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9 things Ireland can learn from the Rugby Championship

Here are some of the important lessons the new Ireland management can take from the Southern Hemisphere tournament.

The All Blacks have been the form team so far in the Rugby Championship.
The All Blacks have been the form team so far in the Rugby Championship.
Image: Rick Rycroft/AP/Press Association Images

WITH THE FIFTH round of the Rugby Championship taking place tomorrow, now is a good time to examine the tournament so far and see what Ireland can learn from it. Joe Schmidt is open-minded and there is no doubt he will have been watching with interest.

With the November internationals growing ever closer, here’s what Ireland can learn from the Southern Hemisphere’s premier tournament.

1. Keep it simple

The All Blacks have won all four of their games so far, and the formula has been quite simple. Their set piece delivers quality possession, their defence is solid around the ruck area and their attack is passed on excellent draw and pass skills. It’s simple rugby, but no one is as good at the basic skills as the All Blacks. Ireland need to focus on their fundamentals before getting innovative; try-scoring chances must be converted.

2. New coaches take time to settle

After the disappointment  of a lost Lions Test series, Australia ditched the conservative Robbie Deans and brought in the free spirited Ewan McKenize. The former Reds coach was expected to immediately get the best from the undoubtedly talented individuals in the Wallabies’ squad. Sound like a familiar set of circumstances? The early optimism has been replaced by an acceptance that McKenzie will need time to improve results. The same applies to Schmidt.

3. Depth is crucial

The All Blacks have encountered a comedy of injury problems at outhalf in this year’s tournament with Dan Carter, Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett all affected in the early stages. That meant fourth-choice Tom Taylor made his debut at 10 against Australia in the second round, responding in style by kicking 14 points. Steve Hansen has arrived at the point where Cruden and Barrett are genuine alternatives to Carter in the starting XV.

Ireland have a similar stock of young out-halves but can Schmidt get them competing with Sexton?

4. South African forward play is exceptional

image21-year-old Eben Etzebeth is already a leader for the ‘Boks pack. Marcos Garcia/AP/Press Association Images.

New Zealander John Plumtree has taken up the role of forwards coach, having spent the last six years with the Sharks in South Africa. The 48-year-old also played for the Natal-based club for almost eight years, so it’s safe to assume he is indoctrinated in the South African approach. Just as well, because the Springboks have been immense up front this year.

While we don’t have the same size, hopefully Plumtree can bring some of the South Africans’ aggression, contact skills and set piece efficiency to our pack.

5. It’s important to get your wide men on the ball

In Israel Folau and James O’Connor, the Wallabies have two of the most dangerous runners in world rugby. The latter has dropped out of contention but the point remains the same; if you have excellent attacking players, you need to give them the chance to work their magic. It’s not as simple as just spinning the ball wide on first phase, but rather creating one-on-ones and giving them space to run.

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In the likes of Tommy Bowe, Simon Zebo, Craig Gilroy, Keith Earls and Luke Fitzgerald, Ireland have superb individual attackers. Schmidt needs to ensure they are not starved of opportunities.

6. It’s difficult to beat teams who are ranked above you

Admittedly, Argentina are two places below Ireland in the current IRB world rankings but they have struggled in the Rugby Championship, losing all four games and shipping a 73-13 mauling in South Africa. Los Pumas came close against Australia last time out in wet weather, but the rankings have shown to be a good predictor. Ireland are below Samoa, Australia and New Zealand in the IRB’s list, so even one win would be a decent outcome. That said…

7. Australia are beatable

imageThe Wallabies have shown their weaknesses. Rob Griffith/AP/Press Association Images

Whatever about McKenzie’s struggles to turn the Wallabies’ form around, their squad looks to be simply lacking in quality. The main issue appears to be a forward pack that is struggling to impose itself at the set piece and in open play, although judging them based on losses to the All Blacks and South Africa may be dangerous. Still, Schmidt will have noticed the Wallabies’ deficiencies and will be targeting a win.

8. Being overly reliant on certain players is risky

The All Blacks have been deprived of their two most ‘important’ players at different times in the Rugby Championship, but that hasn’t affected their results. Similarly, the Springboks wouldn’t be critically weakened by the loss of any one player. In contrast, Australia have struggled with Will Genia in bad form and Argentina missed their captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe greatly in the opening two rounds.

9. Beating the All Blacks would make Schmidt an instant hero

Steve Hansen’s side have been hugely impressive in their four wins, and it’s hard to pick out any real weaknesses in their game. The All Blacks have a proud record of never having lost to Ireland, and it’s certainly one they will be keen on maintaining. Much will be made of Brian O’Driscoll’s last chance to beat the All Blacks, but guys like Kieran Read won’t accept being part of the first New Zealand team to lose to Ireland.

That game is a daunting challenge for Ireland’s coaching trio of Schmidt, Plumtree and Les Kiss.

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Murray Kinsella

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