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Back To Normal?

Back To Normal?

Are the ducks in a row for a full bag of chips? Adrian O’Farrell gives us his views on Ireland’s win over Scotland and looks ahead to that game against Wales.

In Eddie’s idiom-speak, Ireland are beginning to get all their ducks back in a row. It may be too late to earn the ‘full bag of chips’ (Grand Slam), but there remains a reasonable prospect of pretty full bag.

Where only a fortnight previously, we bemoaned the lack of backline brio and attacking threat, on this occasion Ireland scored four tries out wide and looked sharp throughout (even if one try was by a forward masquerading as a back).

The early signs were distinctly not good, as a muted crowd watched Ireland struggle to win ball. Much has already been written about Bernard Jackman’s throwing in this period and he may pay the price. A couple of the throws were underthrows, but the bigger issue is that Scotland were able to get a jumper up to contest almost every ball, thereby placing massive pressure on the thrower. Jackman’s throwing in has improved dramatically this year, courtesy of a more regular preparation that remains constant. The problem with this is that it is very deliberate and takes time, allowing the opposition time to get themselves organised. Speed of execution greatly favours the throwing side and Ireland needs to speed its lineout up.

Other than that, the coach and players can profess themselves very pleased with the course of events. No, Scotland aren’t the most incisive team on the planet but it was nonetheless a pretty convincing defensive display with the exception of the Scottish try. That was perhaps the one time in the game where we never looked in control of the defensive line in the game right throughout the multiple phases that preceded it.

Having said that, as Liam Toland rightly pointed out in his Irish Times column, Ireland’s collisions suffered from our continued adoption of a slowish defensive line speed.

The pity was that we didn’t get a bit more ball in hand, because it was refreshing to see us look, well, refreshed. How much did this have to do with Geordan Murphy’s presence at the back? Difficult to tell. Well and all as he played, there has been a touch of mischief in the eagerness of many scribes to name him Ireland’s man of the match. He certainly played very well and has made the Coach’s selection for the Wales match very difficult, given his avowed preference for Girvan Dempsey.

Confident Displays

There were many other positives – the confident displays of Robert Kearney, Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble in this remodelled backline; the evidence of the benefit of a breaking scrumhalf (manifest in the simple backrow move that delivered Ireland’s first try); the ongoing excellence of Ronan O’Gara; the enhanced ball-carrying up front; the workrate of O’Driscoll and Hayes in the tackle; the greater accuracy when opportunities presented themselves. All of which are resuscitating the victim that was Ireland’s confidence after the World Cup car crash.

You would think that a five tries to one victory over Scotland in these circumstances would be greeted with great joy around the ground. But it never quite felt that way. The crowd were left largely unmoved by the experience and atmosphere was muted throughout. The only conclusion from which is that we have become very difficult to sate. We only now appear to get excited by the really big games, and Triple Crown runs are to be sniffed at. Intellectually, we know that Saturday was good. However, many seem slow to rejoin the chorus after the World Cup fallout.

Still, I think we can expect far more by way of emotional involvement and commitment from supporters the next day out. With Wales’ debut appearance on the sward of Croke Park comes a very attractive looking game of rugby underpinned by what will be a significant stoking of the embers on the part of the media. Both coaches will do their level best to downplay their roles, but it will almost certainly be to no avail.

Wales are currently 2-1 favourites to win the title, but to be guaranteed this result they will have to beat Ireland away and France at home. For all the evident improvement under the Gatland/Edwards/Howley axis, there is not yet sufficient evidence to suggest that they can come to Dublin and win. Had England not spectacularly imploded, they may well have begun the tournament with a pretty harrowing defeat in which they were bulldozed off the park. They also should have been losing to Italy at half-time but Gonzalo Canale was unable to take a routine ball with the line at his mercy.

Wales do appear to be playing smarter though, as evidenced by their refusal to supply the Italian lineout maul with ammunition. Italy only had eight throw-ins in the game courtesy of a conscious Welsh ploy.

For the moment though let’s just enjoy the resurgence and new-found freshness. When you factor in the return of Paul O’Connell and Shane Horgan as contenders for future matches, there are grounds for hope that normal service is slowly being resumed.