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David Wallace: Ireland must learn to open up if they are to close the gap with superpowers

22 Oct | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
David Wallace: Ireland must learn to open up if they are to close the gap with superpowers

The Betway ambassador argues quarter-final defeat exposed deficiencies that must be addressed if Ireland are to progress under Schmidt

To have a semi-final line-up composed exclusively of Rugby Championship sides is a real eye-opener for Northern Hemisphere rugby – and Ireland in particular.

You can argue that Wales came incredibly close to beating South Africa and Scotland should have beaten the Wallabies, but the nature of the other two quarter-finals victories was pretty comprehensive.

France were of course playing the best team in the world, and when New Zealand click into gear there is not an awful lot you can do to stop them.

Yet Ireland received a real shell-shock in their game against Argentina to highlight exactly where the differences lie in terms of the style and approach of the two Hemispheres.

Of course, there were contributing factors to the manner of defeat.

Whereas Argentina had four weeks to prepare for the quarter-finals having played New Zealand first up, Ireland had a very quick turnaround from their final pool game against France.

With the easier games first, Ireland’s schedule was ideal for qualifying for the last eight but less so when it came to being in peak condition to progress through the knock-out stages.

That pool decider will have exhausted a lot of the players’ psychological energy and it clearly took a massive physical toll on the team in terms of injuries.

To lose the leadership qualities and physicality of three of the hardest grafters in our pack in Paul O’Connell, Sean O’Brien and Peter O’Mahony, not to mention our key playmaker in Johnny Sexton and one of our main threats in Tommy Bowe during the game, had a critical effect on our chances.

Yet perhaps the most significant absentee on the day was Jared Payne who does an excellent job in controlling and marshalling the backline defence in the wider channels.payneA team’s defensive structure and system is built up over a long period of time so taking somebody out of that can be very disruptive to the flow and dynamic.

That is not meant as an excuse – but the reality is that if those players had been playing then Argentina would not have been as dominant in key areas of the pitch and the scoreline would have been a lot different.

Even so – Ireland must learn some valuable lessons about the importance of being able to vary your game plan in order to be able to compete with the best teams in the world and adapt to specific match situations.

In fairness to Ireland, they scored two very good tries to get back into the game and you thought that maybe they could kick on from there – but it would still have been nice to see us throw a little more caution to the wind as we chased the game.

Although we have undoubtedly gained from the experience of Joe Schmidt’s coaching, I believe that the extent of his emphasis on our work at the breakdown has meant that we have lost a little of our ability to play flowing rugby.

Under Schmidt we have tended to grind teams down with discipline and efficiency, but that is a very tight and restrictive game plan that does not leave you with anywhere to go when, like against Argentina, you need to raise your game to new levels.

You can still have efficient ruck ball and look to play a slightly more expansive game, it is just about being given a freer rein to try and establish that extra dimension in our play.

That boils down to attacking shoulders and space rather than running into bodies, and looking to play the ball off the deck with offloads rather than constantly trying to recycle it.henshawThe trouble is, such an approach is not something that you can just switch on when required – they are skills that can only become engrained in players when you practice them regularly.

Just look at how we struggled when we tried to introduce more of an offloading game against the Italians, but looked very rusty with lots of passes going to floor.

It is not about personnel – this is probably one of the most-rounded squads that Ireland have ever had, with plenty of guys fighting for places and able to play well in lots of different positions.

The issue is being brave enough to stray away from the traditional, safe and secure style that many European nations adopt by default and having the confidence to open up our philosophy a little bit.

That should start straight away – not just at a national level but also filtering through to a provincial one and the grass roots below that.

If you can get young kids playing in a more expressive way from an early age then it becomes second nature to them when the pressure is on.

Ireland have done well to win two successive Six Nations titles but given the make-up of this weekend’s semi-finals that achievement has perhaps lost a little bit of weight.

You will always be judged on a World Cup and to make sure that we are more competitive at the next one I hope that Schmidt is able to develop our style to become a little more progressive and entertaining.

Only then will we be able to properly compete with the very best in the world.

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READ: Mike Tindall: The gap between Hemispheres is marginal, but All Blacks are way out in front

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