Talking to a key member of the Ireland set-up last week about how to stop Quade Cooper, and he suggested that the approach might be to put pressure on the points around him rather than on the man himself. And what happens? Out come the Crusaders in today’s Super 15 final and give us a salutary lesson in how to play Cooper and the Wallabies in our pivotal pool game in September.
This was a great game with a frantic finish –Queensland were none too clinical in their attempts to close out the contest – and the added bonus for Ireland was that we got another look at how referee Bryce Lawrence operates.
He will be in charge of that World Cup game in Auckland, and from first to last he opened the door to a full-on contest at the breakdown. The Crusaders took full advantage and climbed into the Reds, making life very tough for Will Genia which in turn limited the opportunities for Cooper outside him.
The game swung on a non-controversial decision by Lawrence. With the match tied 13-13 and 12 minutes left the ref played advantage to the Reds rather than giving them a scrum – a phase where they had been horsed out of it by the Crusaders from the start. Had he blown for the scum – there wasn’t an immediate advantage apparent – who knows what would have happened. Instead he let it run and Genia produced a stunning solo try from more than 60 metres.
So, the lessons forIreland?
1: At the breakdown concentrate on driving through the gate and over the top of the ball rather than challenging only with your hands. That way if you get dumped on your rear end you clog the space and spoil possession for the opposition. It’s easier said than done, and the body positions of the Crusaders were tremendous.
2: Defend in pairs at the breakdown when the Wallabies are in pick and jam mode. There was a classic example of this in the second half when the Crusaders forced a turnover against Saia Faingaa with the Reds five metres out and looking to push on after Digby Ioane’s try. Within 60 seconds another big effort at the breakdown won the Kiwis a penalty which Dan Carter nailed from 40 metres to tie the game.
3: Chase your kicks like your lives depend on it. The Wallabies’ back three against us may well comprise Kurtley Beale, Rod Davies and Ioane. All three are lethal runners and if you give them space to counter you may fold your tent.
You could say that the above three apply in any game, but if you’re trying to deprive key men like Genia and Cooper of getting into a rhythm, then it becomes all important. Especially the battle of the breakdown.
In truth I never have confidence in Ireland teams against the Wallabies because our record against them is so awful. Starting with the heroic defeat in the 1991 World Cup game in Lansdowne Road, we’ve played them 17 times. And won twice. Yet we have to get past Australia in Auckland if we are to have a chance of at last making a positive impression at a World Cup. It’s not beyond us. And the Crusaders have painted the picture. Do we appreciate this kind of art?