rx serif;”>The Autumn Internationals are a constant source of both excitement and entertainment for all rugby fans. There’s something about the Southern Hemisphere teams; they possess a certain allure to which the Northern Hemisphere rugby fan is not accustomed and have a certain panache that the Home Nations don’t seem to be able to match.
generic serif;”> New Zealand are as ever the headline act and continue to dominate in both forward and backline play. Australia, view with their ludicrously creative counter-attacking style and generally expansive backline, always possess a huge challenge to the Home Nations. Even South Africa, content to bludgeon and suffocate opposition into submission, offer an entertainment factor which will keep the majority of Irish sports fans glued to their television screens on the when the two sides meet this month.
Less pleasing on the eye are the remaining visiting teams. “Blood-curdling’’ is perhaps the most applicable term that could be used to describe the impact the Pacific Island nations of Fiji, Tonga and Samoa have had on the contact zone. Moreover, it would be putting it mildly to say that Ireland v Argentina is never a pleasant affair, regardless of the result. In recent times, only Wales have caused Irish rugby fans as much heartache as the Pumas.
So what of Ireland’s prospects this November? Without being too clichéd, this one is tough to call. While high expectations have been placed on the national team in recent years, there is a degree of uncertainty regarding the capabilities of this particular group of players. We have outstanding individuals, we have collectively five Heineken Cups in 10 years, but we don’t have a game plan. In our provincial teams we see four very distinct styles of play.
Leinster is extremely accurate at the set piece, using their players’ exceptional skill set to get them into advantageous positions. They are then relentless and capable of holding onto the ball for upwards of 10 phases sometimes before scoring. Ulster has developed a game plan based on powerful ball carriers getting over the gain line, sucking in defenders, and then spinning it wide. Munster are in transition to a more expansive style of plan based on the utilisation of space, while Connaught seem to be more focused on using their young and skilful backline to the best of their abilities.
The national team however, doesn’t exactly play with any discernible style or aim. We primarily rely on our back row forwards -and Cian Healy- to break tackles and make yards, however, when this fails, we generally resort to aimless kicking or forcing turnovers on stagnant ball carriers. The absence therefore of our two main ball carriers, Sean O’Brien and Stephen Ferris, is duly noted.
An issue also presents itself as regards the Captaincy of the team. Brian O’Driscoll and Rory Best have both been indefinitely ruled out, while Paul O’Connell has not to date taken part in a full training session with the Irish squad. There is a very real possibility that Ireland could take to the field against the Boks absent of every member of the established core leadership group which has been developed throughout the Declan Kidney era. Were Rob Kearney available he would be an obvious choice to take over the captaincy. Jamie Heaslip is still unbeaten as Leinster captain this season and so he is very much a possible candidate for the position, and has publicly stated an ambition to take it over.
Finally to attacking play. Anthony Foley has been designated the role of defensive coach in order to allow Les Kiss focus all his efforts on attacking play. The modern game internationally has become such that all the top sides has become extremely efficient at the use of decoy runners to create space. To date, however, Irish decoy runners are all too deep and thus don’t ask any questions of serious defences. Against the ultra physical Boks and Pumas, Irish attack play must be based around exploitation of space because the chances of bulldozing our way over any gain line are somewhat improbable.
By Ceithrean Murray