Ireland should now look to the future.
Ireland’s defeat to France means that any realistic hopes Joe Schmidt had of landing a third successive Six Nations Championship have all but evaporated.
Although Irish rugby needs a fillip in the short term, Schmidt should now have one eye on developing both his squad and tactics.
While Schmidt has long been criticised for choosing to select from a small pool of players, he has delivered back to back championships and brought consistency to Ireland’s performances.
Nevertheless, Ireland’s opponents have identified how to close down a strategy that is dependent on applying pressure from hard carries and accurate kicking. This is compounded by the fact that if Ireland’s execution is slightly off, without a plan B, they struggle to offer little other than their long established game plan.
Therefore Schmidt needs to introduce different players who will allow Ireland offer more subtlety in attack.
1. Stuart McCloskey
Stuart McCloskey’s performances for Ulster over the last 18 months have not only warranted his inclusion in the Irish squad, but arguably the starting team.
Not just a Jamie Roberts styled crash merchant in the midfield, McCloskey has illustrated that he also possess soft hands and an eye for a break.
Playing the Ulster player at inside centre will also allow Robbie Henshaw move to 13, a position from which he would have more space to demonstrate his attacking instincts and off loading ability.
2. Paddy Jackson
Coming into the Six Nations, Paddy Jackson was Ireland’s form fly half, but has been forced out of the match day squad due to Ian Madigan’s ability to cover a number of positions.
Despite his form however, few would argue that he should have started ahead of Johnny Sexton against either Wales or France.
However given the fact that Sexton was once more forced off the field of play, the IRFU should force Schmidt’s hand on health and safety grounds.
3. Jared Payne At Full Back
Based on his defensive attributes alone, Rob Kearney is amongst the best full backs in the game, however he offers very little going forward.
Although Simon Zebo was criticised for his performance in the 15 jersey last weekend, he did involve himself in Ireland’s attacking play and provided a threat that is often missing from Ireland’s backfield.
Indeed a full back is best placed to select late attacking lines that can open up defences, something that Jared Payne has consistently done for Ulster.
Strong in defence and good under a high ball, Payne could offer the best of both worlds.
4. Introduce Sean Cronin early in the second half
While the Sean Cronin might not be Ireland’s best hooker out of touch, he is the epitome of an impact sub. Cronin’s pace allied to his bulk, makes him a dangerous ball carrier that is best unleashed against tired defenders.
This is something that Schmidt has to address, given that Ireland have struggled during the closing quarters in both their Six Nations games.
Given that the number of injuries have limited the options available to Schmidt, Cronin is one of the few players who can offer an impact off the bench.
5. Keith Earls
Although both Dave Kearney and Andrew Trimble have each done everything asked of them by Schmidt, they are very similar players who are best utilised applying pressure by chasing box kicks.
However if Ireland struggle to go through or over opponents with a back three comprised of Trimble and the Kearney Brothers, their lack of cutting edge is compounded by the fact that the trio are unlikely to go round teams.
With his pace, Keith Earls provides Ireland with the threat that was lacking against France, and is necessary if Ireland are to score tries in the wider channels.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena