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Ireland driving players to work harder, smarter and recognise 'lost causes'

Skills coach Richie Murphy outlined some of the ‘fine margins’ that make big differences for Ireland’s defence.

THERE’S NO QUICK fix for the ailments which have brought Ireland from being back-to-back Six Nations champions to this point, but defence is first on the snag list for Joe Schmidt and his staff.

The head coach laid his cards on the table yesterday afternoon, bemoaning the passive nature of Ireland’s defence in Twickenham, and skills coach Richie Murphy reiterated the issue after 17 of the squad trained against the Under 20s at Carton House today.

Josh van der Flier, Devin Toner, Nathan White, Ultan Dillane, Richardt Strauss, Cian Healy and Rhys Ruddock Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“We’ve had a very good look at ourselves,” says Murphy, referring to both the coach and player groups.

“We were probably a bit passive defensively at the weekend, didn’t get ourselves set in good positions to come forward and that was one of the focus points for this week.”

Murphy politely shrugged off the suggestion that the defence may be suffering due to the coaching ticket being down a man while Schmidt and forwards coach Simon Easterby fill in on an interim basis until Andy Farrell takes over full time from Les Kiss in the summer. He also opted to steer clear of any further focus points for the squad other than those relating to that defensive line speed. Though he did describe just how fine the margins can be in generating what, at first glance, can look like a mere matter of effort.

We can see areas that we can be better in, but to come in and tell you: ‘here’s five things that could make us better…’ I don’t think that’s really the right thing to do.

We’ll be driving players being smart, working harder, players not giving up on the little opportunities that come your way where you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen — maybe if you take another two or three steps, you might be in a really good support line…”

“Not chasing a lost cause at the breakdown: where we get two or three bodies in a breakdown situation which leaves us a little bit short in the defensive line. Stuff like that is where we need to improve and the players are very aware of that.”

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Natwest and RBS branding at the game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

He adds: “as a coaching team, we have to look at the messages we give the players and from the players’ point of view they have to look at how they implement those messages.”

In Mullingar, Schmidt promised fans that they would see new faces across the last three games of this Six Nations. However, the Kiwi made good on that promise much earlier than expected as Stuart McCloskey, Josh van der Flier and Ultan Dillane were unleashed to good effect against England.

There’s no guarantee that there will be more debutants to join the ranks before 19 March. Ireland are still without a win in the tournament and risking an embarrassing home defeat by resting big names wholesale may be a roll of the dice too far.

Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton Tried and trusted: Half-backs would likely be the last combination Schmidt would experiment with. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“We will be looking at new combinations within that and trying to look at how we play, but at the end of the day you’re judged on whether you win or lose. So winning the last couple of games is where we want to be.

“The big focus for us is to get those processes right.

“We’ll look at the whole thing and if there are opportunities to bring people in that might happen, but we’ve obviously brought in the three guys already, whether it’ll be any more or not we’ll have to wait and see.”

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Sean Farrell

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