Ireland vs. Wales: Five Keys to Irish Victory
Tomorrow afternoon Wales host Ireland at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff in the opening game of the 2013 Six Nations.
In a match that will likely define both their seasons, neither side can afford to lose. Throw in the recent history between the two and you have some compelling storylines.
Ireland will be hoping to break a three-loss streak to the Welsh, while Wales are seeking to avoid their worst run of defeats in the Gatland/Edwards era.
Ireland have revenge on their minds as their last two Six Nations defeats to Wales were decided by bad refereeing decisions.
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Rob Howley has said that he picked the best team available and that his selection has not been dictated by the team picked by Declan Kidney. If you believe that, you'll believe anything.
Aaron Shingler is a good footballer—not a patch on Justin Tipuric, however—but what he is, is an excellent option at the tail of the line-out.
Wales have a string of injuries in the second row, a unit that has had its share of troubles in recent years, and Ireland have picked a pack with four accomplished line-out operators.
Wales have avoided kicking to touch against Ireland in recent years, favouring kicking deep into Irish territory and forcing the Irish back three to play out from the back.
Ireland need to assert early dominance out of touch, attacking the Welsh ball at every available opportunity and securing clean possession on our own ball.
Rory Best had a shocker in Castre recently so hopefully two weeks in camp have ironed out any issues.
To ensure we get lots of opportunities out of touch, the Ireland back row need to pressure the Welsh kickers and force them to kick to touch.
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If Wales do as expected and kick the ball long in behind the Irish back three, the Irish outside backs need to be intelligent in how they deal with said ball.
In Craig Gilroy, Simon Zebo and Rob Kearney they have three great counter attackers, with Zebo and Kearney also possessing great kicking games.
Ireland need to keep the Welsh chasers honest but also need to chose the right moments to counter.
With two kickers back there they can take their time, spread the ball waiting for holes to appear, and if they don't, then send the ball back to Welsh territory.
This will have the twin effect of tiring out the Welsh forwards by making them chase every kick in fear of the counter and create doubt in the mind of said chasers.
The question is, do the inexperienced duo have the patience to take their time, and will the heat of battle pressure them into bad decisions?
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In Brian O'Driscoll, Ireland have one of the best defensive centres in the game but he has lost a step leaving him susceptible to the outside break.
Wales also have a host of big ball-carriers in their back line that easily dwarf their opposite numbers in almost every position.
Last season, Wales strike runners targeted the smaller Irish defenders with devastating results.
Ireland's best defence will be to stop attacks close to the breakdown and to not allow these behemoths to build up a head of steam.
Wales also send strike runners from different angles causing confusion in defence. Gilroy and Zebo will need to track Alex Cuthbert and George North off their wings and meet them as soon as they hit the Irish line.
Conor Murray will be tasked with controlling Mike Phillips around the ruck to free up the Irish back row to help out across the back line.
Anthony Foley is new to the role of Irish defence coach and how successful he has been for implementing his ideas could be the winning and losing of this tie.
Gain Momentum in Close Quarters
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The way they did this was through the age old tactic of hitting the man low and early and not allowing them to build momentum.
This forced the Irish backs to play off slow ball and on the back foot. It was both incredibly simple and effective at the same time. Underage coaches everywhere must've shown that game to their charges ad nauseam. I know I did.
For Ireland's part they got sucked into the hype and were too easy to read. The ball-carriers were telegraphed and easy to target.
Ireland will need to be more intelligent at the point of attack to break the gain line close to the breakdown. Conor Murray will need to break with a man inside and out, giving the Irish four options and making it more difficult to defend.
Then the Welsh will need to watch for Murray carrying himself, the inside pass, a pop outside to a forward runner and the pass outside to the backs.
Variety will be the key to Ireland gaining go forward ball and there are enough runners in the Irish pack to make this an effective means of attack.
Attack the Gainline out Wide
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A simple comparison of the Irish and Welsh back lines will tell you one thing straight off the bat: Ireland will not win by going through the Welsh. They need to go around them.
The Welsh boast a blitz defence that is among the finest in the game, but as with any blitz defence, it has holes.
In Jonny Sexton Ireland have a fly-half capable of exploiting those holes if he takes the ball flat and at pace.
In recent years at Leinster he has exploited by both the inside pass to a flying winger, and the outside loop of the centre with great success.
Jamie Roberts tends to push ahead of his fly-half in defence leaving space for a winger to attack with a clever inside pass.
But does Sexton have the chemistry with Zebo and Gilroy to deliver the telling pass? Only time will tell.
The other option is the outside loop which takes out two defenders and gives Ireland an extra man on the outside.
Australia exploited this space out wide, though with a simple skip pass, to rob Wales of victory in the final seconds of there November test.
If Ireland can get Sexton go-forward ball close in he has the ability to make the most of the space offered by the blitz defence.