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Fundamental flaws on both sides of the ball stunting Ireland in open play

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey dissected Ireland’s defeat to France in what turned out to be a bumper pod.

James Lowe watches on as France celebrate at the final whistle.
James Lowe watches on as France celebrate at the final whistle.
Image: Jmaes Crombie/INPHO

ON THURSDAY’S THE42 Rugby Weekly podcast, Murray Kinsella, Bernard Jackman and Gavan Casey made use of the fallow Six Nations week to chat even more about the Six Nations, much to all of their despair.

With no international fixtures this weekend, the lads were forced to delve deep into last Sunday’s defeat to France and, indeed, into their souls as they tried to provide answers to the innumerable questions which surround the performance of Andy Farrell’s side and the trajectory on which they’re currently travelling.

Attack and defence were top of the agenda and, as Gavan put it at the top of the show, when neither are functioning, you’re probably in a spot of bother.

While saluting Paul O’Connell’s impact on the breakdown and set piece, Jackman kicked off the analysis by describing what he perceives to be a lack of joined-up thinking across the various facets of Ireland’s game, eventually moving onto their 41 kicks against the French which yielded limited return and actually backfired on the occasions in which France retrieved contestables in the air.

The former Ireland hooker and current coach/analyst said: “A lot of people are saying we’re like a GAA team putting up so many kicks. But if you put up contestables, it does actually help your defence: you’re less likely to get hurt on a contestable than you are kicking long because when you kick long, the opposition have more time to spot weaknesses in your kick chase and go after you. So, a contestable is a safer type of kick.

“At the moment, we’re dominating possession because our set piece is really good, we’re not giving teams soft penalties, we’re not giving them easy angles at scrum-time, we’re pretty good on our own ball lineout-wise, we’re getting after their defensive lineout so we’ve more possession than we should have.

“We’re kicking contestables and yet we’ve conceded what I would say were four soft tries that we could have stopped [in two games]. Plus, to be honest, France didn’t go for the jugular; once we got that lucky try from Kelleher, they became more safety-conscious and actually stopped chasing the game whereas I think if [Antoine] Dupont hits [Paul] Willemse in the 41st minute, they go and score a bonus point because I think they had an extra gear where they could have ripped us apart.

But if you go in with a gameplan where you’re going to kick contestables, obviously you don’t expect them (the opposition) to be able to find space in the backfield off a contestable, but you have to have it covered as well. And we didn’t have the backfield covered. There’s no point in kicking contestables without understanding what you have to do if you don’t get the ball back. That gave them easy metres.

“There are lots of little small things that aren’t joined up. I showed three clips on Against The Head of us not bookending our defence and I was actually embarrassed showing it because it’s such an obvious thing. And I’m sure Simon [Easterby] doesn’t mean for it to happen like that — I look back at the Wales game where Johnny Sexton makes the first tackle and he sprints back to bookend the frontline. But the problem is, for some reason against France, we didn’t bookend our defensive line.

“And I don’t know if we’re getting good messages on or adapting on the fly, either. A lot of Test games are won through coaching [mid-game]; through spotting something that you thought would work and stopping it quickly if it’s not working, moving to rectify things.”

Later in the podcast, Jackman added: “Going back to defence for a second, I know we haven’t been hurt a lot but in both games we’ve dominated possession. I think if we end up with 40% possession, unless we fix areas of our defence, we could end up getting a tonking.”

Gavan then put it to him that “a team who has the majority of possession but does little with it, and whose opponents have the minority of possession but punish them fairly consistently when they do have it, is a fundamentally flawed team — on both sides of the ball”.

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“Yeah”, Jackman replied, “and I’d go back to France-Ireland in Paris in the Autumn Nations Cup. We had quite a few of what we call ‘A-zone entries’, so we’re actually in their 22′ a lot and yet I felt France were by far the better side and they scored some really good tries due to some poor defence from us. And then, after the game, the narrative was that we should have won the game because we were in their 22′ a lot.

“That’s irrelevant! It’s actually irrelevant, now, if you’ve no firepower and if you don’t turn it into points. France didn’t care about being in our 22′ for long periods, or often, because they were scoring from 30, 40, 50 yards out.

“So, if we are just going to be a team who sets our gameplan about getting into the opponent’s 22′, well then we’ve got to come up with ways to turn that into points. And again, I’m not sure just how joined-up everything is.”

Murray, who in a pre-tournament The42 Reads analysis piece shed light on the origin of all of Ireland’s 25 tries last year, added: “The stats for entries into the 22′ aren’t great for the last couple of weeks. Only Italy have fewer points per 22′ entry and Ireland have the fewest 22′ entries of any of the teams.

So, they’re not actually getting into an area on which, as we saw before the tournament, they’re extremely reliant: 84% of their tries last year were from set-piece platforms inside the 22′ so, essentially, they’re not very good at scoring tries other than from those positions and so far in this championship, they actually haven’t managed to get into many of those positions.

The above is just a small written sample of the overall podcast chat, which can be listened to in full wherever you get your pods.

The lads also discussed David Nucifora’s role atop Irish rugby, the pressure facing Andy Farrell and his coaching staff in light of the side’s lack of progress, and the big selection calls — particularly at half-back — ahead of next weekend’s trip to Rome.

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey take the fine-tooth comb to Ireland’s defeat to France and get to the bottom of their issues on both sides of the ball:


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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