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Smal Seeks Further Improvements From Pack

Smal Seeks Further Improvements From Pack

Ireland forwards coach Gert Smal has been quietly satisfied with the performances of the pack in the opening three RBS 6 Nations matches but insists that there is still much to work on and improve.

“I’m satisfied with the progress (made by the forwards) but I’m not happy yet,” Gert Smal admitted, taking time out from his coaching duties at this week’s training camp in Cork.

“There’s some other things we’re still working on which we have to fine-tune if we want to become a better team or a champion team.

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“We’re far from that and as I said, I’m just satisfied with the progress at the moment.”

A quick review of the official tournament statistics confirms that Ireland’s set piece has been a bed rock for them in their first three victories.

18 scrums won and none lost, 40 lineouts won and six lost, Ireland have managed to maul more than any other side in this year’s Six Nations and have conceded the least amount of penalties and been awarded the most penalties so far (22 conceded and 44 awarded).

Still only five games into his stint with Ireland, Smal admitted: “Irish rugby is very much the same as what we have in South Africa – there’s a huge emphasis on forward play.

“I’ve experienced exactly the same in Ireland, so there’s not much of a difference.

“What we would like to see is maybe just expand our game a little bit. There’s a couple of things we’re looking at currently and we’ve got the time now (in camp).

“Every game we play is a new experience for us all, especially the coaching staff.

“It’s good to see how the players react in different pressure situations – we can start working from there.”

Having worked under previous forwards coach Niall O’Donovan for a number of years, the Irish forwards have had to adapt quickly to Smal’s way of thinking and universally they have been impressed by what the South African has to offer.

Giving on insight into the work done so far, he said: “They’re used to having things a certain way (scrummaging wise), you try to change things slowly but surely.

“You don’t have much time with the national team to do a huge amount. You can change little bits at a time and maybe look at changing certain systems and thus far it’s worked quite well.

“We’ll always continue to look at ways we can improve the individuals, the whole pack and the front row specifically.

“They’re not there yet, but through time, I believe, we will develop as a much better unit.”

The former Springboks assistant coach is warming to his role with Ireland. Given his strong work ethic and no-nonsense attitude, it is no surprise that he has batted away any personal praise for how the Irish pack has performed in recent weeks.

He is fully focused on the challenges ahead. Murrayfield and the Millennium Stadium await over the next two weeks and Smal expects a tough battle up front with Scotland on Saturday week.

“It’s still early days, we haven’t played Wales yet – that’s going to be a big test – but we’re not looking past our next game.

“If you look at Scotland, how their pack has been performing, and against Italy especially – that was a very good performance.

“This week we’re going to have a new challenge, a completely different one. There’s a few things they do differently and we have to prepare for that.”