Joe Schmidt won’t enjoy viewing the facts relating to Ireland’s performances in the first two matches of the Six Nations
Mark Twain wasn’t a big fan of statistical analysis as we know. “Lies, damned lies and statistics” was his famous assessment.
But the facts relating to Ireland’s form to date in this years Six Nations Championship don’t make pretty reading no matter how you look at them.
The kindest view would be that Ireland have played to their strengths and attempted to minimise risk.
But their conservative approach has led to few scoring opportunities and the fewest tries of any country. Since Conor Murray’s try in the first half of the Welsh match Ireland have failed to score a try in 133 minutes.
Even Italy have scored more often.
Ireland have more carries than any other country apart from France but paradoxically have gained less metres than any other team.
This underlines the void left in the team with the unavailability of Iain Henderson, the retirement of Paul O’Connell and limited involvement of Sean O’Brien.
CJ Stander has attempted to batter his way over the gainline manfully, but his lack of bulk and teammate support, has diminished his effectiveness.
Another area of concern is the reluctance of Ireland to off-load the ball. Only three off-loads in two matches is damning.
While risky off-loads are to be avoided, continuity of attacks in modern rugby demand close support, communication and offloading. Joe Schmidt has shunned off-loading in preference for going to ground and recycling.
This may lead to more penalty awards in your favour but results in a staccato attack and the failure to fully capitalise on line breaks.
The most embarrassing statistic of all for the defending champions is the fact that they have scored fewer points than any other team, and with England at Twickenham next up the prospect of improvement in this area is not good.
Even during Ireland’s two Championship winning seasons, Schmidt adopted an essentially conservative approach.
The only time they shook off the shackles was in last seasons final game against Scotland when the situation demanded heavy point scoring.
While not recommending reckless abandon, surely our backline can be trusted with more ball than they have been given. Along with Italy, Ireland have the most missed tackles (31).
Joe Schmidt prides himself on Ireland’s defensive record and that statistic will hurt. As we know, statistics don’t tell the full story, but they do give an indication of direction over time.
These figures are damning from an Irish point of view no matter how they are presented. There is a call for wholesale changes to the team but that is neither prudent or likely to happen.
Schmidt is a realist and he knows that his squad is denuded of some of his best players through injury. This situation occurred during Declan Kidney’s final season in charge.
How the Coach reacts to this minor crisis will be a more accurate measure of his capabilities, than how he performed when the team was winning.
No matter how poorly Mr. Peyper officiated on Saturday it is important that Schmidt focusses on areas where he can effect change, rather than venting his frustration on the officials.
Ireland need to adopt a more expansive strategy and if that requires a change in personnel then Schmidt needs to ring some changes.
Paddy Jackson has easily been the most effective fly-half in Irish rugby this season and surely warrants an opportunity. His Ulster teammate Stuart McCloskey deserves a run in the centre, with Jared Payne perhaps reverting to fullback where Rob Kearney appears to have lost his edge.