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Ireland at the 2019 Rugby World Cup

All Our Focus On Pool Qualification Says O’Sullivan

All Our Focus On Pool Qualification Says O’Sullivan

There is no fear that Ireland’s players will be getting ahead of themselves after failing to impress against Namibia and Georgia over the past week, with coach Eddie O’Sullivan reiterating the point that the squad’s focus is wholly on qualifying out of Pool D.

Prior to the World Cup, a number of Irish players were asked about their ambitions for the tournament – some were content for the team to make the quarter-finals and see how things panned out, others were eyeing up an historic semi-final berth and there was also talk of Ireland as possible Webb Ellis Cup winners.

However, having failed to recapture the form they showed in this year’s Six Nations, any thoughts of making a mark in the knock-out stages in France have been cast aside. The players know they cannot afford to take their gaze off what is their sole aim now – finishing in the top two in the pool standings.

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A frank Eddie O’Sullivan said today: “The way we’re playing, our job is just to get out of the pool. I’m not going to make any silly statements about winning the tournament. We weren’t the people who said we were going to win the tournament. Everyone else said that and we happened to agree.

“We agreed with them on the basis that we continued playing the type of rugby we did in the Six Nations. We all know if we can get back to there as a team, we can trouble anybody. But we’re not there by a long shot and as long as we’re not there we should not think about anything other than getting out of the pool. Our current form suggests we’ll find it very hard to get out of the pool.”

Pushed passes, turnovers and a general nervousness severely hindered Ireland’s chances of scoring a bonus point win over Georgia last night and O’Sullivan knows his side needs to improve, and improve quickly.

Reflecting on the Georgian game, he said: “It was a completely different story from last week (against Namibia) in that our set piece was very good. We retained all but one of our lineouts, took a lot of Georgian lineouts. We were excellent in the scrum. The two balls we lost squirted out of the back of the scrum.

“The problem was again down to turnovers. To be fair, the Georgians pinned us back a lot. We’d a fair bit of possession in the defensive third of the pitch. It was probably not too dissimilar to last week. But I would probably say that was a lot better, some of our approach work when we had feed position was quite good but, again, our final pass went astray. We just forced the last pass again.

“It’s very frustrating but it is what it is. We’ve got to move on from it. We’ve a game on Friday night against France in Paris and we have to try to improve on what we’ve been doing,” he added.

“We’ve a lot to improve on, I’ll admit that, but, at the same time, we can’t do any more than that. I’m sure there is there is a fair bit of disappointment out there. It’s not like we haven’t been trying here, to be fair to the players and ourselves. We have been working on it but it just hasn’t been coming together for us. That is disappointing.

“I’m not sure why we’re making all these mistakes. We haven’t made these mistakes before. We’ve been better on the ball. We’ve held on to the football longer. I suppose there’s an element of nervousness in the team.

“This is the second week in a row that we haven’t put a performance together so there is an element of trepidation. They’re not playing well so they want to improve on that and that brings its own pressures.”

Turnovers have troubled Ireland for their first 160 minutes of the tournament, a point readily expected by O’Sullivan and his players.

“The players feel that if you go through the mistakes that they’re making, a lot of them are on the football. We’re turning the ball over a lot and if we continue to turn it over at that rate against any team, you’re going to be in trouble. If we can solve that problem we’ll be in the game.

“It’s (the number of turnovers) been the bane of our lives for the past couple of weeks. It’s frustrating and it’s hard to put your finger on it at the moment. It is causing us most of our problems. Our set piece is working fine and we are putting together five or six phases of play,” O’Sullivan insisted.

“But you can put together five or six rucks, some good lineouts, and then you knock the ball on or lose it in contact, you’re not back to square one, you’re back to square minus one because the ball’s suddenly behind you and you’re scrambling back for it.

“And that’s what we’ve been doing consistently for the past two games. There’s no question about it, if we do that in Paris, we’ll be in for a right hiding. There’s no doubt about that.”

O’Sullivan has had troubled times before in his Ireland coaching career, most notably at the start of his second year at the helm in late 2002.

“We’ve had a couple of periods where things have been difficult. They haven’t been at a time like this – during a World Cup where there is huge focus and exposure on it.

“I remember at the start of our season in 2002 we had World Cup qualifiers and we started poorly. We were shaky against Romania, against Russia in Siberia and then we beat Georgia,” he explained.

“But we had a good autumn, beating Australia and Argentina, and then kicked on to challenge England for a Grand Slam. We made that happen by turning areas of doubt into areas of confidence. In this situation it’s about measuring twice and cutting once.”

Ireland’s familiarity with France will certainly be to their advantage on Friday, after facing two teams that thrived on their unpredictability according to O’Sullivan.

“We’ve played France so often that we know them very well. We know that they’re a very good team though, and we know that if we turn the ball over like we did against Georgia and Namibia, we’ll be in real trouble in Paris.

“Having said that, there’s a sense of knowing what’s in front of you. The last two teams we’ve played were unpredictable and we’ve allowed that unpredictability to upset us. We conceded eight penalties last night, which was good for us. We conceded six last week. The Georgians conceded five penalties, which is an interesting statistic.

“Georgia are a very disciplined side, which meant that we didn’t get too many kicks on goal. They were a very unpredictable bunch and they defended very unpredictably, with fellas breaking the defensive line all the time, and that lead to their try.

“But we knew that. They took a punt and they got lucky. So there was a sense of unpredictability about them which made them awkward to play against. But I wouldn’t put that out there as an excuse,” he insisted.

“That’s something you’ve to deal with against these sides. And I suppose that we haven’t dealt with it very well. That’s lead to our situation, where we are turning the ball over an awful lot.”