Ireland backs coach Alan Gaffney sent a warning to the Welsh camp for Saturday’s crunch RBS 6 Nations clash in Cardiff, insisting that the best is yet to come from this unbeaten Irish side.
How is Denis Leamy’s shoulder injury or do you know yet?
Alan Gaffney: He’s rehabbing at the present time. He didn’t train and probably won’t train tomorrow but there is definite hope that he will be okat by the weekend. We have just got to see how he progresses.
Obviously Denis adds a lot to any team but then again we have got some very good people in the wings if it doesn’t turn out to be the way we’d like it.
It’s soft tissue isn’t it?
AG: Yes it is. He is okay in that sense. Obviously it’s a painful injury but he is rehabbing well so far.
No other scrapes or knocks?
AG: No, everyone is fine again. The miraculous Six Nations without any major injuries!
The England and Scotland games were quite claustrophobic as such. Wales will have to go in search of scores as they chase the title. Do you think that will free things up for us a bit?
AG: It could. The first half against Scotland was one of those strange halves. We definitely want to go out and be expansive.
I think the penalty count at one time, and we are not suggesting it at all that the penalties weren’t correct – but I think the penalty count was 8-1, 8-2 at one point in time.
We had no field position in the first half. I think we played off three lineouts, two that were in our 22 and played off one scrum. It was very difficult to mount any sort of potent attack.
I think in the second half we showed a little bit more. Hopefully the game opens up at the weekend. There’s going to be a lot of open field running. They like to play the game with width.
They get there in a certain way and so do we. I don’t think it’s just going to be a battle. Obviously it’s going to be a battle up front and I think both sides have a willingness to run.
When the French moved the ball in the RBS 6 Nations opener, you were able to counter them well?
AG: We are pretty relaxed with our defence. Les Kiss has a good structure in place at present and we are defending well. We missed a couple of first-up tackles at the weekend but you are always going to do that.
Generally speaking, the structure works well and the boys have got a very good work ethic. They hussle well and when we get ourselves in difficult circumstances as with that break by Thom Evans right on half-time, Tommy Bowe worked back very hard to tackle him and Drico (Brian O’Driscoll) worked back extremely hard to pick up (Phil) Godman.
The work ethic of the boys is very, very good and does get us out of those places you don’t normally like to be.
At junctures in ever game so far there have been moments where players have needed to have ‘ice in their blood’ and they have stood up to the challenges, how important is that? Can the coaches put a price on experience coming to the fore like that?
AG: It’s something you always look for and I think the good sides in history, if you look through the World Cup winners over time, they have always had good leaders in their side.
I can go back to the Australians or the English in 2003. Martin Johnston was an outstanding captain in his own right but he had an awful lot of leaders across the pitch. I think that’s what we are lucky with at the present time.
Brian does a great job as captain but he has a lot of guys who stand up around him. In times when things are tough these guys do stand up and take it upon themselves to be totally accountable. They just step right up to the plate.
I know it’s a cliche but you can’t coach that either – there’s examples across other sports of lots of experience on paper but it doesn’t show on the pitch.
AG: That’s right. The boys being accountable is a thing, they need to step up and take the responsibility and that’s what they do – this side do that very well.
They are playing together now for a number of years but they have no problem in taking that responsibility at any time.
Wales’ focus will be stopping Ireland from winning the Grand Slam and turning things around so they can win the Championship. Given that you have that in mind, does that change the focus of how you approach this week and the Grand Slam issue?
AG: No, I think it works on the basis that Declan (Kidney) and the people around him work on the basis that we have to get our process right. If we play the way we want to play, we’ll get the result that we want.
We can’t go in there with the focus of trying to protect the lead or trying to do anything along those lines. The game’s a game and thats a very trite thing to say but in effect it is.
We’ve got to go out and win this game and that’s our sole intention at this time. We aren’t thinking of winning one trophy and not winning the other.
We can’t go out that way and know the way we want to play. We go out there and play accordingly.
Wales coach Warren Gatland gambled a bit by rotating his players. Two-thirds of their squad haven’t played for three weeks – do you factor that in? Have things taken their toll?
AG: It could be a factor. Some of their players probably haven’t played now for three weeks. I suppose I’ve been a person involved in tournaments such as this, not that I have been involved in the Six Nations but I’ve been involved in these areas where you get a string of games.
I’d rather play as play, providing you aren’t overdoing it during the week at training, which Declan’s total theory has been not to do that. People probably think that we had a good workout today.
Today we just had a walk-through and now it’s 48 hours since the game. We just had a walk-through at a local park so that was fine. There was no strain put on the players.
We have got two sessions, well one-and-a-half sessions left this week and that’s all we’ll do. It won’t be the fact that we have to go out and get all tense and say ‘oh s*** we have to go out and do more’
Because more is not better. We’ll refine what we have got to do and make sure the sessions are nice and slick and get off the blocks as soon as we can.
Declan has said from the outset that training is as important as match time in terms of staking a claim. At this juncture, have guys made their cases? Team selection is not going to be based on what you see in the next 24 hours?
AG: No, it’s not. There are a number of positions to discuss obviously. There are still some very close calls. Some guys didn’t start at the weekend who had played very well in the previous games.
I’m not saying that it is totally ‘horses for courses’ but in some instances that’s waht you are going to have to look at. Whose game is best suited against Wales; whose game suited best for playing against Scotland?
At this point in time they are the difficult decisions and it’s going to be very hard on some players not to start. Obviously it is such a momentous game, but unfortunately in the squad system which Declan really has cultivated and the players have really bought into it – I’d pay him a great amount of credit again, he does this religiously – not only to the 22 but the 30 guys in there today.
Without them we can’t train so effectively. They come in and they don’t gripe and their attitude at training is absolutely first rate.
I think that is fantastic for these guys who know they aren’t going to be in the 22 but come in and give their all week by week by week. I think it’s full credit to those individuals.
The players are going to try and shut out Grand Slam talk but what about you guys in the management team, do you feel excited?
AG: I do, obviously it’s a once in a lifetime experience but we have to keep that out of ourselves. We particularly have to keep control of ourselves. We can’t start showing hype or wanting to do too much or just living in the video room.
We just have to try and live as much of a normal life as we can. We show any weakness anywhere and it just flows through to the players and we just can’t do that because the players would sense that immediately.
While it is there in the subconscious or in the back of the mind, it won’t unduly affect me.
Is there any merit in using that psychologically – safely as a motivational aid – or do you have to guard against Grand Slam talk?
AG: I think the players are guarded enough themselves and I just don’t think they need any more. They know where they have been and what they have achieved over time and they know what is out there.
But they also know that, first and foremost, they have to go out and play well in this individual game. If we go out and play well hopefully we’ll get the result but if we go and don’t get the result, we have gone and done the best we could on that specific day.
We are playing against a very, very good team and we understand that – a side that were favourites to win the Championship. We are going to their own dung hill or their own back yard and playing them down there where they still have plenty to play for.
They have still got the Six Nations to play for and they still have the Triple Crown to play for so it’s not as though they are dead and buried. They have a lot to play for on their home soil.
Looking at the Championship so far, do you think the Ireland squad has reached it potential?
AG: No, I don’t think we have and I think the players are fully aware of that. I think we are on our way and there is no doubt about that but I don’t think and I’m sure the players understand that they still have a way to go.
You are getting 110 percent out of those players every week but there are certain elements they know themselves (that need improving).
I think the players do know themselves that there is still improvement left and that’s an easy thing to say but I also believe it to be the truth in this circumstance. You still haven’t seen the best from this team.
Given that you are the backs coach, do you still get consulted about the half-backs and in particularl the scrum half berth?
AG: Yeah, Declan is very, very…he’s definitely not an autocrat at all. He’s democratic in the way he looks at those sort of things but as coaches and the people who have been around him like Gert (Smal), Les and myself, the final decision will eventually have to be Declan’s and that’s the way it’s going to have to be.
But everyone of us have an input into every selection, which as I said is very democratic of Declan and we just throw it out there what out thoughts are.
There could be a fair bit of drivel in some of the things that I say…maybe there is but maybe there isn’t! Declan listens and then we make a decision based on that.
Could you tell us then maybe about the scrum half substitution on Saturday – what things were going through peoples’ minds or what process was being followed?
AG: Strings (Peter Stringer) had played well and we understood that. Scotland were going to start chasing the game. It was a situation at that point in time – Strings has got a lot of ‘strings to his bow’! I probably shouldn’t put it that way!
He’s got quick delivery and that sort of thing. The ball hadn’t speeded up, they had done a very good job of slowing the ball down in the game so what we thought would occur didn’t quite occur.
With that thought in mind and the fact that Tomas (O’Leary) has displayed other strengths throughout the Six Nations, we just thought that it was an opportune time to have the substitution or the replacement made and Tomas didn’t let us down.
Finally Alan, any particular improvements needed for next weekend’s crunch game?
AG: You know I think we always have to refine the things that we do. Our timing on certain issues and just isolating the back-line, a couple of small timings issues which probably cost us a bit at the weekend, but they are probably difficult…the way you do certain things you are going to get them better.
We aren’t going to overdo it but in time (things will come right). It’s not as though you have to be two or three metres out, sometimes it’s a very, very fine line on whether or not you’ve run a play absolutely on the money or whether or not you’ve just been marginally off and the play doesn’t work.
Some of those little areas there you’d always like to improve on. I think Les would be generally very happy overall with the defence but you’ll always have improvements and with Gert and the set piece.
That was always going to be disappointing. I think there were three scrum penalties which was very irksome to Gert. We’ve got to look at that, or Gert in particular.
Deccie has got to examine that area. It’s not a massive problem and is sometimes to do with the interpretation of the referee as one referee may allow you to do certain things and the next referee doesn’t allow you to do certain things. That’s just interpretation and we just have to adjust.
Obviously, early in the game we committed a lot of penalties. We looked at the penalties and I don’t think we gave away any dumb penalties. We conceded ones that were to be rightly given.
As I said, I wouldn’t have construed them as dumb penalties like diving over the ruck or anything that was out of the norm. We got caught for not releasing the ball and those sort of things went against us – everyday things.
We tightened up our act in the second half or whether Jonathan (Kaplan) fell in love with us I’m not sure but following the first eight, I think we only gave away another three in the game – two of those were scrum penalties.
Either he thought we weren’t doing too many things wrong and he got it wrong in the first place or we cleaned up our act.