Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Keego on...Ireland are (kinda) back

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So Ireland ventured over to Scotland fighting the urge to change everything while managing enforced personnel changes and pressure to perform. Scotland where confident in what they were doing while finding away, knowing they had nothing to lose. Who would come out on top?

To bury the lead, let’s start with the final score. Ireland won 22-13, which was fairly close to our prediction of Ireland by between 7 and 10 points but was it how we expected? Did Ireland strangle the Scots into submission and bring back that Ireland-jitzu that we know and love? 

Well, to keep my arse firmly on the fence the answer to that question is ………. Kinda?

So let’s start with the stats and work from there:

Ireland had 59% possession for 45% territory, ran for 365 metres to Scotland’s 388, made 158 runs in comparison to Scotland’s 138 (shows the value they got from every carry), Ireland where 100% in the set piece (a great results and stole 3 lineouts), Ireland conceded 6 penalties to Scotland’s 7 and Ireland made 135 of 156 tackles in comparison to Scotland’s 176 or 202. 

So going in, and after the team selection I think the Irish supporters (not fans, forget the fans) where worried about Quinn Roux in the second row against superman James Ryan. Those worries where allayed early. Roux ran a beautiful lineout that was never in real danger, the team operated smoothly in accordance with his calls and in general play he made 5 runs for 1 metre (must be the error % in the stats ;)), made 10 tackles without missing any. A very good day at the office for Roux and deserves massive plaudits.

The second possible issue was the great Rob Kearney at the back. Coming back after a break in blue and not having a good game, in comparison to his normal high standards. But when he was named at the back in place of Henshaw it was a worry that it might dent the confidence of the Hensh. The idea being that he would be moved back to midfield to make way. Henshaw eventually had a dead leg which led Farrell to pop into the midfield. Kearney had 88 metres off 13 runs, 3 clean breaks and 5 defenders beaten. Made 5 tackles only missing 1 with 1 turnover conceded. A very strong day at the office for the man who’s name should be on the back of the jersey. Another player saluted!

We mentioned Farrell earlier and he was initially to be named on the bench with him to be unleashed in the second half should everyone be fit. With Henshaw suffering from the dead leg he was named in the starting squad. We love watching Farrell; he is a wrecking ball with fairy liquid hands. He ran 14 metres off 9runs with 1 clean break and 3 defenders beaten and made 7 tackles only missing 1. He dropped into the team and partnered the always massive Aki in midfield very effectively. Midfield is an important facet of the Irish game and the pressure was on Farrell, he delivered.

Speaking of Aki and remembering his alleged passing issues last week, he made 7 passes (3rd most behind Sexton, Carbery and Murray). Ran for 14 metres off 9 runs with 2 defenders beaten and made 15 tackles only missing 2. Another massive shift from Aki who is becoming indispensable in both green jerseys. Another player saluted.

These where the 3 areas that had questions surrounding them during match week. All worked well and should have set the table for aggressive, impressive and inventive attacking play. 

Did that happen? 

To answer with my arse on the fence again……………… kinda? 

An interesting stat is that Ireland had 3.14 points per entry into the Scottish 22 in comparison to 2.5 from the home side. Ireland where making more money this week when in the opposition red zone. An important stat!

Ireland played like a team who needed the win. A team whose first defeat had affected them more than it should. A team that knew that there are people who will shout loud with their mad reactions to a loss. It was obvious from early that Ireland where worried. Confident but worried. The reaction to last week (let’s not talk about it again) had affected the entire Ireland team and staff. This lead to a relatively conservative game. Outside of a new move that resulted in Stockdale’s try, Ireland where very 1 dimensional in attack. This is not me complaining, the win was the important thing. 

The move itself that let Stockdale through was brand new (more on new tactics below). 5 man lineout with Murray at the front being more animated than who framed roger rabbit, the Scots are wondering what he is doing there, they adjust to cover Murray which takes a possible lifter out of position. O’Mahony wins it in the middle, drops down and pops to Murray who has semi circled to his normal post lineout position. While that is happening O’Brien moves away to first receiver, Conan follows O’Brien with Sexton lurking behind. At this point Ireland have 4 options. Murray to go himself, O’Brien to bash up, a skip to Conan or a double skip to Sexton. Scotland are lining up as normal as if Ireland are just going through the hands. The gap was going to be there. O’Brien skips the oncoming Conan (who has fixed 2 Scots) to Sexton who flattens the line as he does so bravely every time. Aki and Farrell have no joined the play, Aki closer to Sexton and Farrell close by. Both animated. Stockdale now lurking close to the play. Scotland has no idea what is happening and are looking to hit anything to slow the play down. Farrell takes the pass into contact and 2 Scots take him down with the blue 3 attempting to steal. A quick clear out from Furlong, O’Brien and Conan safely keep the ball in green hands.

At this point the game is slowed up a bit. Best and Ryan are lined up to Murray's left again both animating. Especially Best which attract Scottish eyes. Scotland where expecting a pass to Best and the loop back to Murray. O’Mahony is to the right of Ryan who is the target; you can see him clap asking for the pass, again attracting attention. Every player in every phase is using animation to attract attention and it is befuddling the Scots more than the ending of the Sopranos did to me. 

As O’Mahony received the pass, Aki is moving again animating for the pass, the entire back field is buzzing now. Everyone moving, attracting attention and keeping the Scots guessing.

Inside Aki is Sexton again asking for the pass like everyone else. A quick direction change and the ball are with the 10. Stockdale is still lurking and closing in on the play like a snake tracking a mouse. He is toying with Scotland. Zero animation from him, which may be something to change as opposition may start looking for the non-animators for threats from now on. O’Mahony distracts again as he accepts the pass from Sexton and now Stockdale starts to move. Ireland is on the Guinness sign on the halfway. Sexton continues his line to take Scottish eyes away from the play, it works and O’Mahony fixes 3 defenders while passing to a near full accelerated Stockdale into space and he motors his way in to score. 

This may read as a lot of time, but it went very fast. The key is that Scotland may be calm on the half way, sure of being safe. But Ireland animated everywhere to attract attention, start some second guessing and using up Scottish energy to pull the trigger to allow Stockdale in. 

A fantastic move and well worth a look on YouTube. 

This was the shining attacking light of the day. Ireland won and the score line was probably correct. Never risking much outside of the above move. Ireland cannot give away anything in terms of play in this 6 Nations, so we shouldn’t expect the new plays here. We may start seeing some during the warm up games before the RWC. 

Ireland is back in the winning state of mind. Knowing there was a lot in the tank. Knowing that Carbery can step in anytime. Instead of coming on for the last 20 he was on from 20 and outside of the early intercept pass he settled very well and ran the show with confidence. A confidence that swept through the team. The defence was there, that will be a marker for everyone else. The attack is the secret that Ireland is keeping for now. 

The week off comes at the right time. A mini reset is needed to allow everyone to calm down a bit. Ahead of the second leg Ireland have proved the squad ethic works, the defence is working well and all of this while not leaving second gear. 
A good result while keeping enough in the bag. 

@nkeegan on twitter and www.thecouchpunditireland.com for more. 

For more check out The Couch Pundit > https://thecouchpunditireland.com/

Keego (@nkeegan): Blogger, professional wrestler, sometime attempted rugby player (@TheThirsty3rds), professional procrastinator and attempted musician with a fondness for long walks on the bar, tea and the couch. Opinionated Leinster fan and constant gardener.

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