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Wednesday 1 February 2023 Dublin: 6°C
INPHO/Dan Sheridan Mike Ross at Carton house yesterday.
# Six Nations
Opinion: Ireland must broaden horizons to pass French test
It’s time to change it up if Ireland are to get their Six Nations campaign back on track in Paris.

Reproduced with permission from Setanta Sports

LAST SUNDAY WAS a frustrating afternoon on so many levels.

Naturally, the result itself was cause for great aggravation but it was also the manner of the loss which was gravely disappointing.

At first glance, Ireland were pipped at the post by an excellent Welsh team, who were just better on the day.

Lest we forget, that Warren Gatland’s side were a breath away from contesting the World Cup final. However, there is so much more to this particular encounter than that. This is a game that Ireland could have won and really should have closed out, despite being second best on the day.

It was an Irish side that promised so much in attack on paper but in reality, delivered very little. Yes, the two tries were well worked but were mere glimpses of what this team is capable. That point is important; this group of players are capable of so much more and that is where the bulk of the frustrations stem.

Their potential as a team, as a unit, is not being realised.

Tactics board

The gameplan employed on Sunday was either flawed or executed poorly but the former makes more sense. Although there was a noticeable effort to get the back row popping up in different areas of the pitch, rather than around the fringes as was the case in Wellington, there seemed to be little else learned from that quarter final loss at the World Cup.

Jamie Heaslip did get his hands on the ball to fine effect, particularly when attacking the 10 channel, but this was never going to be enough.

For a trio heralded as the best ball carrying back row in the world, Sean O’Brien and Stephen Ferris were not gobbling up metres on this occasion.

O’Brien in particular looked a shadow of the man who we have seen stream rolling over defenders in a blue jersey. It was as if he was conscious of the number on his back and the requirements that come with that role. He looked stuck between a rock and a hard place and never really exploded into the game like he can, neither with ball in hand or on the deck.

There is an imbalance to this back row as all three are so similar, but it is a difficult problem to amend. There is no David Pocock or Sam Warburton waiting in the wings to ravage ball at the breakdown. Do you give Peter O’Mahony a crack at seven? Maybe, but do you really want to cast a rookie into the fray at the Stade de France and leave an O’Brien or Heaslip on the bench?

It seems unlikely there will be change here for the French match, unless forced.

Change-up

The variation so badly needed to break down this extremely solid Welsh defence wasn’t present and there seemed to be no real sense of purpose in terms how Ireland were going to play with the ball. The Welsh midfield was enormous so getting in behind them and turning their sizeable frames should have been on the agenda. There was an obvious over-reliance on the box kick too and Conor Murray did not enjoy one of his better days.

The Munster scrum half has been compared to Mike Phillips on many occasions, mainly due to the physicality of both players, but this game illustrated just how far Murray had to go to be on a par with the Welshman. Phillips ran the show with an authority that the Irish half backs simply couldn’t match.

Jamie Heaslip and Paul O’Connell durin squad training yesterday. Pic INPHO/Dan Sheridan

When Ireland have been at their best in recent years, they have been very direct in their attack; getting their strike runners over the gain line, feeding off that quick ball and going wide when the time is right. What happens when you don’t get over the gain line? What happens when you don’t get quick ball? This has been a recurring problem for Ireland as the attack slows down to a snail’s pace, the phases around the fringes become tortuous and the momentum duly lost.

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The point is that Ireland need to find alternative ways to attack the opposition and maybe some fresh impetus is needed to achieve this. Les Kiss is obviously a top quality coach but perhaps he should be left to focus on the defensive matters. It was concerning to see the slow line speed from Ireland in defence on Sunday and the ease with which Wales marched up the field in the lead up to their winning penalty.

One of Declan Kidney’s greatest strengths over the years has been assembling a world class team around him and essentially managing the whole process to optimum effect. Has he missed a trick on this occasion by not replacing Alan Gaffney and seeking some original ideas?

It may seem like an easy solution but why not introduce Joe Schmidt into the affray? He is an attack coach by trade and no one can argue with his results at Leinster. Logistics may prove more difficult, of course.

The weapons exist on this Irish team to be devastating in attack but achieving this is proving difficult just at the moment. Variation is required and one thing the Leinster attack cannot be labelled is predictable.

Paris is next up and the prospect of a second defeat on the trot and a damp squid of a Six Nations looms large. However, as has always been this case with this Irish team, they can pull a performance out of nowhere.

If they are to do it in Paris, they need to be fully loaded and firing on all cylinders.

What do you think?

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