Thursday, November 28, 2013

Blueprint for the future

Ireland should forget the heartbreak from Sunday and remember the lessons, says Ryan Cullen

Ryan Cullen logo

Normally I start the pieces I write here on Sunday evening, allowing me a chance to watch the majority of the weekend’s action and pull together some kind of plan for the piece. As I write this though it’s Tuesday morning… it’s been a difficult few days as an Ireland fan.

As a sports fan I have had my fair share of disappointments; Liverpool’s defeat in the 2007 Champions League final and Ulster losing to Leinster in the H Cup final in 2012 chief amongst them, but never have I felt such disappointment after any other game. I can only imagine how the players must feel.

Undoubtedly it will take some time for the dust to settle for many of the players, but when it does, they must see Sunday’s performance as the beginning of something – not the end. This was the way we all want to see Ireland play and they have now shown us the standards that can be reached.

The contrast between Sunday’s performance and the previous week’s against Australia could not have been more stark. Passive in defence, univentive in attack and lacking intensity in all facets of their play, the performance against Australia was Ireland’s nadir of the past decade.

To go from that low to the high, in performance terms at least, of Sunday undoubtedly speaks well of all in the coaching setup but too often Ireland need to be backed into a corner before they come out wit the necessary vim and vigour for test match rugby. If Joe Schmidt can find a way of getting the players back to this intensity for the majority of their future tests, he will go a long way to ensuring his tenure is a succesful one.

On Sunday Ireland played the way all of the good Irish sides I have seen have. Hitting rucks in numbers, coming on to the ball at pace and offloading when possible Ireland made the most of their line breaks and didn’t die with the ball. They were willing to go wide if the chance was on and Jonathan Sexton mixed the game up wonderfully, showcasing his full range of skills.

The setpiece must also be praised. After a particularly suspect performance against the much maligned Australia pack, many expected Ireland to struggle up front against the ABs. That they were able to secure the majority of their own ball is of great credit to all involved.

Going forward the, somewhat understandable, reduction in defensive line aggression and the inability to kill the game off in the last ten minutes must be examined for lessons. Like all other tests, mistakes were made. Analysis and highlighting of these are key if Ireland are to improve.

That being said, if Ireland can take this form and level of performance into the first game of the Six Nations they should not fear anybody. In terms of levels, this was the best performance of the Autumn from any of the NH nations.

Sunday’s gameplan utilised the particular skillset of the Irish players perfectly. Ireland cannot play like England or France, they simply do not have the bulk and power in key positions, nor do they have the natural flair of the Australians.

The aggressive, fast-flowing pattern that formed the basis of Sunday’s gameplan was an excellent match to the skillset of the players available to Joe Schmidt. Irish players tend to be much better all-rounders than many of their NH cousins.

New Zealand is the prime example of just what level teams with exceptional basics can achieve. A broad base of high functioning skills underpins their entire rugby system. Whilst we aren’t quite at that level, Irish players have shown both internationally and domestically that they are well skilled too. They must use that to their advantage.

It was quite clear what the fans at Aviva on Sunday thought about this approach too. Fans want to see more performances like Sunday. That’s what puts bums on seats from minute 1 to 80 and that can’t be underestimated in the increasingly difficult economic times.

Often success breeds success – it certainly does for New Zealand. Sometimes though, success can be achieved from different origins. Ireland must forget the heartbreak of Sunday but remember the lessons. That is the only way to ensure this team fulfils its potential.

February and the Six Nations can’t come soon enough!

My name is Ryan Cullen and I am a 25 year old Ulster season ticket holder. I was introduced to the game around 15 years ago and have loved it ever since. I have an interest in pretty much all sports though so don’t be surprised to see a few football (Liverpool), Golfing and Racing interests (to name but a few) thrown in from time to time.


Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019