Match Reaction: New Zealand 42 – 10 Ireland

Israel Dagg didn’t bag a hat-trick of tries, but he was just as damaging to Irish hopes. His much-anticipated match-up with Rob Kearney was a blow-out.

Ireland started their three test series against New Zealand with enterprise and verve, but the All Blacks were able to stand up well to the twenty-five minute onslaught, bought a lead with a couple of long-range Dan Carter penalties and then utterly took over, wrapping up the game before half-time.

With Jonny Sexton directing proceedings, Keith Earls looking fleet-footed and elusive in the centre and the Irish defense repeatedly smashing Kiwi superstar Sonny-Bill Williams, the game opened well from the point of view of Irish fans. However, Ireland were unable to get points on the board, and their execution of half-chances was simply no where near as composed as it needed to be against the world champions.

After an excellent half-break from Brian O’Driscoll who, when tackled to deck, kept hold of the ball until the split second he would have been penalised before popping it up to Earls, Ireland had a quick ruck with a gaping 10m space on the openside … but every player flooded the blindside and Simon Zebo was tackled into touch [11:45 on the match clock]. Nobody gave Murray an openside option – or even a shout – and the chance was lost.

New Zealand Can Hurt You Any Which Way, From Anywhere, With Anyone

It’s an overused adage that the New Zealanders just do the basics perfectly. Why’s it over-used? Because, like most clichés, it’s true. From Israel Dagg’s enormous early touchfinder to Dan Carter’s classic placekicking to the unbelievably accurate restart tandem of Crusaders Carter and No8 Keiran Read, their seldom-mentioned kicking game proved itself an underused strength rather than a hidden weakness. Carter was bombing over penalty kicks from halfway in the first twenty minutes, which meant that even Irish infringements near the touchline in midfield were costing the team in green three points. His third penalty goal was absolutely outstanding, wide out on the left on the halfway line and well over the bar.

Conor Murray’s overlong box-kick could have been rescued if Simon Zebo had worked harder at his chase, because Zak Guildford fumbled the catch sideways.  Unfortunately Zebo wasn’t killing himself to get there and the All Blacks struck with an alacrity to which Ireland had no answer. Look where Sonny Bill Williams’ line takes him while the ball is in the air – nowhere near where it’s coming down. He’s making tracks for the tramlines opposite from where the ball was kicked because that’s where the All Blacks backs are going to counter, as far away as possible from the Irish pack – and he’s not just wandering back, he’s working pretty hard to get in position so that he’s behind the man inside him and can run on to a pass. Superstar he may be, Big Time Charlie on the pitch he ain’t. In the words of Tenacious D, “That’s fuckin’ teamwork.”

This was Dan Carter’s first game back for the All Blacks since limping out of the World Cup. Well, he’s still the best outhalf in the world … by a fucking mile.

However, it’s a defensive mix-up between McFadden and Earls that really seals the deal. Conrad Smith drifts across with the ball towards the touchline and Earls follows him. Smith’s experience and what he has seen in the first twenty minutes of the game is the key factor here: Earls should probably have handed off the responsibility to McFadden when Smith’s run was so horizontal, because I’m not aware of any defensive scheme that demands the outside player to scissor inside to cover a switch. On a counter-attack it can look like one of those things that is very much a grey area in a defensive system, but whether it be an error of communication or a lack of judgment, McFadden has stayed wide and Earls has gone wide. Smith has picked up on the fact that this is a first time pairing at No13 and No14 and exploits it to the full.

While the switching Sonny-Bill Williams was tackled by Brian O’Driscoll – with both Earls and McFadden committed to tackling Smith – he was able to offload out of the back of his hand to Dan Carter. If McFadden hadn’t committed late to Smith, he had a chance of catching Julian Savea, but Carter had options either side in any case; the error was unrecoverable. The Kiwi No10 then proceeded to draw Rob Kearney perfectly and send Savea over for a try on his debut. 16-3 before half an hour, and Ireland hadn’t played particularly badly.

Those Kiwi counter-attacks are so well-structured as to almost look like planned moves, but they’re in fact even more impressive: great decision-making and skill-execution off the cuff from exceptional athletes. It’s breathtaking, admirable rugby.

And The Irish Efforts?

Ireland haven’t been altogether toothless from their own half this year:

However, missing pacy gamebreakers like Tommy Bowe and Stephen Ferris, they were always going to struggle to score tries. The All Black defense is so cohesive, their players so committed to never missing tackles – you’d imagine that they get absolutely slaughtered in post-match analysis if they do – that you need something special to score when the game is a contest. They hardly ever concede soft tries.

Declan Kidney has occasionally let slip some hints this season about how he wants his team to play. He has pointed towards the evidence that the majority of tries in international rugby are scored from deep within enemy territory, rather than from long-range strikes. However, doing any one thing too often against the All Blacks will hurt you. They’re all well-practised, intuitive footballers who learn quickly on the pitch; it’s rare that you’ll out-think the All Blacks.

Sexton varied his game well at outhalf, using his outside backs running from depth, looping for width and putting Ireland in New Zealand territory with some well-judged touch-kicks down the left-hand side. His defensive efforts against the storming Sonny-Bill Williams were rock solid, and all-in-all he had a well-rounded performance … but one that was utterly overshadowed by his brilliant opposite number.

Outside him, Brian O’Driscoll had a distinctly non-vintage game. His passing wasn’t up to his usual standard, and while he produced some good moments in both attack and defense, it was an uneven performance that featured more mistakes than he’d usually make in three games. He put the ball on the ground a couple of times, and seemed to be trying passes which were 20/80s, rather than 50/50s.

Sean O’Brien put in a monster effort in the No7 jersey, but to my mind his more natural game comes with the freedom from breakdown duties that the No6 jersey allows. Chris Henry had a big season for Ulster after a two year openside apprenticeship, and should be allowed have a rattle against Richie McCaw.

In the backrow, Sean O’Brien busted his lungs with effort, but his handling showed some of his 2009-10 form – unfortunately, that’s not the season when he was the best player in European rugby, it’s the season when he couldn’t hold on to the ball for the life of him. Unforced handling errors weren’t part of the gameplan, and it’s just something that he’ll have to concentrate on harder in the next test, even if that hampers his game a little. Ireland simply can’t afford to give the ball away that cheaply to as cut-throat a team as New Zealand.

He worked extremely hard all over the pitch [ESPN Scrum.com credited him with 23 tackles, easily the highest total on the pitch], but with so much effort going into the tackle and the breakdown, he wasn’t available too often to carry the ball in midfield, and he made two fumbles in the rare chances that he had.

Heaslip had his best game for Ireland since his good showing against Wales in the first game of the Six Nations, but was still widely outplayed by his opposite number, Keiran Read. The Kildare man got on the ball a lot and was the chief runner in the Irish backrow, and his tackle-count was into the mid-teens, second only to O’Brien. While Heaslip stepped up in Ferris’ absence, Ireland still missed the power and athleticism of the Ulster No6. Peter O’Mahony has earned a starting job with his strong performances for Munster this season, but has nothing to rival the explosive power of the Maghaberry Monster.

His international career is in its early days, and he very clearly has a high ceiling. On the day though, his performance was patchy. Compared to either of his backrow colleagues, he made fewer tackles, got on the ball less often, carried for fewer metres and made it to fewer rucks. Declan Kidney was sure to get his proviso about test rugby being a step up from the provincial game in his pre-match interview, and sure enough both O’Mahony and second row Dan Tuohy struggled to impose themselves on the All Blacks.

Savea Seals The Deal

Declan Fitzpatrick had some good footballing moments, outside of his better-than-billed performance in the scrum: there was a nice take-and-give with Jonny Sexton at 32:16 in the All Blacks 22, but unfortunately the play on the outside was two lateral, Fergus McFadden’s inside line too late and Rory Best’s attempted switch too poorly executed. Ireland won the penalty for New Zealand sealing off the breakdown, but off the lineout, Brian O’Driscoll threw an appalling offload to nobody that saw the Kiwis go 90m+ in under twenty seconds. It was an extremely poor piece of judgment from a player as experienced as O’Driscoll. The pass was never on. New Zealand had five minutes to score a try before halftime and kill off the game, and they did.

It briefly looked like Ireland might hold out due to good defensive work from Cian Healy and Conor Murray, but the All Blacks regained possession, and with Israel Dagg threatening left, McFadden once again stepped in to allow Julian Savea build up steam to run right through a weak Rob Kearney/Conor Murray double tackle for his second. Kearney’s defensive weakness was again shown up – he’s consistently too high as the last man at the back. It really was a poor tackle for an international fullback.

Dan Carter salted the would with a touchline conversion and the replays showed just how excellent Dagg’s drifting run and flat pass had been. A more aggressive Irish defensive line speed might have made a difference, but when you’ve got a fullback running at a covering blindside and a more or less static loosehead [albeit one who later caught Conrad Smith from behind], the alarms go off. 23-3 before halftime and it could have been more: Dagg skinned Zebo on a beautiful arcing run but then made a rare mistake, his early pass allowing Kearney to tackle Guildford into touch.

Conrad Smith in the November 2010 test match at Lansdowne Road. Anybody who enjoys rugby likes watching Conrad Smith play – he might be the smartest outside back of the professional era.

Come Out Firing Live Rounds

However, after a couple of hiccups to start the second half, New Zealand got back into their stride within five minutes. Their 44th minute try was another beauty. Jonny Sexton and Sean O’Brien tackled Sonny Bill well but were unable to stop him before the gainline, and off quick ruck ball, Aaron Smith fed Conrad Smith, who was moving back in towards the ruck. Debutant lock Brodie Retallick looked like he was going to take an inside pop from Smith, but the centre continued his line while the lock altered his to go wider and the pass accommodated the change. Retallick made an excellent pass out of the tackle to Dan Carter who threw a mini-dummy, then passed a split second before McFadden came in to tackle him, and Israel Dagg turned Kearney inside out before riding his tackle and slipping out a a wonderfully-weighted underhand pass for Savea to cut inside Simon Zebo’s wild covering run for his hat-trick. Carter again converted from wide on the left.

Consolation Effort For A Guy Who Needed It

Ireland’s attacking efforts in the second period were of the snatched-at variety. Rob Kearney’s world-class attacking falcon at 46:21 might have set up a freakish try for the hard-working Jamie Heaslip, but the ball took its big wrong-way hop a little early and Victor Vito was able to dot down.

As highlighted in the preview, McFadden got the bogey prize of marking Julian Savea. He managed to bag a try off a turnover, but it was a bad day at the office that will probably see the Leinster utility back on the bench for the next test.

Following a Rory Best block-down and regather, O’Mahony’s slick flick from the base of a ruck just outside the Irish 22 gave Sexton an untended blindside, and he hit a perfectly-weighted kick to allow McFadden burn Richie McCaw for an opportunist’s try against the run of play. McFadden had allowed three tries down his wing – and he was at fault for two of them – so it must have been some consolation that he could get something out of the game, despite his downbeat expression.

However, it was the briefest of respites. After Sexton had converted from wide on the right, the New Zealanders roared back to life. Keiran Read’s efforts at restarts throughout the game had been absolutely outstanding, and he almost crowned them with a phenomemal leap, take and dash which ended with a penalty against Ireland right on their own try-line. Keith Earls, Conor Murray and Brian O’Driscoll managed to halt Read on the line and prevent him touching down, but Zebo had held supporting substitute Ben Smith off the ball. Ireland were able to hold out for a couple of minutes, but from a scrum off the left, Read was able to pass out of O’Mahony’s tackle and give subsitute blindside Adam Thompson the easiest of tries. Carter surprisingly missed the conversion, but at 35-10, it was irrelevant to the outcome, if not the scoreline.

Release The Hounds! 

Declan Kidney replaced the slightly hamstrung Fitzpatrick with Connacht dual-sided prop Ronan Loughney, which somewhat hurt Ireland’s scrum on 55 minutes, and Thompson’s try soon after signalled a wave of substitutions.

Ronan O’Gara made a 57th minute appearance, joined on the hour by Eoin Reddan, Donncha O’Callaghan and Kev McLaughlin. The O’Callaghan and McLaughlin substitutes would have come at the right time in a regular test match, but unfortunately this game was well out of Irish hands at that stage. This would have been the toughest match that either O’Mahony or Tuohy had yet played in their short international careers, and while neither set the world alight, they were hardly likely to in what is to all extents a new team. Both would have been blowing hard by the hour, and bringing on O’Callaghan and McLaughlin were good substitutions.

Unfortunately, Cian Healy’s substitution wasn’t. As Brendan ‘Fangio’ Fanning notes, Healy was down for treatment at least three times before he finally departed the pitch, and should have been taken off earlier. Fangio moots that Declan Kidney was unwilling to go to uncontested scrums, and you have to question why. Propriety? There was an argument that he should have told Tom Court to feign an injury during the English game when he was getting pulverised on the tighthead side, and thus force uncontested scrums. The Mole can understand why he didn’t: he wanted to respect the integrity of the game. That’s fair enough.

Cian Healy gets physical with Sonny-Bill Williams. The Leinster loosehead had a strong game and, in The Mole’s estimation, was the best prop on the pitch.

Keeping an injured player on the pitch does nothing for the integrity of the game, however. The Leinster loosehead is one of the very few players in the Irish team that would legitimately challenge for a place in the All Blacks on yesterday’s showing. It’s a big step down from Healy to his replacement, uncapped Connacht man Brett Wilkinson, and with O’Connell and Ferris, two of Ireland’s most powerful and aggressive forwards already out of action, Kidney needs Healy more than ever.

First Test In The Books, Second Test In Players’ Nightmares

Are New Zealand really thirty-two points better than Ireland? Yes, undoubtedly. They’re in a different class. In The Mole’s opinion, they’re two classes ahead. In the 2006 and 2008 tours, Ireland kept the distance to within around ten points, albeit with teams much closer to full strength.

As Michael Lynagh said of Robbie Deans in the Sky Sports build up to the Australia vs Wales game: “He can’t kick the goals, he can’t score the tries, but what he does do is create the environment … and it seems to be a reasonably happy one there. Outside that, it’s not, so there’s a lot of pressure on him.”

He may as well have been talking about Declan Kidney. The coach can’t make tackles or catch passes for the players out on the pitch. That’s their job. On the other hand, he and his coaching staff have their own responsibilities: selecting the team, organising their defensive systems and set-pieces, instilling confidence in the players, reacting to opposition tactics on the field, using the substitutes appropriately.

He told the Irish rugby public three weeks ago that New Zealand wasn’t the place to experiment … and then put out a team that featured four players who had a combined one test start between them in O’Mahony, Tuohy, Fitzpatrick and Zebo. There were untried combinations in the front row, the second row, the backrow, the centres and the back three. Though both wingers were embarrassed in defense, the lack of any cover on the bench for the back three – the extremely obvious call was Andrew Trimble – meant that he had hamstrung his own selection.

Kidney is obviously doing what he sees best, and working hard to prepare the team to play well … but nothing seems to be working out for him, and it’s difficult to see where he’s trying to lead this team. Ireland have not progressed this season. With Les Kiss and Mark Tainton double-jobbing as respective defense coach/attack coach and kicking coach/attack coach, there’s still have no dedicated attack coach for the first team. I think it’s fair to say that there has been a drop off in our defense since Les Kiss took on these new responsibilities.

Ireland can do better in their next test than they did in this one. They need to be a little more composed in attack, and take any sort of points from the opportunities they get, not necessarily tries. They’ll also need to concentrate on their defensive systems, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we see both Gordon D’Arcy and Andrew Trimble given starts, especially with Keith Earls out of action. Neither Rob Kearney nor Conor Murray played particularly well, so there’s definite room for improved personal performances in key positions. There are two more tests in the series come what may, so they need to gear up for them and try to turn what was a good 25 minutes into a good half, and then a good hour.

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13 thoughts on “Match Reaction: New Zealand 42 – 10 Ireland

  1. Spot on Mole! Did a piece on my blog that parallels with almost everything you’ve said: http://wp.me/p1YRmJ-rV. Just on the Kiwi counter attacks being “so well-structured as to almost look like planned moves” that first Savea try in particular was exactly what every coach drills into this team when they work on counter-attacking. The two centres work hard to get width, the back-three link up in the middle of the field and the two half-backs work to get across in support. It’s the classic counter-attacking model, and something they will have worked on endlessly in training, but just performed with breath-taking efficiency! Beautiful.

  2. The Turnips over at Shelbyville strongly disagree with your Heaslip report. Apparently he’s a show-boating Houdini. Mind you, these are the same guys who blame McF and 100% absolve Keet for the second Savea try so maybe I should listen to my senses and ignore them.

    As for the game itself, fuck me we were bad. I know it’s easy to get carried away, but when BOD is throwing offloads to noone it’s hard to see a way back in. Too many knock-ons, too many missed tackles, too much headless chicken rugby. We made 7 visits to their 22 in the first half and scored 3 points. They didn’t even get into ours and were 9-3 up. Streets ahead of us and our pick ‘n mix approach to kicking or attacking ball in hand.

    • yeah, Jamie didn’t make any friends in Shelbyville doing photo shoot for his offal house wearing a pink beanie. I’m sure there’s more to it than that though…

      the lack of clarity in our game is frustrating. It’s not like we’ve got a good rudimentary game and we’re trying to expand on it. For example, for the first try, Murray’s kick was too long by about 10m! When NZ kick you get a winger and the ball. There’s nothing there about a game plan or otherwise, we just lack precision. Further, when the game goes past three or four phases at a high tempo, we lose any sense of shape. No alignment, no decoys, little sense of building multiple phases in order to target certain players in their defensive system. Take a look at how Genia pick his runs against the Welsh, he must have a picture of Adam Jones posted up in his kitchen with “run at” written underneath. I don’t know what we’re trying to do.

      hey, is that someone’s good looking cousin?!

      • Pink beanie? Sounds like a discipline problem…. Guess that’s why we beat em at football nearly half the time……….or no times this year….doh!

  3. Couple of things worry me about it is that we tried to play fast and loose, but still couldn’t really hurt their defensive structure, never mind the scoreboard. Secondly when Ross got hurt I personally wrote this one off as a dead rubber, I just didn’t think we could get a set piece platform to actually be in the game. Fitzpatrick and Ryan did a more than reasonable job of it though, but still we were not really in the game.

    Really felt for mcfadden, he just was just guilty of wanting to put a hit on. Very understandable, but guilty nonetheless. I take your point on communication though. How many times on those outside breaks do you see drico pointing at the other guy saying “just you stick with him” whilst bod then scythes his man into touch. Small mistakes, but punishable by try every time in this part of the world.

    A few things in o’driscoll’s defence about the poor offload in the lead up to their 2nd try…thought Owens called “use it or lose it” very early on the maul. That put more pressure on the Irish attack (and they already had rabbit in the headlights look knowing they needed to put points on the board fast). Murray was panicky and flung his pass high whereas Bod was looking for a low one in front to run onto. Drico had to check and then made the uncharacteristic mistake of making bad ball worse. Had reddan been started would that have happened? But then again Murray showed his worth with his tackle on the left touchline. Swings and roundabouts a bit, but in light of the fast and loose approach, it would have been more logical for reddan to start. Ironic thing is I would be going for Murray now in christchurch and trying to keep the game much tighter for the first hour.

    Agree with you about the attack coach too and have done for a while. Les kiss asking a lot of himself. I thought the team selection was a fair enough and adventurous one and could understand it with Ross being absent. But our attack only landed one blow, from a lovely o’mahony offload admittedly, but it was essentially a kick chase. That’s for the future, for this week I would be more inclined towards starting locky at 6 than Henry at 7. Ireland threw to Ryan a lot last weekend. Presumably bnz will be targeting him this week. Locky would be a very handy option out of touch and might add some familiarity in the back row. Henry could play Jennings in the piece (where he would hopefully have the impact hooper had vs wales! or Jennings anytime he comes on!). I’m hoping bnz won’t be quite as good to watch this weekend….but maybe kidding myself, they’re an awesome team playing very relaxed footy.

  4. Watch that Tommy Bowe try again in detail. What’s wrong with it? By that I mean, what would the kiwis do from those positions?

  5. When you’re up against the best in the world, you at least want to be referreed by the best in the world. And so Nigel “golden boy” Owens (or rather “Nigel ‘I didn’t see what happened or who it was, but…’ Owens”) was in charge. Disaster… Ireland were woeful with a couple of small spells of good stuff. Thought Fitzpatrick had a great debut at the office personally and with a bit more game time together, Dricco and Earlsey will be able to read each others minds more on some pop ball. Now the result would not have been any different if a proper ref had been in charge but when you’re attempting to scale Mount Everest, you don’t want to be attached to a bungee cord at the same time. The first AB line out was more crooked than a feed at scrum time; the penalty that Owens gave the AB for them to go 6-3 up was laughable. Healy was quite clearly on his feet but Owens inexplicably decided he wasn’t so gave the peno (‘I didn’t see what happened, but…’). The linesmen should’ve done/said more but then i know Owens doesn’t like being told how to officiate by linesmen. All any player wants from a ref is consistency. Oh, and working eyes… These Tests are a challenge in itself against 15 men, let alone having to factor in the 16th. Good Test referees are in short supply as it is – hope we get better for the next 2 matches

  6. When New Zealand kicked long from their own 22, which they did a couple of times straight down Kearney’s throat, they organised the chase based on what they saw in front of them. If Ireland didn’t have players to support, then they pressed Kearney as quickly as possible. If there were players back, which Ireland didn’t achieve very often, then they came up slow with the emphasis on keeping the line. It’s a pretty common tactic and one that Ireland use, but they were caught out on the first try by the fact that Guildford dropped the ball. Prior to the drop, it looked like there’d be a slow-up and slide by the defence, with Zebo as first man looking to shadow the attack while the rest of the defence reorganised.

    Once Guildford dropped it though, Zebo and others rushed up to press, thinking they might have a chance at the loose ball. Zebo didn’t make it, and to compound the problem, McCaw took him out with a block off the ball, removing the shadow. The outside backs who had rushed up were now ahead of their forwards, so the line was stretched with large exploitable gaps in it. From a situation where the chase ordinarily outnumbers the counter-attack, Guildford’s drop evened the numbers and put New Zealand slightly on the outside of the Irish defence. Ireland scrambled across; Earls made an error and McFadden added to it by not reacting. The result was inevitable thereafter.

    This is not to say that the try wasn’t well-constructed, but it was an aberration and it involved a significant portion of luck.

    For next week I’d hope that we defend a lot better than we did, with better reorganisation and linespeed being the key fixes required. New Zealand’s second try was down to poor linespeed as much as anything else, with O’Mahony slow to come up and out, allowing Dagg to drift off him and on to the second defender. McFadden should have stayed out, but there would then have been an unmarked player on Dagg’s shoulder. McFadden chose wrongly as the cover were more likely to get to the inside player, but the major error was not his.

    As for the third try, it was brilliantly constructed; easily the best try of the match, and I wouldn’t be too harsh on the Irish team for conceding it. Kearney made a bit of a mess of the last-ditch situation by not choosing between Dagg and Savea until Zebo was actually in a position to tackle Dagg, whereupon Kearney tackled him. Then Zebo obviously shirked the tackle on Savea, which would probably have been unsuccessful that close to the line, but which he should have at least attempted. Still, it was a superb try, particularly the wrap-around executed by forwards in midfield to stop the drifting defence.

    The fourth try was again a miscommunication, with no-one telling Heaslip that the scrum had broken. The fifth was the result of cumulative pressure and a poor defensive decision by Cave, perhaps due to nerves.

    Next week I’d like to see Ireland play for the second half, and put up a bit more fight when they’re being beaten. The score could have been closer but for New Zealand’s tackle-stats, which were much higher than the 93% which is a mark of excellence at this level, but then they could have scored more than they did too. Ireland need to get their faster ball-carriers taking the ball on a little wider out, as there’s no-one in the Irish backline capable of drawing multiple defenders onto him. There’s no variation in where Heaslip and O’Brien are being used (i.e. the 10 channel and just outside), and both are trying to step and twist through the contact rather than going straight for it. Put them out wide and they might come up against someone they can smash through.

    • that’s a good point, quite a few tries/goals in football come from ‘glitches in the matrix’ where the ball bounces an odd way and the defensive system breaks down. Ian Madigan’s try against the Ospreys in the regular season RDS game springs to mind immediately but I’m sure there’s loads more

      couldn’t be in more agreement with the need for a bit more fight. Two years ago with 14 men we gave them hell in the second half after pussying around during the first half in the wake of Heaslip’s brain fart. We got more physical and lads tried to play some rugby and have a cut, Mushy’s outrageous offload being a personal highlight. Yeah sure, there’s an argument that the Kiwis took the foot off the pedal but I’m not sure that’s in the AB manual. I think it’s more a case that if you get stuck into them and live with the pace you begin to believe that they’re only bloody NZ rather than the all conquering All Blacks (TM).

      as for the out wide channels with Heaslip and O’Brien…mos’ def. Seanie’s Heineken Cup final had a few barnstorming runs in the prairies if memory recalls correctly. That, however, is where coaching comes in! Has Deccie got it in his play book?

      • I don’t think Kidney has a plan for beating New Zealand other than keeping the scoreline close for as long as possible. There’s certainly precious little evidence of a strategy designed to hurt the Kiwis specifically. Australia have beaten them in the last year by consistently attacking them, upping the pace, going through phases and eventually forcing a mistake or taking advantage of a brief weakness. But not in New Zealand. South Africa beat them by kicking and harrying their half-team and forcing them into penalties, but they were fortunate to have a pernickety Irish referee who dared to penalise the mighty All Blacks for lying in the way, something we can’t rely on (more’s the pity). There’s no obvious area of weakness in the New Zealand side, now that they’ve found a scrum-half and Carter’s back in harness.

        And yet, there are a number of inexperienced players in their side, and if Ireland can just stay close enough to cause them to feel pressure and make mistakes, there’s a chance of a gallant defeat at least. I imagine that’s what Kidney is telling them, as player confidence is his only area of real expertise. The fragility of that confidence was pretty evident after New Zealand went 9-3 and then 16-3 up after Ireland had shaded the opening quarter in attacking terms. He’ll have a job getting them believing in themselves for this one. But even if he does manage it, victory would be tantamount to a fluke. There appears to be no gameplan beyond: keep going at them, run some moves, tackle hard, pin them back, hope for the best.

        As far as the tenor of the defeat goes, it was clear that Ireland shut up shop after about 45 minutes on Saturday, particularly in terms of their attacking moves. The reasoning might have been that the game is gone, there are another two to come, so let’s not show them any more of our repertoire. I certainly got the sense that Ireland were going through the motions. In a one-off fixture like the one in 2010, that wouldn’t be acceptable, but in a 3-test series, maybe it was a bit of the cuteness Kidney is famed for. Here’s hoping, anyway.

  7. I’m surprised with the team he’s selected. The obvious winger for a-droppin’ would be Fergus McFadden, in my eyes. We clearly need a guy who’s a more experienced defender as a winger to counteract the New Zealander’s potent right-to-left attack, and Andrew Trimble’s physicality would be a big plus against Savea in terms of a one-on-one match-up.

    Having just checked the line-ups on Ulster’s website, Trimble started every single HEC game on the right wing. I simply have no explanation for Declan Kidney’s selection, especially with regards to the ‘left wing is a very different position than right wing’ comment. He plays left wing for ireland and right wing for Munster. Dropping guys after one test does nothing for anybody. I’d have been quite happy to see Zebo and Fitzpatrick remain in the team, with Mike Ross on the bench for kick-off.

    I’d also have looked at starting Chris Henry at No7 and O’Brien at No6 with O’Mahony on the bench. O’Brien’s efforts were excellent in last week’s test, and the breakdown is an area where the Kiwis surprisingly struggled against us. I’d have thrown in Henry to see if we could continue to hurt them there, while giving SOB just a little more freedom to run at them. I understand that neither of them are as good a lineout option as O’Mahony or McLaughlin and that Thompson is a hero there, but so be it … if it’s killing us, bring on O’Mahony.

    Henry should be given a chance to play openside at test level and see if he can survive there: he was a huge factor in the HEC QF, and while beating up Tommy O’Donnell isn’t the same as going head to head with Richie McCaw, there’s more to learn from playing him at No7 than there is from playing Locky at No6.

    • It’s pretty close to being a no-more-callow-youth policy, with Murray the only one given the coach’s backing (a selection which will no doubt be derided). Personally, I think McFadden was a bit unfortunate to cop the blame for two of the tries, though I can’t see what he offers in attack as a future wing prospect. However, he is a better defender than Zebo, and Zebo’s fly-by on Julian Savea was the sort of feigned commitment that’s unpopular with team-mates and coaches.

      There seems to be a pattern developing in the backs where Ireland have their versatile players on the pitch and single-position specialists on the bench. If Kearney gets injured, there may be trouble.

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