Where exactly are Ireland?
That’s the question on Irish supporters’ lips this summer as the 2019 World Cup in Japan draws ever nearer.
Ireland’s opening pool game against Scotland on September 22 is now less than eight weeks away but it’s difficult to predict the type of performance which will be produced at the Yokahama Stadium.
A superb 2018 which yielded a Grand Slam, a series win in Australia and a historic win over the All Blacks was followed by a disappointing third-place finish in the 2019 Six Nations.
That campaign included disappointing losses to England and Wales in addition to unconvincing wins over Scotland and Italy.
The performances have dampened expectations which were originally sky high at the end of 2018.
“They (expectations) are not massive,” former Ireland international Shane Horgan said at Energia’s new rugby campaign launch.
“That’s just me, that’s not saying they can’t deliver but my expectations aren’t that high because it’s tricky. Scotland are tricky and the group is tricky. South Africa are really good, New Zealand are good. They’re not like New Zealand in years gone by but they’re still probably favourites.
“We don’t have a history of running through a tournament and getting to a semi-final and final. So, my expectations are my expectations. Are they capable of doing more? Definitely. Are they capable of winning it? If you asked me a year ago or nine months ago, you’d think, ‘Christ, yeah they could, there’s a real path here, South Africa don’t look too strong, New Zealand, we’ve beaten them’. Wales, England, France are not much and you’re thinking, ‘this is open’. Things have narrowed a little bit in the last while, the New Zealand result looks a bit more isolated.”
Some faults in the Irish game became evident throughout the Six Nations. Ireland’s attacking tactic of going through multiple phases with the ball in hand in order to eventually produce gaps in the opposition was targeted.
"We have a lot of good footballers that can put in kicks. We just need them to be told to go do it, or be allowed to do it."@EnergiaEnergy ambassador Shane Horgan speaks about Ireland's kicking game and the influence Jack Carty can have. #PositiveEnergy pic.twitter.com/wRHvaaz7kw
— Pundit Arena (@PunditArena) July 30, 2019
Teams, most notably England and Wales, loaded their defensive lines and produced incredibly quick line speed to negate any momentum which Ireland looked to build by going through multiple phases.
Horgan believes Ireland need to add more kicking into their attacking game in order to exploit space left in the backfield.
“I don’t have an issue with the way we exit but it’s the next third (of the pitch) which is my big thing. We spend so much time putting ourselves in a worse position. We could have a setpiece and I don’t think we are as incisive off setpieces as we were. Sometimes they’re almost doing a set-up play and then we get into a position where England have no one in the ruck, they’re up off the ground after two seconds with a full line there.
“What do you do? How do you break that down? It’s very hard. Getting yourself into a better position and a better position – I don’t think that happens by playing more phases, I think we’re getting into worse positions. There’s nothing wrong with playing the ball down into the opposition (half) or bouncing the ball out because generally, they kick back to you, you get the ball back and you’re in a better position.
“I’ve been frustrated with how we overplay in the middle third. It can be used as a big momentum changer. In the game (England) and the Wales game, their defensive line was the story of the game really.”
Ireland’s first warm-up game is against Italy on August 10 and it will be interesting to see if Joe Schmidt will implement any changes to the attacking structures.
Energia revealed its new rugby communications campaign The Power Behind Positive Energy with the help of Energia ambassadors and Irish Rugby legends Ronan O’Gara and Shane Horgan. The leading energy supplier recently announced its sponsorship as Official Energy Partner of Irish Rugby as well as title sponsorship of the Energia All-Ireland Leagues and fans can look forward to seeing the new campaign in August.