adapt and win a game.

Against Argentina, Ireland have players capable of mixing it up, but we were just physically beaten up and didn’t seem to have a Plan B to go to. The skills of the southern hemisphere teams right across the board has been so impressive.

It’s difficult at this post-World Cup stage. When you started as a dark horse for the tournament, but crashed out in the quarters, the temptation is always to call for a raft of new faces.

I’d certainly like to see any player given a taste of the squad no matter what their age. As long as they have the quality. However, Schmidt has already given a lot of guys a go, he’s built up the squad and we really needed that in this World Cup when you look at the sudden shed-load of injuries.

CJ Stander Stander in training for Munster, with Jack O'Donoghue in support. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

In years gone by, we would have relied on a starting XV a hell of a lot more than we do now. You look at the different combinations we’ve used and there are 31 lads who are comfortable playing at international level and a lot of them are capable of playing in different positions across the park.

The one man outside the picture at the minute who I’d like to see brought in is CJ Stander. As of last Sunday, he’s now qualified to play for Ireland. I’ve trained and played with him, but in the last year or two he really has become one of the top players down in Munster.

From a ball-carrying point of view, he’d be a huge addition to an Irish squad. I think we need guys to put their hand up to carry ball like Iain Henderson did during the World Cup.

An inclusion for Stander would be a massive shot in the arm for everyone. And his performances certainly merit it.

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About the author:

Peter Stringer  / Ex-Ireland and Munster scrum-half, now with Sale Sharks.

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