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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 16 October, 2019

'Ireland will probably look to help out Larmour by dropping someone else in alongside him'

Murray Kinsella, Andy Dunne and Gavan Casey discuss how they expect Ireland’s back three to fare against the Scots.

Jordan Larmour and Andrew Conway after Ireland's win over USA at Soldier Field last year.
Jordan Larmour and Andrew Conway after Ireland's win over USA at Soldier Field last year.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

THE DAY HAS finally come: Andy Dunne is back on The42 Rugby Weekly! Oh, and the Rugby World Cup has kicked off in Japan.

Upon Andy’s much-celebrated return to the pod, The42′s own Murray Kinsella joined his colleague Gavan Casey on the line from Japan to chat through Ireland’s task against Scotland, which has been made more difficult by injuries to three key figures in Joe Schmidt’s backline.

Especially concerning is the absence of Rob Kearney, whose defensive positional nous at fullback again stood out as Ireland saw off Wales in Dublin two weekends ago.

Jordan Larmour replaces Kearney in Schmidt’s starting 15, while Andrew Conway comes onto the right wing in place of his own clubmate, Keith Earls, in what is by far the biggest game of his international career.

Murray, Andy and Gavan had this to say about how Ireland might cope with the loss of Kearney and Earls, particular in the face of a mercurial playmaker in Finn Russell who Andy suggested could ’cause havoc’ for Ireland’s makeshift back three on Sunday.

The lads also explored how the weather could play a significant role in Conway and Larmour’s fortunes as well as Ireland’s.

Andy Dunne: “Both Larmour and Conway, as we’ve all seen, are evasive, elusive runners, really exciting with ball in hand but more so in a broken-up, fast-moving game.

“So it’s game-dependent [as to whether] we can get away with it. If it’s torrential rain or even just mild rain, I would imagine they’ll go to the air a bit, Scotland, and certainly will pressurise Larmour and Conway. Height-wise, [they're] both small.

“And I think if the day is a dry day and becomes a little bit broken up, it’s possibly to our advantage — in terms of how much of a threat they (Larmour and Conway) are running ball in hand.

“If it’s rainy — and it’s unpredictable, because apparently there was a 100% chance of a storm a few days ago, and now there isn’t…which means it wasn’t 100%!”

Gavan Casey: “What’s the latest on that front, Murray, actually, weather-wise?”

Murray Kinsella: “Yeah, Joe Schmidt is usually very good with his forecasting. Got it slightly wrong this time. At the moment, it looks like it’s going to be dry. No rain in the morning on Sunday. There still is forecast for some on Sunday afternoon and leading into the game, but not quite as torrential as we thought. It looks like it might be slightly wet, maybe a bit windy as well. So definitely not ideal conditions, but not quite as bad as expected.”

Gavan: “Talking to friends in the Scottish media, they were hoping and praying, crossing fingers, that Rob Kearney would miss out so that the likes of Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell could just rain down on top of Jordan Larmour. He’s not bad in the air, to be fair, but it’s one of those where you can definitely see a ball or two just squirting out, and then it’s open season where Scotland are probably at their most dangerous, pouncing on a loose ball and going from there.

“How do you think Conway, in particular, will manage that pressure when as Murray points out, he probably hasn’t had that type of experience in this type of a game?”

Andy: “I’d back Conway to do okay. The only concern is [his] height with high balls. I think he plays with a lot of conviction, he plays with a lot of belief, and no doubt he’s going to be pretty pumped up for a World Cup selection. He’s got in kind of by default.

“I wouldn’t be that concerned for him in a one-to-one setting. I’d be concerned by what you mentioned; Hogg and Russell, they won’t repetitively hammer high balls, one after another [on top of Larmour and Conway], but they will play with great variation and unpredictability. And that’s what worries me: their ability to break up the game.

“Including through kicking, now, I’m talking.

“Like, Finn Russell isn’t afraid to chip and chase from five yards out. Hogg has a huge boot, he can go 60, 70 metres, but Russell can grubber off both feet, he can chip off both feet, he wants the ball to land and bounce in whatever direction it chooses to. And he’s okay with that, and so is Townsend. That can create havoc in a back three that, timewise, isn’t that well knitted together.

There’s an old adage in coaching that your back three are tied by a rope. So if a winger pushes up into the line, the other winger and fullback kind of follow in. And if it goes the other way, they go back on that rope again. If you can break up the unity of movement of a back three — and certainly Russell is a master at that — then it causes havoc. And you’re dealing with a back three that isn’t used to playing together positionally and from a communication point of view. We’re a bit vulnerable, I think, collectively there.

Murray: “Just to add on that, Gav, I’d be really interested to see how they set up in the backfield. The last couple of warm-up games, they’ve actually gone back to playing two in the backfield — they’ve played that 13-plus-two with someone else constantly in the backfield alongside the fullback, covering a bit more space. And obviously that kind of changes the picture, because last season for example, Rob Kearney was often back there on his own, and those wingers were kind of pendulum-ing with him — dropping in, dropping out and trying to read the opposition out-half. And that’s just so hard.

“I wonder if they will position someone in there with Larmour or Conway — whoever ends up patrolling the backfield — and have two covering that [space]. Particularly if it’s wet, because then it’s maybe harder for the opposition to get out to the edge of your defence with their passing game.

I’d agree, I actually think both of them have good aerial skills — the specific technical bit of it — but you just remember Larmour in that Argentina game last November when there were a couple of straightforward ones (kicks) where it seemed maybe his concentration just dipped, and maybe positionally he’d left himself moving a bit late. Those are the little bits Rob Kearney’s brilliant at, and I think he’ll have to have a really alert performance just to be snuffing out all of those little chips, the grubbers, the crossfield kicks.

“But I think Ireland will probably look to help out Larmour if he’s in the backfield by dropping someone else in alongside him.”

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