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5 things Ireland must do in the November tests

Here are five of the essential goals for Ireland in the games against Samoa, Australia and New Zealand.

Ireland will be hoping to get out of the blocks against Samoa in two weekends' time.
Ireland will be hoping to get out of the blocks against Samoa in two weekends' time.
Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

IRELAND HAVE BEEN in camp over the last few days, building towards the November tests against Samoa, Australia and New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

There is justified optimism surrounding the national team’s chances of having a positive series under Joe Schmidt, with the hope being that he will bring some of the elements that made Leinster so successful in the last three years into the international fold.

So what are the key goals for Ireland ahead of next month’s fixtures?

1. Win two games at least

Schmidt has been appointed as Ireland coach to improve a winning record that stands at 40% over the last three seasons. The IRFU gave him free reign to appoint the coaching team he desired and he has put his faith in Les Kiss and John Plumtree. Now, the trio must provide the results.

Realistically, a first ever win over the All Blacks would be a shock, particularly if Steve Hansen’s men continue their current sensational form. While we should still be targeting a win against New Zealand, the other two games versus Samoa and Australia are eminently winnable. There should be no complacency against two sides ranked higher than Ireland, but Schmidt has the players to win both matches.

2. Play what they see

image

©INPHO/Dan Sheridan.

Too often in recent seasons, Ireland have been guilty of sticking to their game plan too rigidly. Rugby is a highly structured game now of course, but that only means that when a rare attacking opportunity presents itself, it needs to be ruthlessly taken. Heads-up rugby can bring the best out of Ireland’s talented players by empowering them to make their own decisions on the pitch.

Yes, there should be a basic shape and system for building phases in attack, but Schmidt must also stress to the likes of Conor Murray and Jonny Sexton that they have the responsibility and freedom to convert a glimpse of a try-scoring chance into five points. It would be thrilling to see Rob Kearney backing himself on counter-attack more often too.

3. Take on the All Blacks at their own game

The final game of the November tests has been sold out since last week in a clear sign that this is the biggest clash of the series. The All Blacks have been on another planet at times this season, with their basic skills a shining example of what rugby is all about. Hansen’s men draw and pass better than anyone and take well-judged risks within a high tempo game plan.

We’re a good team when we play,” said Brian O’Driscoll after the 22-19 loss to the All Blacks last year.

Ireland’s best chance of beating New Zealand is to keep the tempo high when they get possession and take  chances in an effort to score tries. Most importantly, we must expend a physical effort like never before. The might All Blacks last defeat came in England in 2012, when Stuart Lancaster’s side battered them in the collisions and Ireland must do the same.

4. Rediscover an identity in defence

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©INPHO/Billy Stickland.

Les Kiss’ role within the Irish set-up under Declan Kidney had stretched to include the attacking approach of the side, as well as the defensive responsibilities he has always had. With Schmidt now in charge of Ireland’s attacking play, Kiss has refocused his full attention on the area where he made his name. The choke tackle is not an Irish invention, but we have perfected it under the Australian.

Most of Ireland’s best performances in recent years have included liberal usage of that particular defensive ploy, and Kiss should continue to work on improving it. Just as with Schmidt must tailor his attacking plans to the strengths of the players Ireland have, Kiss will do too with defence. Choke tackling and aggressive line speed are well matched to our current crop and Ireland can build their game on a solid defence.

5. View the scrum as an area to attack

For a long time, the scrum has been an area where Ireland have looked to cope. There has been little sense that our scrum has taken to the pitch with the intent of bulldozing the opposition at the set piece. It is true that Ireland’s front row is not the heaviest around but with the ‘hit’ now taken out of play, there is a chance for Plumtree’s pack to excel at the scrum.

Mike Ross and Cian Healy are both technically excellent and possess great core strength. They have shown signs of improvement in the scrum in glimpses this season and now they need to start bossing international games. Australia’s scrum is particularly weak, while Ireland had some success against New Zealand at scrum time last season. Samoa have an array of gigantic front rowers, but Ireland’s props can get an edge on them with the ‘hit’ removed.

What do you think Ireland need to do to call the November test series a success? Does Schmidt need to blood certain players into the starting team? Are performances or results more important?

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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