Lessons were not learned

25/02/2020

We can lament the demise of Ireland 2.0 under Farrell, who, let us be honest, was always an able successor to Joe Schmidt. To think Farrell was just there making up the numbers under Schmidt would be idiotic, his influence and input were highly valued by his predecessor, so the ‘new kid on the block’ tag doesn’t fit.

I feel compelled to write this piece in light of the benign nonsense being printed on the subject, however unlike the rest, I will tell you exactly why Ireland were so humiliated against England for the 2nd time in a row.

I could probably cut and paste my last piece on the same clash ahead of the RWC as Ireland learned no lessons and England deployed an identical gameplan against us.

WHAT WENT WRONG

In short our defence was terrible and our attack was amateur. Let me elaborate.
If you cant defend you wont win games. At any level, the basics of defence need to be executed to perfection, the emphasis more-so at the elite level. Are Ireland playing elite level rugby… that’s another question.

DEFENCE.

You cannot execute a solid tackle when on your heels. A player on his heels is a gimme for a strike runner of any note. Look how Ireland played, and notice how many times players were attempting tackles when rolling back on their heels. Contrast Ireland’s impotent defence to that of their opponents. England timed their run to impact the ball carrier while still moving forward, body position low and driving through the ball carrier. It’s called positive defence whereas Ireland’s defence could only be described as passive, constantly scrambling to tackle behind the gain line.

Why? The timing of Ireland’s defence was all over the place. They looked incapable of maintaining a simple defensive line, as players sprinted out to be a hero, only to prove themselves a fool. They were defending as individuals and that doesn’t work at any level. Time your defensive run so you arrive at contact with forward momentum… it doesn’t get more basic than that.

With timing and organisation non-existent, the other let-down was the on-field communication. It was abysmal, as evident by the incoherent defensive structure and the two calamitous trys we gifted England, who to be fair, chased the ball and took their chances. Defending around the ruck was just alright, but one or two phases out and it looked like all structure or planning broke down and it was every man for himself.

ATTACK

Andy Farrell has a world of experience in League, so isn’t it ironic that England used a variation of the League rush/press/wedge defence against his Irish team who were, yet again, unable to deal with it. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, it’s how England play.

They rush up (together), press the ball carrier, while the outside man moves slightly ahead and cuts off the outside pass forcing the ball carrier to take contact, or better still, pass the other way where you have stacked the defence... honey trap.

It’s textbook stuff, however conquering this type of defence is simple (but requires practice). Hang deep, loop the ball back and out or even easier is a chip (or pass) through into the vast space vacated by the outside defender rushing up while your outside back sprints through the gap on the inside angle to collect the ball and prance over the gainline. Setting up play in behind and therefore forcing their defence to retreat and reset. I have no answer as to why we couldn’t execute this most basic routine, it really beggars belief.

Ireland lacked any go-forward in attack and our ‘strike runners’ were ineffective. One lineout springs to mind. We secured ball and after 7 phases we still hadn’t reached the gainline. We were hoodwinked by the English defence. We eventually lost the ball and they cleared it up the field…

BOX KICK

A box kick is a very effective way of relieving pressure and gaining territory, but it is only effective if your team mates are able or willing to chase it up and at the very least contest the catch.

Did we win an Ariel contest? I don’t think so. Did we chase up our box-kicks and kick restarts… I don’t think so. In light of that, you just give possession away and invite them to run it back, which is fine if your defence is operational, but when it’s not… you’re on a hiding to nothing.
Incidentally, if you must kick away possession, try and kick it to one of the fatties or one of those playing out of position… give them a real test and get your defence to race up and press the catcher. A box kick on its own, without the necessary follow-up is just giving the ball away.

We were tactically inept and blissfully unaware of what England were going to do. I’m not going to pick out individual players because they all gave 100%. Just like the guy hammering nails into the wood with his shoe… 100% commitment and effort, just the wrong tool for the job.

We had the wrong tools… lets hope that Andy Farrell has a good rummage around in the toolbox and finds a few decent tools and instructions how to use them.

Andy Farrell and Mike Catt have forgot more about rugby tactics than I will ever know, therefore it is worrying how, someone of my knowledge can see exactly what has gone wrong. Very worrying indeed.