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3 ways Ireland can be more competitive against New Zealand on Saturday

What else would you want to after a comprehensive defeat to the world champions, than play them again on their own turf seven days later?

Image: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Reproduced with permission from Setanta Sports

A COMMON CONSENSUS from Ireland’s heavy defeat in New Zealand last Saturday was that Declan Kidney’s side weren’t horrendous for large parts of the contest and were ultimately outclassed by a much better team.

This is true to an extent.

Kidney’s side did play some decent rugby in the opening 15 minutes, before being well and truly put to the sword by some outstanding attacking play by the All Blacks.

However, Ireland didn’t exactly help themselves either.

There were many aspects of their game that let them down and an improvement in these areas could serve to make the second test on Saturday a more competitive affair. Here are three:

Pick Eoin Reddan

The side that Declan Kidney named for the opening test looked designed to attack. The centre pairing of Keith Earls and Brian O’Driscoll would substantiate this as well as the selection of Simon Zebo on the wing. All players who represent a genuine threat with the ball.

This was a backline that demanded quick ball when Ireland were in possession but Conor Murray simply didn’t deliver it. Murray of course has his strengths but there is no doubt that Eoin Reddan provides swifter service for his outhalf.

There was too much labouring at the base of the ruck from the Munster scrumhalf which stunted Ireland’s progress in the few occasions that they controlled the ball in the New Zealand half. The All Black defence was afforded too much time to organise and rarely did Keith Earls and co have space to attack or a mismatch to exploit.

Even though Earls is out of the test on Saturday with Gordon D’Arcy likely coming back into the centre, Eoin Reddan should still start. You simply will not penetrate the New Zealand line with slow ball.

Mind the Ball

For all Ireland’s deficiencies in the last couple of years, Declan Kidney’s side have generally been relatively clinical, even when playing badly. A trait of this team has been their ability to score tries from few excursions into opposition territory. Even in this season’s disappointing Six Nations campaign, Ireland finished as top try scorers with three more than Wales, who won a grand slam.

There is undoubtedly a sense of panic present when Ireland play against New Zealand compared to any other team in the world. All of a sudden, even the great Brian O’Driscoll starts throwing loose offloads. The occasion in question cost Ireland about 70 metres.

You get the feeling that because Ireland have never beaten the All Blacks and have such respect for the way the Kiwis play, they feel a need to do something special to score against them. Rather than going through phases and applying significant pressure, there seems to be a consensus that something exceptional is required.

Obviously if the offload is on, Ireland should go for it as they will need to play with pace and depth to get in behind this All Blacks defence but the priority should still be to take care of that ball as best they can when they are in control of it.

Let Jonny Sexton off the leash

Declan Kidney should not always take the blame for Jonny Sexton’s shortcomings in an Irish shirt. Sexton himself would not have been happy with aspects of his performance on Saturday last, particularly his kicking game, which was loose on occasion. Nor is this saying that Sexton was particularly poor in Eden Park. He wasn’t, but he has set such high standards for Leinster that that is now the yardstick he will be judged against.

Yet you still get a sense that Sexton is being held back a touch. One thing Ireland did superbly in the first test was turn over the All Blacks at the breakdown. Turnover ball should widen Sexton’s eyes with anticipation as it automatically insinuates that the opposition defence is not organised and is arguably the best ball to attack with.

Look at what the All Blacks did with turnover ball. It was devastating. The Irish, on the other hand, didn’t show the same ambition with similar ball.

The Leinster ten still looks restricted and to be playing without real freedom. Declan Kidney should empower the St. Marys man as he is an outhalf of the highest quality when playing his natural game. Joe Schmidt said of Sexton recently that he just ‘lets him play.’ That mantra seems to be working ok for Leinster.

Without opening a can of worms, it is also difficult to identify the logic in replacing Sexton with Ronan O’Gara after fifty-five minutes. This wouldn’t exactly come under the category of empowerment.

Overall

Although Ireland ultimately sustained a substantial beating at the hands of the All Blacks last week, there were a couple of positives to take. Declan Fitzpatrick has potential as an international tight head for one and some of the breakdown work was of a very high quality.

That said, the management and players will be bitterly disappointed with their overall performance and indeed the score line. A sizeable improvement is required this week and that should be achievable.

All is not lost but measures need to be taken to ensure this team on Saturday takes a step forward rather than one back.

Twitter: TomFoxy

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Tom Fox

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