41 phases of play and one big punt from the middle of the field, is what saved Irish blushes in Paris on Saturday. It should never have come to this.
Ireland, clearly in control of the game from the beginning but annoyingly the scoreboard did not reflect this. But how can this be? France never looked like scoring a try until Teddy Thomas’ solo run put them in the lead. Ireland, never really looked like scoring a try either which was partly, down to great French defence.
Annoyingly again, we seem to be able to make small amounts of territory, over many phases of play, expelling too much energy and not making any half breaks and getting around the first line of defence. Yesterday there was a lot of back and forth across the field and not enough meaningful momentum, in a forward direction.
Drilled for matches, not tournaments
Ireland are well drilled under Schmidt and do have that Roman legion aspect to their game. Ireland seems to have a game plan to win matches, but not tournaments. The Six Nations consists of 5 matches over a 7-week period. If we play like we did yesterday, against the other nations we will simply run out of energy and players. We must adopt some new tactics or bring in new players with skills that complement the legion but are not a product of it. Zebo, Carbery or Ringrose would fit the bill.
This is nothing new. Every World Cup tournament since 1987 has followed this pattern. In recent tournaments we have put in huge physical efforts in beating France and Australia, only to turn around at the knock out stage and have nothing left in the tank, or on the bench, to make a difference. This is why Ireland have never, in 30-years, won a single knock-out match at the World Cup. We are physically and emotionally drained before we even start.
The Brad Pitt film Moneyball is the story about a baseball manager who confounds conventional wisdom and examines baseball statistics over the course of an entire season. He uncovers some unconventional player selections and tactics to win the league, with the smallest budget in the entire league. Maybe the Irish management should watch it. We don’t have the strength in depth of other nations, nor do we have a budget like England rugby. Working harder than before is a given in modern rugby and every team is doing that to stay afloat. Working smarter is the key.
In contrast, what would New Zealand do with 10-15 phases of play through the middle of the field?
It would be much more likely to finish with a positive result without a huge drain on resources. Yesterday looked more like a Top 14 slog than a team ready to take on the best of Europe for the Six Nations title. We shouldn’t have to fight all day in the trenches like this. It’s not the Somme. It’s 21st-century rugby and we have yet to adapt.
Author: Kieran Gleeson