Ex-Munster and Leicester player looks ahead to Ireland's clash with Italy
Week one down and Ireland are behind the 8 ball a bit. It's not something I thought I would be saying. I knew the game was going to be close but as was said last week I didn't think Scotland would come out on top.
Scotland deserves a lot of credit for how they played but also how well they had done their homework. They had a clear tactic at ruck time not to commit numbers to ruck but to target specific rucks later on in Ireland's multi-phase game. They had a lot of joy from rucks 6-9 at disrupting Ireland's ball and turning what is usually a strength in Ireland's game into somewhat of a weakness especially in the first half.
Ireland's CJ Stander tackled by Ryan Wilson of Scotland. Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
In attack they also had a clear plan to go after Ireland in the wider channels. Get some quick ruck ball from a midfield ruck and one pass plays to width to try and exploit Ireland’s fold. Last week I spoke about the danger that Stuart Hogg holds in the wider channels and it was clear for all to see. Scotland just had the edge on Ireland in these areas in the first half. Partly down to how slow Ireland started and played but mainly down to how Scotland implemented their well researched game plan.
The second half preference was a big step up for Ireland and to get themselves back in front after being outplayed for 40 minutes really was a great effort. This for me was the biggest disappointment for the Irish squad. To get themselves back in front and into a winning position and not finish the game out will be the most irritating factor for the players. This is something Ireland are usually so effective at and going into this weekend is something that will be very important.
For Ireland to have a chance of winning the championship they need to get four tries and try to build a score this weekend. Ireland need to start well and plant the seed of doubt in the Italian players early. They need to be clinical and accurate in both their set plays and multi-phase attack.
One of the biggest things for me is Ireland's defensive effort this weekend. Get everything correct that misfired in the first half in Murrayfield. When Italy is attacking they need to get round the corner and get off the line. Build pressure with line speed and get turnovers from it.
Italy's Sergio Parisse with Rhys Webb of Wales. Image: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy
After Italy’s famous win against South Africa, everyone thought that Conor O’Shea had started to work his magic and a real Italian challenge lay waiting for this Six Nations. Last Sunday's game in Rome was a tough watch at times. It was as if the players had left camp in November and forgotten everything O’Shea's coaching team had done with them. They were back to the days of basic errors and indiscipline. I really hope they show signs of improvement this weekend, not just for themselves but also for the competition. I don’t see where an improvement will come from but hopefully it is there.
Even if this is the case, Ireland have too much fire power for them and if they can rectify last weeks short comings, it should be a good day in Rome and five points need to be the minimum outcome. If Wales can do Ireland a favour and halt the chariot that is gaining serious momentum, Ireland will be right back in the shake up for the championship.