Joe Schmidt will have a right to be happy. He is 2 from 2, and his next game is in the Aviva Stadium, a place where he hasn’t lost a Six Nations match since he became the Irish coach.
He has every right to go into this a confident man. Regardless of recent injuries suffered, Ireland are a team with confidence, who are going into this game determined to rid the wrongs of last season in the Principality.
Their performances, however, have been slightly sketchy. The performance in Paris was not awe-inspiring in terms of attacking flair, but the Italy one showed a switching and break from the Irish patterns. This means Ireland maybe looking to expand upon their sequences. This is hugely exciting. It is also good to understand that they can still fall back upon them at any time.
Schmidt will look to nullify where the Scarlets influenced Wales side will look to do damage, and simultaneously attack their weak spots. Obviously, this is easier said than done.
Note: this article is written before the teams are released, and as such, Schmidt will alter his kicking strategy based on the makeup of the Welsh Back 3. I believe this is one of the three areas Schmidt will look to target.
Area 1: Choke and Chop tackling with passing lane spoils
Wales rely heavily on their offload game to generate momentum. Whilst I don’t necessarily agree it should be relied upon to the extent that it is, there is no doubt it is highly effective. Particularly when used in the wide channels.
The loss of Robbie Henshaw at 13 is a huge blow to Ireland. More so than people make out. Thirteen is one of the defensive captains and is instrumental in correctly guessing when to hold or push on the outside channels. Henshaw is brilliant at this job. When the ball does reach these wide channels, it will mostly be through offloading the likes of which we see below. Italy in their tries got change out of getting outside the 13 channel. They did so through offloads and broken play. Ireland will be keen to stop this.
Wrap the arms
Wales with their Scarlets contingent love playing this way. To stop its potency, Ireland will look to wrap the arms to prevent the offloads. Also, the chop tackle and contesting the breakdown can nullify the offload option. They will also on a break hold the inside of the carrier’s shoulder, preventing the offload getting away. These are spoiling tactics, but must be done effectively. If this is unchecked, Wales will manage to get on the outside and gain momentum.
This momentum could swing in the Welsh favour, much like it did for the Italians. And let’s not forget what the Scarlets were able to get against Leinster last season when they emerged as Pro 12 Champions. It is this unstructured chaos that Wales will look to play with, from the counter and from phase play, using their Scarlets ethos. Ireland are not this sort of team, being one of structure, therefore, they must force Wales to play the way they want them to play. This is done by slowing possession down, cutting off their support runners, and not letting them run. If the Welsh start running, they can become dangerous.
Area 2: Kicking game
Ireland will look to own the air. This is thoroughly dependent on the Back 3 makeup of Wales. But England’s success in the aerial game and exploiting the Back 3 positioning was key to their victory at Twickenham. England have trained under Neil Craig to hone their catch skills under Garryowens. With the prevalence of GAA in many of the Ireland players younger lives, they are more skilled in this facet than England. England dominated this, and therefore Ireland will push this even harder.
Even if North and Williams are brought back into the fray, they will look to pressure the Back 3. They will have to ensure the kick-chase is accurate so Wales get NO time to assess their options and have the chance to run the ball back. Ireland’s defence will come up in a firm line, and ensure Wales’ options are limited for the counter. Ireland’s pack will attempt to stifle Wales, and therefore, rob their momentum in phase play by pushing their 10. Errors here will give Wales their biggest areas of momentum so the Irish need to be spot on.
Area 3: “1 Pass Out” play.
Ireland, as described in this series, have very strict patterns. Their patterns focus on their “3 Pods” to ensure ball retention and brilliant discipline. The discipline is key to ensure they can hold onto the ball for numerous phases. They will also plan to target and play off Conor Murray when they get into the 22. However, they will also know that pick and goes and operated within a constricted area paid dividends for England.
They will look to outmuscle the Welsh inside defence, as well as switching and exploiting the blindside within the 15-metre line. Ireland will know Wales expect their 3-3-1 Loopers. As such, they will vary the plays to strike the blindside and fringe defence using their 3 Pods as a platform. They will look to continue with the phases, bring the penalties, and back themselves to back their fitness and individual skills at the breakdown to edge this game.
Author: Conor Wilson
Recently retired from the Military, Skydiving and rare Steak Enthusiast and Coach and Player of the beautiful game of Rugby.
Joe Schmidt, Will Greenwood and Rod MacQueen are my heroes, and my proudest moment was putting Jason Robinson in for a try at a promotional Rugby day. It was truly beautiful.