By Claire Glancy
Ireland have ability to alter their game plan
AGAINST WALES, Ireland played for territory and focused on pinning back the oversized Welsh wingers, unlike Saturday when they kept the ball in hand much more. The quality of the passing was crisp and at times they did create overlaps through clever loops but the option runners were too often mere decoy runners. In turn, this allowed the English defence to drift and nullify the attack before making space out wide. As Paul O’Connell opined afterwards they are still learning and adjusting to Schmidt’s new patterns of play and with time these are exactly the sort of technicalities Ireland will improve on. Rob Kearney was Ireland’s most dangerous broken field runner and looked to exploit the wide channels. His opposite number, Mike Brown, was exceptional and gobbled up Ireland’s poor kicking in open play. The cross field kick was perhaps, over-used and at times Ireland gave away possession when they were pressing in dangerous areas of the pitch but there is much to work on.
To choke, or not to choke
The effectiveness of the choke tackle has long been a major talking point in Irish performances and England struggled to gain real momentum because of Ireland’s ability to turn the contact area into a maul. That’s not to say it was executed perfectly because on occasions it did result in infringements because the first tackler went high but it also lead to half a dozen turnovers at crucial times – Ireland won eleven turnovers compared to England’s eight.
Set-piece is one of the best in the world
Ireland were in total control for many of the set-piece exchanges. Not only did they win all of their line outs but they stole four scrums against the head which at elite level is almost totallly unheard of. Graham Rowntree’s lack of emotion on the final whistle speaks volumes. Under the new laws, hookers are finally back to ‘hooking’ which some of the younger generation have never actually had to do. Hartley wasn’t striking the ball because of the pressure he was under which meant that the English backs rarely got front foot clean ball from scrum time. Healy was getting Wilson to turn in and the power coming through the pack was putting England under real pressure to get the ball out. Given Ireland’s powerful catch and drive, it was surprising not to see this used more. A change of tactics might have been to keep England guessing and left more room in the midfield but conversely when the Irish pack did maul it, they won a penalty.
Fine margins make all the difference
There were a few key moments in this match and depending on which side you’re on (or had the score been reversed) any number of them could have been said to have been the ‘game changer.’ Murray and Trimble’s try saving tackle on Jonny May early on; O’Connell’s ‘block’ on Launchbury that cleared the path for Kearney’s try; or Sexton’s restart that went sailing into touch. Unfortunately the latter rattled Ireland and a couple of phases after the resulting scrum, Danny Care ran in under the posts. Sexton had a mixed afternoon and certainly wasn’t as dominant as he was against Wales and Scotland. The game was an enthralling physical battle between two well-coached sides but small margins make all the difference at this level as Schmidt pointed out at the after-match press conference. Ireland two weeks ago were nearly picture perfect, but a few lapses of concentration or poor skill execution probably cost them victory. I probably wrote something similar vein after a certain match in the autumn…but we don’t like to mention THAT match in Ireland!
All will be forgotten if the Championship is won in Paris
Dreams of a Schmidt Slam in his first Six Nations have evaporated but Ireland still look down on the chasing pack with a comfortable points difference (+42) and despite a knock-back, are developing with each performance. Although it’s disappointing to lose by such a narrow margin at Twickenham, it doesn’t do any harm to lessen the expectation on the new coach and his players. At times Ireland had England under severe pressure as the ten minutes either side of half time showed. Their rucking is superb and the speed of the recycling is as good as any around the world. England were the ones who gave away cheap penalties for ill discipline, such as the Farrell and Nowell’s pushes. From the Ireland management and players, there will be no dwelling on this match with a Championship to win according to Schmidt. Despite that historical defeat in Rome last year, playing Italy next at home is the fixture Ireland would hand pick right given the choice.