Ireland’s ability to grind out wins is a crucial takeaway from this month’s Autumn Nations Series according to Bernard Jackman and Mick Kearney.
Andy Farrell’s side capped off an excellent year with to 13-10 wins against Australia last Saturday, their ninth victory from 11 games in the calendar year, and continuing a run of 12 home victories in a row.
And although they struggled at times to get their attacking game working, particularly against South Africa and Australia, their defense was hugely impressive, conceding a combined three tries and just 26 points across those two games.
In particular, Ireland’s defense excelled last week against the Wallabies, limiting Dave Rennie’s side to just 10 points, despite Australia having more than eight minutes of possession in the Irish 22.
And Jackman says defense coach Simon Easterby deserves huge credit for him he organized that side of the team.
“Simon Easterby and his section have had a very positive November,” Jackman told the RTÉ Rugby podcast.
“While all the plaudits have been going to attack and lineout detail with Paul O’Connell and Mike Catt, this November has been Simon Easterby’s time to shine.
“The Wallabies have got powerful athletes, footwork, they’ve got a very intricate attacking system that Scott Wisemantel implemented, and it’s dangerous.
“We never panicked, our discipline was very strong, our tackle technique and selection was excellent, our spacing, everything about our defense was excellent.
“They had a massive focus all week on the attacking breakdown because they respected Ireland – in terms of stats they’ve the third most turnovers with O’Mahony and Beirne the biggest threats – and they dealt with that really well. The Aussies were wary of how dangerous Ireland were there.”
And the former Grenoble and Dragons coach says it’s encouraging to see that Ireland can be adaptable to grind out wins when they aren’t at their best.
“It gives us massive confidence because we need to be able to win in different ways.
“If we don’t have a hugely dominant scrum or maul, and they can stop our attack, we need to defend, and I think the lads will have got massive faith in that and assurance that we can stop teams when we lose the possession battle.”
Both the Wallabies and Springboks frustrated Ireland’s attacking game, slowing down their possession at the ruck, and limiting their ability to get the ball to the edge of the defensive rush.
And while Ireland created far fewer clearcut tryscoring opportunities in those games, Kearney says it’s encouraging to see how efficient they were when they did get into a scoring position.
“I thought they were incredibly clinical,” the former Leinster, Connacht and Ulster lock said.
“A lot of the work they were doing into the seam in the lineout, they had done their homework, like bringing Doris into the seam, having Dan Sheehan coming into that space at the back of the lineout.
“When a team is going as heavy at the breakdown defensively, as Australia and South Africa were, it makes it an unbelievably difficult game. Getting out of your flow in key positions, it can completely stifle attack.
“Trying to get that momentum again is very, very difficult. You need a big carry from someone, someone to get a half-yard through the defensive line, but if you’re playing against big bodies it’s a very tough thing to do.
“When Ireland got into the redzone in those games, they converted, and they’s a really positive sign going forward. They need to execute getting into those areas.”
Watch Leinster v Glasgow Warriors (Saturday, 3.15pm) live on RTÉ1 and RTÉ Player, or listen commentary on Saturday Sport on RTÉ Radio 1.
Listen to live commentary of Munster v Connacht (Saturday, 7.35pm) on RTÉ Radio 1 Extra.