Six Nations
How to stop Ireland's kicking game
Conor O'Shea
March 13, 2015

There are many different ways you can win a game of rugby. You can dominate through your set piece, thwart the opposition through an organised and ferocious defence, or cut them apart with your back division by playing with pace and a counter-attacking verve that sweeps all before it. The best teams have an ability to call on any of these at any one time and their unpredictability can mean you don't know where they will come at you and therefore they are hard to prepare for.

A lot has been said and written about Ireland's methodology for success against England. Effectively what Ireland did was look at what they had in their armoury and decided the best way to counter what England were bringing was to win it through their superior kicking game and aerial skills. That is not to say they didn't play with the ball in hand, they did, but they did it in the right parts of the pitch and by playing the percentages in their own half they negated a massive weapon for England - their defence.

 
I have a feeling that you will see an Irish team play more ball in hand this weekend.
 

If Ireland had a game plan then the first three kicks would have given them the confidence to follow it through. A box kick from Conor Murray to George Ford was won back, the next box kick from Murray on Anthony Watson was spilled by the England winger and then a cross kick from Johnny Sexton on Jack Nowell for Tommy Bowe to chase nearly led to a try. Ireland had a blueprint and it was rubber-stamped from the start.

Now if England knew what was coming and most punters thought Ireland would play that way, why didn't or couldn't England counter it and what will Warren Gatland and Wales have learnt from it?

Wales will be wondering whether or not Ireland bring that template to Cardiff. Ireland may not have a dominant scrum - it will more than hold up against Wales - but they do have a very effective maul. They also have in Bowe, Simon Zebo and Rob Kearney players who are more than capable of lighting up any stage and they have a coach who is not afraid to change gameplans from match to match.

Schmidt could change his plans as people like Sean O'Brien and Cian Healy get stronger with game time and thereby give Ireland the go-forward that any back division need. It will be interesting to see how Wales react on the spot if they expect one Irish side and get another. It is what makes this Irish team a real threat and it is why they have won 10 in a row

Heading back to the question as to how you cope with their aerial threat, firstly personnel help and the young English back three had never been tested like they were in Dublin. They will be better for the experience but it would have given Andy Farrell food for thought.

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One of the weaknesses of the English defensive system is that it leaves space to kick at and players isolated at the back. Alex Goode did really well in Ireland under the ball - bar Henshaw's try - but Mike Brown was a real miss for England. Mentally the Irish kickers know he is one of the best around but also his importance to England is due to the fact he buys time by staying on his feet longer than most at the back; this extra time allows people to get back and support.

As the young back three struggled, England could have run better lines blocking the attacking players, almost shepherding them through their lines of running so they didn't get a straight shot at the catcher; every second counts. England could have also dropped more people back out of their defensive line, leaving more players in the back field, but their defensive line is sacrosanct. Instead the weakness is regarded as something that not only has to be identified by the opposition but also challenged them to use a kicking strategy to exploit it. It was no surprise that when Johnny Sexton went off in Dublin, England got into the game. Just as Mike Brown is big for England, Sexton and Murray are crucial to Ireland.

Wales have got a huge amount more experience of dealing with this threat at the back and in Liam Williams they have someone who is an auxiliary fullback. Ireland also know if they kick badly to George North that could be that and then there is the Cardiff factor. True the Irish players know the Millennium Stadium well but not nearly as well as their Dublin home so they won't be as comfortable kicking.

Kicking is only as good as the person who delivers it and the chase that follows. Get it wrong and it can be your downfall. I have a feeling that you will see an Irish team play more ball in hand this weekend. It should be fascinating.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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