by Kurt McQuilkin
The Irish coaching team would be happy with the result from last weeks fixture against the Italians. They were always on a hiding to nothing in this encounter because of the high expections of the Irish rugby public.
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But they also would be well aware that there are areas of their game that will need addressing before the upcoming clash with France this weekend. It is not a bad thing to have "work ons" after a big points victory, especially before such a massive encounter as it will focus the minds of coaches and players alike.
Here are five key "work ons" I think Ireland will need to have improved in the review room and pitch sessions this week:
1. Attack: One of Ireland’s attacking ploys was to hit the Italians out wide with a "double second man" set up. It is a very effective play that is used to attack the opposition’s midfield defensive screen and then the fringes of the defensive screen in one movement.
But the execution of this play has to be spot on if it is to create the hesitation that is needed to hold the defensive screen on the inside channels and unfortunately it was not quite there on Saturday.
For the play to work, the ball carrier in this set up must take the ball to the line and this must coincide with the decoy runners running those hard angled lines attacking at their opposite man's inside shoulder. The ball carrier then pulls the pass in behind the decoy screen to the strike runner who takes the ball reasonably flat.
The process is then repeated again out in the wider channels, looking to conserve and then exploit the space that the set up has created. Typically, the first Irish ball carrier distributed too early and did not engage the Italian defenders, which made the Irish decoy runners somewhat redundant.
To compound this, the strike runner in behind the decoy screen was a touch too deep and again did not threaten the Italian defensive screen, who then just pressed across the face of the Irish attackers and snuffed the attack out near the touchline without being put under any defensive stress at all.
If this execution is replicated against the French, their superior defensive linespeed and aggression will press through the first decoy screen and look to catch the initial strike runner in behind the gainline. Without support, this will definitely result in costly turnovers and we know how dangerous the French are in these situations.
2. Defence: The Italians caught the Irish defence out in the wider channels on a couple of occassions from phase play and created a couple of 2 v 1 and 3 v 1 situations.
Had the pass execution been of a higher standard, their final points tally of 10 points could have been considerably bigger. Again, the very fluid French attack on home soil will convert these opportunities into points if offered to them.
Quick transitioning from attacking mode into defensive mode is vital against the French. They move turnover ball at least two to three passes away from the last point of contact and if you have one or two slow transtioners they will exploit that and attack your defensive fringes with precision and pace.
3. Lineout: A poorly executed Irish lineout led to Sergio Parisse’s try under the sticks on last Saturday. I am sure the newly appointed interim Irish forwards coach Anthony Foley will be working hard to iron out the glitches that the Irish lineout had against the Italians.
The lineouts will be put under enough pressure in Paris without giving the French soft turnover ball that they have not worked for. Quality set piece ball will be an important ingredient for the Irish this weekend. It is vital to get front foot ball, especially early on in the encounter, so they can implement their starter plays and impose their gameplan on the French.
4. Counter-Attack: It was good to see that Ireland were prepared to attack from deep last weekend and if they can tweak the execution it could prove the difference between the two sides this weekend.
One example that sticks in my mind was a break out of the Irish 22 in the first half. Rob Kearney, who had a great attacking and breaking game, ran the ball back with Johnny Sexton outside him in support and in space. Sexton shaped to come on the cut line but stayed wide and the two of them momentarily lost their connection both visually and verbally.
Kearney put the ball where he thought Sexton was moving to and unfortunately it fell in behind Sexton and the attacking opportunity was lost. But again the signs are good and if Ireland keep that mindset to attack from anywhere when the opportunity arises, we could be in for a thrilling encounter.
5. Attitude: The French are one of the most dangerous sides in the world when they are in their pomp, bullying sides around the pitch. But when sides stand up to them from the first whistle and refuse to take that backward step they can look decidely indecisive and vunerable. I am picking the Irish to stand "toe to toe" with the French this weekend and come out the other side of it with a rare but well deserved victory.