THERE ARE MANY areas for Ireland to work on improving for the clash with Wales on Saturday, but Joe Schmidt will have been pleased with his side’s three tries against Scotland yesterday.
Ending a first half in which Ireland had struggled to enjoy sustained pressure inside the Scots’ 22 with a score was hugely important, as the head coach himself underlined.
“The try from Andrew Trimble was fantastic because it came at the right time. We’d really been under the pump I think. They had probably had two thirds of the territory and possession in that first half and we’d done a lot of defending.
Frustratingly, we finally got a bit of field position and got the ball and we gave it straight back to them. So to go down there and get a result, particularly to get a try to give us a little more of a buffer at half time, was fantastic.”
The second try Ireland scored was directly from a superb driven line-out, while the third came after 10 phases of accurate, probing attack. That final Rob Kearney score is probably the one that will have pleased Schmidt the most, considering how well his team retained possession.
Let’s take a look at the three tries Ireland scored in closer detail.
Andrew Trimble try
This was a five-phase attacking passage that ended with the Ulster wing crossing in the right-hand corner to score. The move stemmed from Ireland’s decision to kick a penalty into touch, although it would not have been a guaranteed three points had Jonny Sexton elected to kick at goal.
The line-out maul that provided the platform was extremely solid, something that is becoming a feature for this Irish team. John Plumtree is evidently doing an excellent job at organising his forwards in the tight, with each player understanding his role inside out.
Aware that Scotland are likely to go for the defensive ‘sack’ [dragging the line-out jumper straight to the ground as he lands and therefore spoiling any attempt at setting up a maul], Devin Toner actually hands the ball off to Jamie Heaslip before he even has his two feet back on the deck, as you can see in the GIF above.
Jim Hamilton manages to carry out the sack, as Moray Low and Ryan Wilson pile in behind him. In the screengrab below, you can see that much of the Scottish momentum and counter-drive is directed at Toner [circled], while Ireland have swiftly transferred the ball and are looking to drive around the left side of Scotland’s main defensive thrust.
As it turns out, Ireland don’t quite manage to shunt their way forward, but the intelligent play to set up the maul means the ball is free and available at the tail through Heaslip. The Scots can’t get their hands on the pill, and the end result is Ireland’s No. 8 being able to pop off to Conor Murray, who makes a threatening run.
After he does so, Cian Healy takes it upon himself to pick and go from the base of the subsequent ruck, a good decision with his scrum-half on the ground and the ball already playable. The Leinster prop makes another couple of yards through the weak tackle of Greig Laidlaw before being hauled down by Ross Ford.
As that tackle is made, Scottish loosehead Ryan Grant is offered a split-second window for a turnover but Heaslip – who had worked around the corner after the original maul – makes an excellent clear out to slam it immediately shut [below].
Like so many of the things we find ourselves pointing out in these articles, it’s a simple act but it’s crucially important. Heaslip’s rucking ensures that Ireland can play quick ball on the next phase as Murray hits Dan Tuohy to carry under the posts.
The Ulster lock actually loses his collision with Alex Dunbar and gets driven backwards for a loss of yards. Some typically efficient rucking by Brian O’Driscoll and Rory Best retrieves the situation as Scotland fatally fall asleep, allowing Ireland to score on the next phase.
In the shot above, the smallest circle is around Luke Marshall, in possession of the ball having received a sharp, accurate pass from Murray. You can see how tight Scotland have left themselves in defence, with three players packed in narrowly to the left of their defensive ruck [signified by the short line].
On the right side of the defensive ruck, there’s a cluster of three Scottish players where one would have sufficed. Wider out, we can see four of Scott Johnson’s men effectively out of the game and contributing nothing. All in all, Scotland have nine men on the right side of their defensive ruck, compared to Ireland’s six.
All of the above elements add up to Ireland being presented with a wonderful try-scoring chance, one that could have been prevented with a little more communication and work rate from the Scots. Still, it takes accurate, swift passing from Ireland to finish the score, something that will have greatly pleased Schmidt.
Jamie Heaslip try
Ireland’s second try again demonstrated that the maul is making real strides under the tutelage of Plumtree. Conceding directly from a five metre line-out is a harrowing experience for any pack, and Scotland’s pride will have been hurt by being so comprehensively swept aside here.
Again, that swift transfer of the ball to Heaslip is key, although it’s Dan Tuohy who makes the catch in the air on this occasion. Scotland stay on the floor again, and carry out the sack on Tuohy as soon as he lands.
In the meantime, Tuohy has handed the ball off to Heaslip and due to the fact that they have focused on the sack, Scotland are left short of numbers as Ireland drive off to the right. Heaslip gets his hands on the ball and he immediately slips out to the back of the maul.
Obviously Ireland want to move forward towards the Scots’ try line, but Heaslip recognises that the ball must also be kept out of reach of the defenders’ hands. The Ireland No. 8 actually takes a backward step to allow Chris Henry and Healy to slip over the top of him, as seen below.
As the maul rumbles forward in the face of feeble resistance, we see an interesting little detail from Heaslip at the tail. He actually puts the brakes on for a split second, slowing his own progress by planting his right leg out in front of his body.
The Irish maul is moving so quickly that Heaslip appreciates that if he does not slow himself, there is a strong chance that he will land on top of his own players when the ball crosses the line, thereby decreasing the chances of a clean touchdown for the try.
Head coach Schmidt is all about the detail, meaning little elements such as this one will have been satisfying. It was also greatly pleasing to see Heaslip give a display of his competence at the maul, another area of the game where it can sometimes be difficult to appreciate individual contributions on first viewing.
Rob Kearney try
As we mentioned earlier, this is probably the score that will provide the most pleasure for Ireland when they carry out their video review of the game at Carton House this evening. They are unlikely to dwell in smug satisfaction, but will instead look to replicate and improve upon this passage of play next weekend.
Kearney’s try came at the end of a series of ten consecutive attacking phases of Ireland attack, in which Scotland failed to get a hand near the ball in any meaningful way. The half time message to secure attacking rucks more efficiently was in clear evidence as Ireland committed an extra man to clean up after each tackle.
Stuart Hogg’s poor clearing kick started the passage as Trimble passed to Kearney to carry back on the counter attack down the right wing. Replacement prop Marty Moore made a surge to the left, close in to the ruck, before we saw some excellent handling as Ireland swept the ball wide to the left [below].
The first thing to note above is the three men Ireland commit to secure the original ruck, safety first and a stark contrast to several of their rucks in the first half. Cronin and O’Driscoll are intelligent and ambitious in their offloading, before Sexton throws a lovely pass off his right hand to release Dave Kearney and the Scottish line is busted.
Tommy O’Donnell is next to carry, followed by Sexton looping off Henry as Ireland’s pattern brings them back to the right of the field. It’s nothing ground-breaking from Ireland, working from one side of the pitch to the other as the attack, but that’s not what Schmidt’s coaching is about.
Instead, the skills and decisions of the players are to the fore. Equally as important to note in this passage is that every single one of Ireland’s 15 players were involved, be that in carrying, passing or rucking.
On the next phase, Toner comes forward and we get another glimpse of Ireland’s renewed vigour in terms of rucking [below].
Alasdair Dickinson gets a brief sniff of a turnover possibility, but between them O’Donnell and the arriving duo of O’Driscoll and Tuohy remove the threat. Again, it’s not the most glamorous involvement but it’s hugely important in allowing Ireland to continue their attack.
Jack McGrath is next up with a carry, spinning into contact with nice footwork before Luke Marshall bashes it up out on the left. The next phase sees Henry break through the line, but it’s all thanks to a wonderful offload from Tuohy.
That the second row can get his hands free so easily is down to the little attacking triangle of forwards that he is part of. As Murray goes to pass on this phase, Sean Cronin is just inside Tuohy, while Henry is on his outside shoulder.
It’s a very, very typical formation for forward runners outside a scrum-half but it just creates a slight bit of indecision in the Scottish defence. Dickinson, who should really be focusing on Tuohy is drawn to Cronin, while Tim Swinson is briefly attracted out to Henry.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t a great angle on the incident but the shot above gives you an idea of how Ireland were set up. It all means that Tuohy gets his hands free and Ireland cut Scotland apart to ensure that a try is likely.
What followed next was hugely encouraging. We often hear how crucial it is to keep a cool head when finishing off linebreaks, but it’s also vital to be ruthless and pig-headed in getting over the line when those chances are created.
Looking up, Ireland would have seen vast space in front of them [below] following Henry’s break.
Kearney spots it immediately and he is ruthless in finishing the chance. The fullback runs at the space, draws Dickinson across and then fends off the prop’s tackle to burst through.
Kearney finished passionately, ending a contribution that sums up his current form. Whereas the 27-year-old would have previously been considered an ice cold head at the back, he is now playing with open aggression and enjoyment. The manner in which he took this try was the latest example of that.
It’s also worth noting Jack McGrath’s clumsy attempts to ruin his teammate’s celebrations. Typical prop play.
Efficient try-scoring to secure the win
This was far from being a thrilling win for Ireland, but there were many positives to pick out. Their clinical, accurate finishing of these try-scoring chances was chief among them. Ireland got through plenty of good work against Scotland, and there are certainly blocks to build upon from this evening onwards as preparation for Wales commences.
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