11 November 2013

Schmidt relieved but not happy

It was a strange game last Saturday that will leave Joe Schmidt relieved to get a win in his first game, but he will not be completely happy with the performance. Coaches by nature are never really completely happy and a five-try rout of Samoa will serve its purpose of getting off to a winning start.

It was a game that saw almost twice as many scrums as line-outs over the eighty minutes. That statistic alone shows how atypical the game turned out to be. Scoring forty points at international level is no mean feat and on the face of it, wearing down the Samoans and scoring five tries in the process, has to be seen as a very positive result.

But knowing Joe Schmidt’s penchant for accuracy of execution he will feel there is plenty of work to be done before Ireland meet Australia next weekend. There are a number of areas of Ireland’s execution that will certainly make their way into the video review meeting.

Firstly Ireland kicked the ball carelessly. Kicking is an important part of any attacking strategy and makes up a significant part of Joe Schmidt’s attacking philosophy. But on numerous occasions, particularly in the first half, Ireland kicked the ball away without much purpose or intent. Loose kicking allowed Samoa to counter attack, which is an aspect of the game they pride themselves on.

The result was Ireland spent a lot of time on defence and had to make a colossal one hundred and fifty six tackles compared to Samoa’s ninety-two. That’s a huge amount of work and very draining on a team.  For the most part Ireland did defend well but it kept them pinned inside their own half for long periods.

Also, Ireland didn’t get too many opportunities to use their starter plays from set piece situations. Starter plays, using the backs as the primary striker, are a very important part of Joe Schmidt’s attacking philosophy. There were rare last Saturday and when they were employed they lacked enough accuracy to really trouble the Samoans.

It wasn’t until late in the game, off two scrums, that we saw the starter plays deliver some dividends. The first saw Fergus McFadden making the initial line-break for David Kearney’s try and the second, a misdirection created an overlap for Gordon D’Arcy, who used great footwork, to put Fergus McFadden in for a try.

But at that point the Samoans were feeling the pace and less organised than earlier in the game. A more organised outfit might not be as easily outsmarted. It is almost certain, against stronger opposition Ireland will have to ask more demanding questions on their primary strikes and play through more phases to break down the defence.

Throw nine penalties conceded and a similar number of handling errors into the mix and you can understand why Joe Schmidt used the word “untidy’ in a very honest assessment of his team’s performance.

On the plus side Ireland’s set-piece was dominant. Their line-out was 100% (6/6) plus stealing four of the Samoan’s eight throw-ins. At scrum time Ireland also dominated. They won twelve of their thirteen scrums (conceding a free-kick at one scrum) and turning over two of the Samoan’s ten scrums. Although the pack may be disappointed after getting an early edge in the scrum they failed to drive it home as the game progressed.

But it was while defending the breakdown that Ireland inflicted most pain on Samoa. They won eight turnovers, two of which led directly to tries, with most of the damage in this area being inflicted by Peter O’Mahony and Rory Best. Adding their work at the breakdown to the remainder of their performance they both looked serious contenders for the Man of the Match award.

What will have encouraged Joe Schmidt is Ireland did look very clinical when try-scoring opportunities presented themselves. None more so than the final try, seventy meters down a twenty-meter wide channel, was precision personified. But despite the accuracy of execution, the accuracy to create those type of opportunities was for the most part lacking throughout.

Against Australia, Ireland will continue to kick the ball, but will expect to be a lot more accurate in their execution. They will hope to challenge the Wallabies more on primary strikes and take the them through more phases on continuity, with the goal of creating some line breaks they can convert to scores.

The buzzword in the Irish camp is week will be “accuracy”, as it always has been in Joe Schmidt’s world.