Tag Archives: Paddy Wallace

Miserable End to Ireland’s Season (Part 1)

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Ireland’s season ended in the worst possible way on Saturday, a 60-0 annihilation by the All Blacks. The narrow loss in the 2nd test had given us all hope of another strong performance, but Ireland turned in their worst display in recent memory. While the All Blacks were at their excellent best, Ireland were at their unacceptable worst. Regardless of injuries to Ferris, O’Connell and Bowe, and the oft-repeated excuse of a long, arduous season, Ireland should never lose a game by 60 points.

One of the most frustrating aspects of this loss was that Ireland suffered from the same weaknesses that affected them in the 1st test, and throughout the rest of the season. The passive nature of the defence was the prime example. Ireland have shown that an aggressive, proactive defensive system suits them far more. The 2nd test in Christchurch, as well as the 17-17 draw with France in this year’s Six Nations showed that Ireland are far harder to break down when get up hard off the defensive line. On Saturday, this failed to happen and the All Blacks ran riot.

The first of the All Blacks tries came about after something of a lucky bounce after Aaron Smith kicked through. The hosts went through several phases, keeping their attacking shape superbly, particularly as they went left-to-right. Conrad Smith then made a big surge and Ireland were caught numbers down on the right-hand side. Pause the video above on 9:17 and you’ll see Paddy Wallace has recognised that the All Blacks essentially have a 4 v 3 and is signaling for help. Aaron Smith’s usual quick service allows Sonny Bill Williams to use his footwork and then Cruden gets the offload away for Cane to score.

All Blacks vs. Ireland

(c) Geof Wilson.

The try reminded me of the first score we conceded against Wales in the Six Nations this year. We were caught numbers down in a narrow channel close to the touchline, but in both cases, Ireland’s defence could have been more aggressive. Obviously, it’s preferable never to be outnumbered, but it will happen and there must be a strong reaction, especially the close to the try-line. SBW’s little bit of footwork made Wallace and Earls momentarily sit back on their heels, when they, and Kev McLaughlin outside them, needed to be far more decisive (Watch from 8:05 for the entire passage of play).

The second All Blacks try came directly from 1st phase ball off a scrum, something of a rarity in international rugby. I don’t want to take anything away from Cruden’s magical offload, but again Ireland’s passivity was central. The All Blacks were playing off a scrum going forward, but still Ireland’s defence just wasn’t good enough. As soon as an outhalf attacks the gain line like Cruden did, the defence needs to step up and close down the space around him. Cruden was never going to be able to throw a long pass in that situation so it’s time to bite in and hit someone.

All thoughts of drifting across the pitch should have left the Sexton, Wallace and O’Driscoll’s minds. They should be looking instead to get up off the defensive line  and smash Cruden. But pause the video at 15.30 and you’ll see Sexton planted on his heels and Wallace actually taking steps backwards. Yes, the scrum went forward, giving the All Blacks a big advantage but these are still elementary errors. Fergus McFadden is completely ineffectual sweeping across behind the ‘D’. He doesn’t even lay a hand on SBW as he bursts through. Again, a lack of intent in defence. (Watch from 14:53).

All Blacks vs. Ireland

Ireland’s defensive line speed simply wasn’t quick enough. (c) Geof Wilson.

SBW’s second score, just 7 minutes later, was perhaps the weakest of the 9 Ireland conceded. Again, it was an effective All Blacks attack, with quickly recycled ball and lots of momentum. But to be cut apart by a simple switch that close to the tryline is poor. Unfortunately, Paddy Wallace was involved again. Between himself and Dan Tuohy, Williams simply had to brought down, especially as the bodies were in the right positions defensively. The line speed was again slow and Cruden had plenty of time to skip and burst on a wide angle, setting Williams up. (Watch from 20:45).

After the 1st test, I wrote that Ireland needed to cut out the unforced errors, highlighting how each of the All Blacks’ 5 tries that day stemmed from Irish mistakes. Well, try 4 was horribly similar to some of the tries we conceded in the 1st test. Seconds after throwing a pass straight into touch, Brian O’Driscoll dropped a switch pass from Wallace on the All Blacks’ 22, and the most clinical team in the world punished Ireland to the full extent. It was shocking inaccuracy to botch a simple switch, and summed up Ireland’s lack of accuracy and directness in attack.

That 4th try, from Ben Smith, came in the 23rd minute, and Ireland didn’t concede another until the 43rd. So what happened in between? Ireland actually enjoyed plenty of possession during this period, but failed to make it count. The Irish attack was blunt to say the least, with just 1 clean line-break in the entire 80 minutes, from lock Donnacha Ryan. The main attacking play Ireland looked to use was a simple screen, putting the pass behind a decoy runner, to a deeper lying player running on a wide angle.

All Blacks vs. Ireland

(c) Geof Wilson.

With the All Blacks’ defensive line speed very quick, it simply didn’t work for Ireland. The lack of accuracy even extended to simple plays like this. Check out 30:20 for one example of the move, with Ireland actually conceding a penalty because of their poor timing. In general, the New Zealanders were hard up off the line. Ireland needed to be far more direct, as they were in the 2nd test, when our main carriers got on the ball and ran hard, from depth. Even if we insisted on running these screens, the ‘decoy’ player needed to be hit a few times to really question the All Blacks defence.

To come away from that extended period of possession scoreless pretty much condemned Ireland to a heavy defeat. Over the 80 minutes, Ireland actually had slightly more possession than the All Blacks, around 56%. To be beaten 60-0 in that situation is hard to understand and accept. Ireland’s attack rarely looks built to break down the particular opponent it faces. How often do we see an attacking tactic that picks out an opposition weakness? Very rarely. With Less Kiss in charge of both defence and attack, he is simply too stretched, and both aspects of Ireland’s game are suffering. Ireland’s need for a top-quality, innovative attack coach is now glaringly obvious.

Look out for part 2 of this analysis, where I’ll look closely at the 5 tries Ireland conceded in the 2nd half and see what lessons can be learned from them. As always, any comments would be greatly appreciated, so please add one below!

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Photos courtesy: Geof Wilson.

Prime Opportunity For Cave

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Cave (2nd from top) in action during Ulster's quarter-final win over Munster. (c) Sean Mulligan.

In the first ever post here on The Touchline all the way back in November of last year, I suggested Darren Cave as a potential replacement for the then-injured Brian O’Driscoll. Cave’s pre-Six Nations form this season demonstrated that the 25-year-old has the ability to eventually do so. Unfortunately, a foot injury sustained in January prevented any possible international inclusion. Saturday’s Heineken Cup semi-final against Edinburgh presents a prime chance for Cave to put himself back in contention.

The Holywood man is back in action now and has played the full 80 minutes of Ulster’s last three games, including the quarter-final win over Munster. Like the rest of Ulster’s backline, he had a quiet game in terms of attack as Munster dominated possession that day. In defence he was as solid as ever, making all 12 of his tackles. It’s very rare to see Cave miss a hit. His defensive positioning at outside centre, an extremely difficult channel to defend in, is always good.

Some Irish fans will have reservations about Cave due to the fact that he is often unglamorous in attack. While Keith Earls, and Brian O’Driscoll is his pomp, can create line breaks from seemingly nothing, Cave is a more direct runner. For Ulster, Paddy Wallace at 12 gets the best from Cave with his creative skills. Wallace’s subtle ability to feed ball-carriers running smart lines is greatly underrated. If Cave is to excel against Edinburgh, Wallace’s fitness will be crucial and thankfully it now looks likely that he will play.

THOMOND PARK

Cave (background) is at his best when Wallace (headband) plays inside him. (c) Liam Coughlan.

At 6’0″ and close to 100kg, Cave is ideally built for his position. He may lack the top-end pace of a world-class 13 but he is very powerful in the contact area. Look back to Ulster’s mauling of Leicester in January, perhaps their most complete performance of the season so far. Cave only carried 5 times that day, but made 25 metres gain in total, beating 2 defenders and creating a clean line-break.

That’s a typical Cave stat sheet. He’ll rarely beat a defence with a lightning fast side-step, but he will repeatedly punch holes. His support play is also a real strength (as illustrated below). I’m not suggesting that Cave is anywhere near his level, but a decent comparison would be with New Zealand’s Conrad Smith. The Hurricanes captain is not particularly flash, but his defensive game is world-class. In attack, he rarely beats someone with jaw-dropping footwork and pace, but his contributions are vital. Quietly and superbly efficient.

Edinburgh’s likely centre partnership on Saturday is Scotland internationals Matt Scott and Nick de Luca. Cave and Wallace should be confident of giving Ulster a clear advantage in midfield. 28-year-old De Luca has 33 caps for his country but has largely failed to excel. He seems to carry a reputation as a creative influence, but the outside centre has never shown consistent evidence of it at the top level. At PRO12 level, he’s a decent provider for Tim Visser.

Inside him, Scott is still only 21. He made his Scotland debut off the bench against Ireland in this year’s Six Nations, looking fairly nervous as he over-ran a couple of promising offloads. On the four occasions De Luca and Scott have played together in the Heineken Cup this season, they have only manufactured a single line-break between them. Their threat is minimal compared to what, for example, Leinster face in the other Heineken Cup semi-final. Cave should be confident of shutting them down.

One argument that might be created against Cave’s inclusion at international level is that he has never bossed a top-level game. His confidence has grown this year; his performance in that mauling of the Tigers being one example. Now that Ulster have returned to the business end of the Heineken Cup, it’s time for Cave to dominate a game. Saturday is a perfect opportunity for him to do so.

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Photos courtesy: Liam Coughlan, Sean Mulligan.

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Sexton contributed 11 points to Leinster's win over Ulster. (c) Ken Bohane.

Ulster 8-16 Leinster

Fri 20th April @ Ravenhill

Ulster’s play-off hopes look to be almost certainly over after losing to a powerful Leinster side in Ravenhill on Friday night. While the northern province could still mathematically claim 4th spot with an unlikely bonus point victory over Munster in two weeks’ time, a win the same weekend for either the Warriors or the Scarlets would deny Ulster. Even more worrying was the sight of Pedrie Wannenburg, Chris Henry and Paddy Wallace all leaving the pitch injured during Friday night’s loss.

Henry and Wannenburg’s withdrawals looked to be precautionary, but Wallace looked dazed, if not concussed, leaving the field. Fingers will be crossed across the country that those three recover for next Saturday’s Heineken Cup semi-final against Edinburgh. Meanwhile, Leinster were impressive without ever cutting loose. Kevin McLaughlin crashed over after some poor Ulster defence and Jonny Sexton added 11 points, including a smart drop goal. This win confirms top spot for Leinster with a game away to the Dragons remaining.

Here’s the highlights from Ravenhill:

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Connacht 19-16 Aironi 

Sat 21st April @ The Sportsground

Unfortunately, this game was not televised but it sounded like there was great excitement at the Sportsground. This win makes it 3-in-a-row in the PRO12 for Connacht, their best league run since 2004. Aironi, in their last ever away fixture, raced into a 16-3 half-time lead but Connacht gradually hauled themselves back with Rodney Ah You’s 74th-minute try, converted by Miah Nikora, leveling the game. The stage was set for replacement fullback Matt Jarvis to make himself the hero with a long-distance penalty, the final act of the game.

In case you missed it, I wrote a piece on Friday about the progress being made at Connacht. Check it out here. Next weekend, they travel to the Warriors, for whom a win would secure play-off status. A victory for Connacht would see them equal their record for most league wins in a season, set at 8 in 2004. If they were to deny the Warriors a losing bonus point, it would give Ulster a slim, slim chance of sneaking into the play-offs.

Here’s a video of Jarvis’ winning kick. Great scenes of celebration:

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Scarlets 20-20 Munster

Sat 21st April @ Parc y Scarlets

At the end, Munster were clinging on as the Scarlets launched a desperate effort to find a winning score. A draw was a fair result after a game in which neither side managed to take control. The hosts opened the scoring through Sean Lamont’s superb team try but Munster responded swiftly, with Donnacha Ryan strolling through Rhys Preistland’s uninterested tackle to touch down. Simon Zebo was next over after taking Keatley’s intelligent inside pass and using his pace to finish.

Aaron Shingler’s second half score put the Scarlets right back in it, and Priestland’s 70th-minute penalty drew them level. The Scarlets looked the more likely winners in a wildly open last 5 minutes but the visitors held on. The draw means that Munster can’t overtake the 2nd-placed Ospreys for a home play-off. They are now guaranteed an away semi-final though, most likely against the Ospreys. Munster finish the regular season with the chance for revenge over Ulster in two weekend’s time.

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Here’s a look at the PRO12 table with just one round of fixtures left before the play-offs:

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Photos courtesy: 

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Felix Jones tackles Luke Fitzgerald during Munster's 18-9 loss to Leinster. (c) Linda Molloy.

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Ulster 45-7 Aironi

Fri 30th March @ Ravenhill

Ulster kept themselves in the thick of the PRO12 play-off battle with a comfortable bonus point win over Aironi on Friday night. The tries came from Paddy Wallace, Rory Best, Darren Cave, Tom Court and Pedrie Wannenburg, as well as a penalty try. Ruan Pienaar added 11 points from the tee. Ulster’s league position in unaffected as the Warriors claimed a bonus point win of their own over the Blues. However, the points gap is looking increasingly favourable for Ulster.

Here’s all six Ulster tries:

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Dragons 19-27 Connacht

Fri 30th March @ Rodney Parade

Connacht secured their 5th PRO12 win of the season thanks to two tries from Tongan international wing Fetu’u Vainikolo, as well as 17 points from outhalf Miah Nikora. The Dragons staged a late revival, resulting in Toby Faletau dotting down with 7 minutes left, but it was too little too late as Connacht held firm despite yellow cards for Ronan Loughney and Eoghan Grace. Connacht remain in 10th after this morale-boosting win. Eric Elwood’s side have next weekend to rest up before Ulster visit Galway on the 14th.

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Munster 9-18 Leinster

Sat 31st March @ Thomond Park

Saturday night’s game failed to match the levels we have come to expect from this fixture. A fairly poor match by any standards, with no tries served up. A lovely Ian Madigan drop goal was the highlight in terms of scoring as incessant problems at scrum time slowed the proceedings down. Still, Leinster will be delighted to have re-opened a 10 point gap at the top of the table. Munster drop to 3rd, level on points with the Warriors and just one ahead of Ulster. The final three fixtures of this PRO12 season will be fascinating.

Here’s the highlights from the game:

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The latest PRO12 table:

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Photo courtesy: Linda Molloy.

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Leinster 22-23 Ospreys

Fri 23rd March @ The RDS

Drico played 58 minutes for Leinster. (c) Jack Arigho.

Leinster’s incredible 20-game unbeaten run finally came to an end on Friday night at the RDS. Ospreys hooker Richard Hibbard bounced over for a 76th-minute try and Dan Biggar showed big cojones to win the game for the Welsh region with the conversion. An opportunistic try from Ian Madigan and 17 points from Fergus McFadden’s boot had seemingly put Leinster on course for yet another win.

Tries from George Stowers and then Hibbard’s late effort, along with a total of 13 points off Biggar’s tee did the damage for the Ospreys, who solidified their position of 3rd in the league. More positively for Leinster, the returning Brian O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen as well as debutant Brad Thorn all came through unscathed. Joe Schmidt’s side remain top of the league, 8 points ahead of Munster. Next Saturday will see the rivals battle it out at Thomond Park.

The full Leinster vs. Ospreys game is available on the RTE Player. Here’s the highlights:

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Treviso 23-27 Ulster

Sat 24th March @ Stadio di Monigo

Ulster won in dramatic circumstances on Saturday as substitute Ian Whitten crossed for a try in the last minute. Alberto di Bernardo’s 69th-minute score, converted by Kris Burton, looked to have secured a win for Treviso with a 23-13 lead. But Paddy Wallace immediately replied with a try of his own for Ulster, converted by Ruan Pienaar, and that set the scene for Whitten’s late intervention.

Chris Henry scored Ulster’s other try in the first half, with Pienaar contributing 12 points overall. A loss for Ulster would have seriously dented their play-off ambitions but this win keeps them 5th, just a single point behind the Warriors. Brian McLaughlin’s men return to Ravenhill on Friday to host bottom side Aironi. The target there has to be a bonus point win.

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Connacht 16-20 Munster

Sat 24th March @ The Sportsground

Connacht were narrow losers yet again on Saturday night. (c) Olly Griffin.

Eric Elwood will have been livid to see his side once again lose from a winning position on Saturday night in Galway. Mia Nikora’s penalty after 65 mins put Connacht into 16-13 lead but Munster hit back swiftly when Tommy O’Donnell finished powerfully after a Tomas O’Leary break. Ian Keatley’s conversion was the final score of the game as Connacht failed to find a winning score.

Hooker Ethienne Reynecke scored Connacht’s only try in the first half, with Nikora adding the province’s other 11 points. Simon Zebo got on the scoresheet for Munster, finishing off a good team effort which featured a beautiful Denis Hurley offload. Keatley converted both tries as well as knocking over two penalties. Neither side’s league position is affected by this result. Next up, Connacht travel to the Dragons on Friday while Munster host Leinster on Saturday.

Catch the full Connacht vs. Munster game on the TG4 player (click ‘Sport’ then ‘Rugbai Beo’).

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The latest PRO12 table:

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Photos courtesy:  Olly Griffin, Jack Arigho.