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Ireland's pack 'want to go after teams' as November shows destructive side

Simon Easterby’s charges took Argentina and New Zealand apart at scrum time.

THIS WEEK HAS involved plenty of chat about the brutality England are going to bring to Dublin on Saturday, but that may be missing the point.

Ireland’s forward pack has every right to consider itself the best in Test rugby after a stunning 2018, although Joe Schmidt’s world doesn’t involve his squad allowing themselves to succumb to such thoughts.

Instead, the likes of James Ryan, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong and CJ Stander will be keen to do their talking – or rather their physical and technical application – on the pitch once again.

Peter O'Mahony and Tadhg Furlong during a scrum Ireland's pack was superb in November. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

For starters, the Irish scrum comes into this Six Nations in better shape than ever after dismantling Argentina and New Zealand in the November Tests.

With scrum coach Greg Feek remaining an influential part of the coaching set-up, Ireland had a 100% return on their own feed, winning eight penalties and three free-kicks, while they also won three scrums against the head.

The sight of Cian Healy, Best and Furlong ploughing forward through the Pumas and All Blacks packs was a thrilling one for scrum nerds and everyday fans alike.

Having had a 97% return on their own scrum feed in the Six Nations, Ireland’s November form in that set-piece was very much a continuation of their growth.

The Grand Slam saw Ireland excel at maul time, on both sides of the ball, as the likes of Ryan, Dan Leavy, Stander and Peter O’Mahony caused havoc, most notably against England on the final day of the championship.

Indeed, 2018 felt like the year in which Ireland’s pack went from being a unit that aimed to provide a clean and stable platform to one that seeks to bring a destructive edge. 

Forwards coach Simon Easterby is hopeful that this development continues in the upcoming Six Nations.

“We don’t just want to contain a team, we want to go after a team,” said Easterby yesterday.

“I think there’s always little subtleties to how you play against different teams. How we might scrummage against one team may be slightly different to another.

Greg Feek Scrum coach Greg Feek will leave after the World Cup. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Same in the maul. Same in the lineout, on attack and defence. So every game offers you the ability to keep building on your core foundations, especially at set-piece because it’s such an important area of the game but also to potentially take a little bit of success out of certain areas, whether that be the scrum which was really good in the autumn.

“The work that Greg has done in terms of, not just the guys who start but building the depth again, it is so important that we have that ability to bring guys into the squad whether they make the bench or whether they train with the guys during the week, making sure those sessions are competitive.

“The lineout is no different. It’s such a competitive area, it’s an area we know other teams like to get go-forward from and we’re no different. So it’s going to be a pretty good tussle in those areas come kick-off on Saturday.”

The lineout is one area where Ireland will be aiming to return to their very best. 

Having had a 93% return on their own throw during the Grand Slam, behind only Wales in last year’s championship, there was a dip during November as Easterby’s charges declined to 83%.

Their struggles against Argentina, who picked three recognised locks with Guido Petti wearing the number six shirt, were most notable.

For England, the temptation may be to match Argentina’s tactics and select one of their dynamic locks at blindside flanker in a bid to disrupt Ireland’s lineout.

“That was an area we certainly didn’t live up to our standards and meet our standards in that game at lineout time in November,” said Easterby.

Cian Healy Cian Healy will be a cornerstone of Ireland's pack again. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“There’s a number of factors to that – one of them would be they defended particularly well and they did select potentially three lineout forwards in their locks and at six, but we can also things better than we did that day.

“There’s a number of factors that we’ve looked at post that game. We were pretty effective until the last couple of lineouts against New Zealand who, again, put us under a lot of pressure.

“I don’t think there was an issue in that game and certainly, the USA game was pretty effective. Sometimes the defence gets the better of you and sometimes you can have a little bit more control over what you’re doing.”

Ideally, it leaves Easterby and his forwards with clear improvements to make as England bid to upset their dominant form.

zeebs23

Join us to preview the Six Nations with Simon Zebo, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey on Thursday @7pm in Liberty Hall Theatre Dublin.

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Murray Kinsella

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