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Defence coach confident Ireland won’t be caught out again

Simon Easterby © Gallo Images

How you finish a match sets the momentum for the next and while there has been much talk about Ireland’s injuries, the confidence that comes from finishing the first Test as the stronger of the two teams will carry over into Saturday’s final in Durban.

Ireland defence coach Simon Easterby, the former England forward, admits Tony Brown brought a different dimension to the Springbok attacking game and that his team were caught out a little early. But he was encouraged by how his team coped with the challenges posed by the width the Boks brought to their attacking game, escaping with only a five-point deficit at half-time.

“They passed the ball into space, we expected that but we didn’t deal with it properly,” Easterby said after a training session at Northwood College in Durban North.

“Sometimes a team finds a way to get into space. We didn’t prevent it the way we normally would. There are a lot of solutions to that, but fundamentally, especially in the first half, we have to be better on both sides of the ball.

“(But) as the game progressed we grew a lot and finished stronger. We’ll take a lot of confidence from that. You can’t give a side like South Africa the kind of space we allowed because they’ve got too many quality players to put you under pressure and exploit that space.”

Easterby noted that the way to blunt the Bok threat is the same as it has always been – you need to stop them gaining momentum and getting into a game with their power play, and that is now backed up by sharper and more organised attacking tactics. That last part was brought in by Brown as Bok attacking coach, but Easterby believes the Boks have been moving in this direction for some time.

“Springbok’s always had the ability to play in that kind of space and width,” Easterby said.

“They can play a couple of styles of play with the forward pack, the ability to win the line and the clashes of playing a bit tighter. But over the last few years we’ve played with them, they’ve got some defenders who can play with space, play with footwork and have that kicking game. And the inclusion of Tony Brown adds another dimension to the way they attack.”

ATTACK STRUCTURE INTRODUCED

Brown of course brought structure to the attack, something that had started to happen under current England defence coach Felix Jones when he was running that aspect of the Boks, but on the evidence of the Loftus match, won 27-20 by the hosts, it has been stepped up a few notches. The Boks’ strength in transition play is well known, but they are now moving in the direction of being more possession-based when they need to be.

Indeed, if the plan goes smoothly and bears fruit, South African fans can expect their team to win matches by bigger margins than they did when the Boks played a more risk-averse game, keeping the ball in tight channels closer to the forwards. As Ireland number eight Caelyn Doris told reporters after the Loftus test, they have added new threats out wide, while retaining their ability to create mayhem by breaking away from the corner.

Easterby believes the priority is to physically dominate the Boks and not allow them to gain momentum by winning fights.

“If you lose a couple of battles, you fall behind and it becomes a bit of a spiral of negativity. You have to try to create something within that, whether it’s communication or individuals working within that communication, working a little smarter and finding a way to find solutions.

“It’s probably a combination of things we didn’t do quite right in the first 20 minutes in Pretoria when they got some good gains on us. After half-time, we fixed a lot of that and it was a lot harder to break down. In the second half, I thought we were a lot better on both sides of the ball.”