Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Let's see Irish go on the attack

Rory Best

The majority of the hard work has been done, but clearly next Sunday is pivotal to Ireland's chances in this World Cup. It is crunch time, and surely Declan Kidney's men will not be denied.

I must confess, the more I think about the potential consequences of that historic victory over Australia, the more excited I am becoming about what might be possible.

There is no doubt in my mind that, with the current knockout draw, a World Cup final is within reach of this group of players.

Am I looking too far ahead? Yes, of course I am, but supporters are allowed those sorts of indulgences and crystal-ball gazing. Players, however, have to be far more rational and take one day and one match at a time.

Have no doubts, Italy are here with every intention of spoiling the party. As soon as the World Cup groups were announced, Nick Mallett will have been in full plotting mode - is his 'Alamo'.

In the same way that Ireland knew that their key match was Australia, Italy have targeted this fixture since the respective Pools and scheduling was announced. It is a great way to finish the Group stages.

So, how can Italy spoil the party?

Well, I am convinced that for Italy to get a shock win, it would be more about Ireland beating themselves rather than an incredible Italian performance.

Not that the Italians will lack attitude or commitment - heart will ensure that this will probably be Ireland's most physical eighty minutes so far.

Why? Because the Italians have to be incredibly aggressive as they have less potent weapons in their backline to really hurt a side.

Despite the two tries conceded to Russia, Ireland's defence has been in excellent shape.

The players work hard for each other, the defensive structures have been in place for quite a number of years, and in Brian O'Driscoll, you still have arguably the best drift defender in world rugby.

Therefore, unless the Irish pack wilts in a manner which will surprise everyone, Ireland's defence should be able to withstand and repel Italy's attack.

Nick Mallett's perennial problem has been how to replace Italy's halfback combination of Alessandro Troncon and Diego Dominguez, and to find threequarters who can unlock a defence. Rarely have we seen their backs beat their opposite men one-on-one.

Defence coach, Les Kiss, said recently that Ireland have a lot more to their defence than just the so-called and much discussed 'choke tackle'.

That may well be true, but I would like to hear a lot more noise about Ireland's ability to attack. Despite the flattering nine tries against Russia, the one area which is not functioning is the ability to score tries against the top tier teams.

Where have strike moves from scrums and lineouts gone to? One advantage of these is that you know where the opposition is from the set-piece, particularly from a scrum where the backrow have to stay bound until the ball is gone.

Even if defences have improved, we need to create more confusion in opposition minds.

I can remember practicing backs moves galore in Ireland sessions. Over a decade ago, one of the best worked a treat against South Africa in an Autumn international at Lansdowne Road.

Two dummy runners attracted defenders up the middle, the ball was flashed across both to the inside centre going wide, as Denis Hickie haired round from his wing to make the extra man.

He created the two-on-one, drew the fullback, and left me with a simple run in (apart from the cramp I suffered in the middle of the 22, which made me look as if I was slowing up and caused heart palpitations about the potential of not actually making it to the line).

It was a thing of beauty, but battering seems to be the only way these days.

An Ireland victory will once again depend on the ability of the Irish pack to dominate the tackle area and breakdown. Stop it at source and the scramble defence will look after the rest. It will not be pretty, but a workmanlike performance is what is needed. Utterly pragmatic and ruthless.

Italy pride themselves on their set-piece but have been hurt by the withdrawal of hooker, Tommaso D'Apice.

Rory Best has been the unsung hero of the team so far - along with Cian Healy and Mike Ross, he despatched the Aussie scrum - I expect him to do the same again.

It will be brutal, pugilistic, and crunching, but a win's a win a win. The players crave this tournament and the adventure should continue for a bit longer.

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