The Guinness Six Nations tournament enters a bye week this weekend. With it, a chance for teams to reflect and look to improve ahead of the next fixture block.
Ireland enter the third round of games in a positive mindset but also a realization that the England challenge in two weeks will be ferocious and formidable.
The memories of that 50+ point mauling to England at Twickenham prior to the RWC 2019 still fresh in the minds. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the fixtures past and future. Will Andy Farrell freshen the side up?
Gradual Progression. It sums up Ireland’s performances to date perfectly. The Scottish performance was highlighted for lack of cohesion with a number of starters facing down the barrel ahead of the Welsh fixture.
An opening tournament fixture is always going to have synchronization issues and the encounter with the determined Scots was no different. The pack struggled for scrum dominance and the breakdown was very messy to the point that the hope for quick ruck ball was done after the third quarter.
The Welsh challenge sharpened and focused minds in the Ireland camp. The Welsh side coming in on the back of a resounding 42-0 win over Italy in round one.
Given the weather conditions in the Aviva Stadium, I thought this was a compelling test match. Both sides have zero fear of the other and their decision to attempt to play through the hands must be applauded. It would have been very easy for a long drawn out kicking game to ensue but both sides look to create with ball in hand.
There was a sharpness around the ruck area for Ireland not seen in several fixtures. Murray’s passing variation more prominent as ruck ball was delivered to Sexton and his three quarters with increasing speed and accuracy.
The breakdown work of Ireland from the van der Flier, O’Mahony and Stander was superb given the opposition unit on duty and attacking opportunities started to emerge.
The back three for Ireland looked sharped and bright with ball in hand. Stockdale had several attacking cameos down the touchline, such a quality ball carrier and gains meters easily.
Conway’s cameo were so effective, his aerial ability creating Ireland attacking options deep in the Welsh half and his ability with ball in hand seen on several occasions culminating in the bonus point try.
Larmour with ball in hand was sensational, always looking to take the game to Wales and his opening try saw his strength and composure to touch down despite several Welsh players for company.
It was such a refreshing performance. Players look for support runners to offload to. Quick and urgency on all over the park. Yes, Ireland did ride their luck with the Parkes disallowed try but the sub bench impact came to the fore in the last quarter.
Dave Kilcoyne stepped up to the mark with several excellent ball carries and his scrummaging winning a decisive penalty under Ireland’s posts. Keith Earls was majestic in his cameo, defensively organized and then you had that sensational pass out the line despite under immense Welsh pressure.
There are areas to focus on for Ireland. The pack discipline at times was inconsistent. The scrum platform which is usually an asset in the early exchanges did not materialize again in round two. Cian Healy struggled in the scrum and when you consider the Kilcoyne impact off the bench, is this an area where Farrell looks to freshen up?
The penalty count at times in the opening two fixtures of the tournament is a discussion point. Some soft penalty concessions creating easy field position for opponents.
The usual coach killers in there; not rolling away, high tackles, scrum infringements. An opportunity to review and look to correct ahead of England who will be punish Ireland if given any decent field position.
The line out has been solid. No more no less. Will Farrell look to freshen up the second-row partnership? Henderson has gone through massive work load in the opening rounds. Does Toner come into the picture as the tournament progresses further? A great asset to come off the bench and control the line out.
The scrum-half debate will have subsided somewhat after Murray’s performance against Wales but there is a role for John Cooney in the coming rounds. England test match may require Cooney’s involvement to create around the fringes. The Italian fixture should see more game time for the Ulster Rugby player.
The thirteen jersey is an area where injuries / HIA will prompt discussion on who starts. Henshaw played really well at the weekend. His footballing skill set coupled with his explosive ball carrying had Sam Tompkins in trouble. HIA withdrawal was unfortunate but if Henshaw is good for selection, he will start against England.
It is an encouraging start for Ireland in the tournament. Andy Farrell has had a good solid start to his head coach tenure. Two wins from two and if Ireland can deliver an effective game management performance in two weeks, a Triple Crown honor is secured. Triple Crown may not set the world alight, but it will create further momentum and optimism in the Ireland camp.
The support base is galvanized. Matt Williams may harp on about minimum performance requirements, but this Irish team are again going in the right direction. Winning test matches is a good habit and the bonus that the side have not hit full form yet is even better. Roll on Twickenham!