This is a must-win game for many reasons, least of all to get the Irish to avoid the wooden spoon. Although everyone knows that rebuilding this side is a long-term project, a home win against Italy – who we’ve beaten 14 times in the last 15 games – is essential to get back on track.
How do you do that? It starts with ball care. The casual losses killed us against France but if you look at the one-sided end result Ireland weren’t as far behind as many believe. Possession was 50-50, with an area of 56-44 in France’s favour.
But the big difference was the sales: we had seven more than France.
Many of these were due to players thinking a few steps ahead. In no sport can you try to force play and there have been a number of dropped balls when players were not under pressure but thinking of how quickly they could get the ball away to start an attack. It backfired and allowed France to gain cheap yards. That resulted in an excellent starting ball from their scrums that sucked players in and allowed them to take advantage of gaps in the Irish line.
That must be different tomorrow. I’d like to see the Irish players treat the ball like a newborn baby – making sure it stays in their hands. You have to win it first and then decide what to do. We also need to keep the pace of the game high. We’re really good when we get a quick ball, move from sideline to sideline, and win the winline. That’s when we’re at our best: play good rugby, attack.
However, Ireland also need to know how to slow down the game – to frustrate the Italians and keep the ball by going through phases. Our three tries against Wales all had at least seven stages and when we string them together like that, really good things happen and it does so without an extra platform from our line-up or scrum.
The Italian scrum isn’t as strong as the previous two opponents, so hope some of the good scrums we’ve seen pop up more consistently and provide a solid launch pad. The Italians are dangerous in the starting XI and have really frustrated France so it’s a matter of doing our homework there, reading them and getting the little details right.
We have to be precise about what we’re doing and if that means slowing the ball, holding it, then so be it. We had 34 percent possession against Wales, which must be a lot higher. It sounds simple but it’s true: Italy can’t touch us if they don’t have the ball.
It won’t be easy and the players will feel the pressure. It’s the first year since 2007 that Ireland have started the Six Nations with back-to-back defeats and as it happened before we lost the third game too. Winning is a habit, just like losing, that’s why changing course tomorrow is so important.
But all players need to think about is the performance, not the result. When you really want to win at young players, you often force the game to do all these amazing things, but some of my best performances came when I didn’t care about the result, instead playing with a smile on my face, no expectations up my shoulders, make clear decisions and play a fluid game. The result looked like it did itself.
If you keep the game simple it will work. Also, it’s important to consistently get the basics right. We have to play the full 80 minutes and be ruthless in our decisions. Keeping the number of penalties in the single digits is non-negotiable. Italy can be prone to discipline, so if we’re up there we can force them to make bad decisions. Pressure them and they will fold. But we must be patient.
Luckily, some obvious changes have been made. I couldn’t understand why Beibhinn Parsons wasn’t in the starting XI for the first two games, but I’m happy that she’ll be named on the wing tomorrow. She’s one of the best wingers in the world and it was like leaving James Lowe on the bench in his form. She’s a player who makes good things happen and the fact that she’ll be in the game early means she can be an absolute thorn in the side of the Italian side right from the start.
There doesn’t seem to be much between the teams, so it should be tight. It’s the first time a women’s international has been played at Musgrave Park and given the side’s heritage, given Munster’s popular anthem, it’s a fitting setting.
With this Irish team having been on the silver screen for the past two weeks, now is the time to get up and fight like hell.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/six-nations/irish-players-have-to-keep-it-simple-do-basics-and-be-patient-against-italy-as-the-pressure-is-on-41535416.html Irish players need to keep it simple, master the basics and be patient against Italy as the pressure is on