Tag Archives: Analysis

Lions: The Tries

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Over the course of the 2013 Test series between the Lions and the Wallabies, there were 10 tries scored. That is a slight drop on the 12 tries scored in 2009, and lower than 2005 (15), 2001 (14) and 1997 (12). We have to go back as far as 1993 for a series that featured fewer tries, when just seven were scored.

What is rare is valuable. In this Test series tries were like goals in football; the infrequency made them that little bit more important. The Lions outscored the Wallabies six tries to four, and they won the series. Leigh Halfpenny’s place kicking has correctly been highlighted as a major aspect of the series win, but tries will always be of higher point-scoring and confidence-boosting value.

It’s worth investigating how each side built their tries, and how they came about. Of the 10 scored in this series, all but two of the tries were scored in five phases or less. The only try that took more than ten phases to construct was Adam Ashley-Cooper’s match-winner in the second Test (15 phases), although the Lions did have a nine-phase effort in the third Test, when Jonny Sexton touched down.

Based on the stats above, it’s clear that the greatest attacking threat from the Lions and the Wallabies came in the very early stages of their possessions. Both teams scored two tries each on first phase, and those are probably the most memorable ones of the series. The very first five-pointer in the first Test was scored by Israel Folau on first phase possession. The Wallabies soaked up 23 phases of Lions’ attack, won a penalty and burst away through Will Genia’s quick tap.

The Lions response came through George North, on first phase too, when he fielded a dreadful kick by Berrick Barnes and made that iconic run. In the third Test, the Wallabies’ only try came from James O’Connor on first phase, directly from a scrum. In the second half, Halfpenny set up a first phase score for North when he took advantage of a poor Genia kick to counter attack.

What made ambitious attacking in the early phases of possession so effective in this series? The simple answer was having good attacking players running at defenders with the time and space to beat them. Whether that was on turnover ball, like North’s fantastic run and Folau’s finish after some Genia genius, or in the early stages of attacking from a set piece, like Cuthbert’s try in the first Test (phase three) and Jamie Roberts score in the third (phase two), there was space for the attacker to beat defenders.

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Once play went beyond five phases, both defences were very solid and aggressive in general. When the ball had been in play for extended periods of time, it favoured the defence very often with two tacklers bringing down the attacker more often than not. Before the fifth phase of possession, both sides still had the opportunity to create one-on-ones, two-on-twos and three-on-threes. With a little bit of space, those mini games suited guys like Genia, Folau, North and Cuthbert.

The two tries from which Warren Gatland likely took the most satisfaction were the Alex Corbisiero and Sexton tries in the third Test. Corbisiero’s try was not only pleasing for how early it was scored, a mental blow for the Wallabies, but also in its construction.

From a free kick, Phillips took off with a quick tap to send Tommy Bowe making yards down the right-hand side touchline. From there, the Lions forwards battered their way infield for four hard-carrying phases that featured excellent leg drive, aggressive leeching and efficient clear outs. For the scoring action, Phillips’ physical threat from close range drew Stephen Moore into the tackle that opened the gap for Corbisiero. Simple, effective and to Gatland’s pattern.

Even more exemplary of that pattern was the try Sexton scored. From a lineout on the left-hand side around 25 metres out, the Lions worked seven phases all the way out to the right-hand edge, before coming back to the left and taking advantage of the space out wide. Sexton dotted down on the ninth phase. The forward runners around the corner, the decoy line by Roberts and the patience to wait for exactly the right moment were all justifications of Gatland’s attacking system.

Interestingly, all six of the Lions’ tries in this series were created on the left-hand half of the pitch as they attacked. Whether this is due to a weakness in the Wallabies defence or a strength in the Lions attack is unclear. It’s something to keep an eye on from an Australian perspective in the Rugby Championship.

Place kicking was vital in this Test series, with some of the misses just as important as the chances taken. Still, tries are a precious commodity and the Lions came out on top of this area.

Lions: Refine or Redesign?

Warren Gatland has some big decisions to make ahead of the second Test. (c) NAFW.

The Lions are 1-0 up and that is the fact that really counts. But this series is far from won and the Lions will need to greatly improve their performance on Saturday if they are to prevent the Wallabies from leveling matters. Warren Gatland’s game plan didn’t work out as hoped in the first Test and the Lions coaching staff will need to think deeply about how they proceed for the second, and the personnel they choose.

The Lions lineout stats make good reading if taken on a purely numerical basis (100%). However, all but one of those takes were at the front, meaning Mike Phillips wasn’t a running threat and the Lions’ backs weren’t getting ideal possession to play with. Ben Mowen and the Wallabies seemed content to give up the front of the lineout in order to mark up in the middle and at the tail. The Lions appeared to fear Mowen’s defensive prowess and refused to even attempt to beat him at the back.

Jonathan Davies had a good game at 12, but he doesn’t offer the same go-forward as Jamie Roberts. If the Lions are going to continue to accept the easy option at the front of the lineout, then Roberts or Tuilagi have to be considered as the starter at 12. Both of them would be stronger at getting over the gain line and providing Sexton with better quality possession. It would be harsh to drop Davies, but he didn’t look ideal for the role of gain line breaker.

On Saturday, the Lions suffered from an inability to beat a strong Australian defence in phase play. Missing Roberts didn’t help in that regard, but the Lions can’t rely on one player to get them on the front foot. A re-think of the back row looks necessary, with getting an explosive ball carrier into the side important. Sean O’Brien is a player you can count on to tie in defenders and make yards. His hard work with ball in hand close in to rucks creates space for the likes of O’Driscoll and North out wide.

A striking aspect of the Lions’ game plan in the first Test was their utter refusal to kick the ball into touch. The only kicking we saw from Sexton were short chips in behind the defence, a couple of cross-field kicks and a few garryowens. Likewise, Mike Phillips kept all his box kicks well infield. Even when the halfbacks had time to clear directly into touch from their own 22, they kept the ball in play. That ploy simply had to be backed up by a consistently strong kick chase, especially when Phillips was kicking so poorly.

Unfortunately, the Lions were far from their best on kick chase on all but a handful of occasions. Again, the return of Roberts should improve that, and Gatland could do worse than bringing Tommy Bowe into the team to add more aerial ability. Whoever it will be chasing down the kicks, the Lions need to re-focus this ploy of kicking back to the Wallabies.

Jamie Roberts arrives. Wales Grand Slam Celebration, Senedd 19 March 2012 / Jamie Roberts yn cyrraedd. Dathliadau Camp Lawn Cymru, Senedd 19 Mawrth 2012

If Roberts is fit, his return would add a lot to the Lions’ play. (c) NAFW

In the second half, the back three of Ioane, Beale and Folau showed signs of their sharp counter-attacking game, with one scything break from Beale after a badly contested Phillips kick standing out. In refining this game plan, Gatland and his halfbacks need to ensure that their kicks are more contestable (particularly Phillips) and that the Lions chase is far stronger. Folau, Ioane and Beale will be better in the second Test and they just can’t be given the space to counter-attack.

All of these things tie into the idea of refining the current game plan and trying to beat the Wallabies with ‘positive’ attacking play and by scoring tries. That is certainly the approach I would favour. It’s definitely understandable if Gatland doesn’t want to change a winning team, but the Wallabies left 14 kickable points behind in the first Test and Gatland can’t rely on that happening again.

The alternative would be a more ‘negative’ approach and is surely tempting to Gatland now that the Lions are 1-0 up. It’s something that the Demented Mole discussed in his/her excellent article on Dan Lydiate. The Welsh blindside would likely be the key personnel change to such a game plan.

The Lions didn’t kick for territorial gain at all in the first Test, but Gatland may consider completely changing to a system based around territory. Bringing in Lydiate would mean having the best back row defender in the Lions squad on the pitch. Asking Sexton to kick deep into the corners, securing lineout possession and eking out penalties with a low-risk attacking plan to allow Halfpenny to kicks the points may be enticing.

Defensively, Lydiate and the back row would be tasked with stifling Will Genia’s creative play, while the centres would aim to limit the amount of ball that gets wide to Folau and co. As expected, the Wallabies look at their most dangerous in open, broken-up play. This possible change of game plan would be about pining the Wallabies deep in their own half and trying to shut down their attacking flair.

My personal preference for open rugby, and desire to see another Test as exciting as the first, means I hope Gatland focuses on refining the game plan from the first Test. Being loyal to the guys who helped him to come away with a win would be laudable, but I certainly feel that the Lions will have a better chance of wrapping up the series if they make changes to the starting team.

On the checklist for refinement are winning ball at the tail of the lineout, adding more carrying punch to the team, clarifying the kicking tactics, adding aerial ability to the kick chase and limiting the counter-attacking opportunities for the Wallabies. A 10% improvement in each of these areas would probably be enough to earn the Lions a first series win since 1997.

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Photos: National Assembly for Wales.

Video Post: James O’Connor Wallabies Outhalf?

Wales vs Australia

O’Connor looks set to start at outhalf against the Lions. (c) Salman Javed.

Judging on the available evidence, I think James O’Connor will start at outhalf against the Lions in the first Test. My personal preference would be for Quade Cooper to start at 10, and use O’Connor at 14. If the Reds playmaker impresses on Saturday against the Lions, who knows? However, for now Cooper remains outside the Australian squad and everything Deans has said up up to this point suggests it will be O’Connor running out at 10. So what does the Rebels man bring to the outhalf position?

O’Connor defends bravely, can beat players with his footwork, place-kicks competently, is explosively quick, has a high work-rate and passes excellently. All in all he’s a very complete rugby player, as highlighted in the video below. His passing game from outhalf would allow the Wallabies to attack in wide channels from first-phase, as well as in open play. O’Connor is very accurate in this regard, and he’s good at spotting space out wide in defences.

However, that vision doesn’t extend to the space in behind defences and that’s one of the areas where O’Connor lags behind Jonny Sexton. He rarely puts grubbers, chips or cross-field kicks in behind defences. The first thought for him is nearly always either to pass or run. This should allow the Lions defensive line to push up quickly without worrying too much about the space left in behind.

That inability to vary his game leads to the biggest problem with O’Connor playing outhalf: he doesn’t ‘boss’ his team around the pitch. He’s relatively inexperienced at outhalf and, as anyone who has ever tried to step into the number 10 shirt from another position will tell you, controlling a team from 10 is very demanding. O’Connor seems to struggle with making decisions about where he should direct play, when to kick and when to attack.

The Wallabies likely ploy to counteract that deficiency is to use several playmakers throughout the team. As you’ll see in the video, they’ve done this in the past by using a distributing second-five-eighth outside O’Connor, namely Berrick Barnes. Also, Will Genia at 9 will take on a lot of the responsibility for marshaling the forwards around the pitch and deciding when to kick. Also, I think Kurtley Beale will have a big role to play in this regard, stepping up from fullback.

That should allow O’Connor to focus on his strengths. If Australia use other playmakers intermittently, that will allow O’Connor to pop up in wider channels, where he is lethal. If Deans does decide to go with a system similar to this, it will ask demanding questions of the Lions’ defence. With O’Connor, Beale and Barnes/Lealiifano (if they play a creative 12 rather than a bosher like Horne) swapping around the pitch, there will be danger from all angles.

I’m still unconvinced that outhalf is O’Connor’s best position, but he’s still a good option there. While I feel that Cooper would be a better choice for the Wallabies, having O’Connor at 10 is not going to weaken them greatly. The 22-year-old (with 37 caps!) is among the best players in the world. He comes across as very mentally strong and I think this Lions tour will see him stepping up a level on what we’ve seen before.

Check out the video below for some examples of what O’Connor can offer from outhalf, and some of the areas where the Lions could have an advantage.

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Photos: Salman Javed.

Munster Will Rue Missed Chances

Asm vs Munster

Missed chances in Montpellier. (c) Mathilde Bourel.

Muster getting within a score of Clermont in Saturday’s Heineken Cup semi-final was always going to be notched down as another ‘heroic’ performance. Based on form over the season, operating budget, home advantage and other reasons, Clermont were clear favourites. While Munster’s display was excellent and should be lauded, the players and management will have serious regrets about the chance that was missed.

The emotion of the Munster players immediately after the final whistle told the story. This wasn’t a case of being well beaten by the better team on the day, but rather of an opportunity missed. Clermont’s mental fragility at this stage of knock-out competitions was evident again, as Munster turned up in a big way. Rob Penney and his squad won’t merely shrug their shoulders and admit to being beaten by the best team in Europe. Instead, they will look to learn as much as possible from this loss.

Joe Schmidt made an interesting observation at his unveiling as Ireland coach, saying, “I am a massive believer that transition is a constant.” While it’s clear that Munster are in the midst of dealing with a changing playing staff, they remain in the business of winning trophies. The loss to Clermont won’t be accepted as something that was inevitable, but rather with a pronouncement of not making the same mistakes next time around.

Asm vs Munster

Clermont took their chances. (c) Mathilde Bourel.

More specifically, while this was an exceptional Munster performance with some top-class individual efforts, there were aspects that let them down. In the video below, the focus is on Munster’s use of possession and their inability to turn it into points on several occasions. Obviously they scored a superb, intelligent try through Denis Hurley and nearly had another after Casey Laulala’s perfectly-weighted grubber, but here the focus is on the opportunities they let slip.

The intention is not to be overly negative about Munster’s showing. They played some great rugby and it was thoroughly encouraging for next season. Paul O’Connell summed it up perfectly after the game:

“Second half we had our opportunities and we didn’t really take them. We got a good try from a great little chip from ROG, but there were plenty of other opportunities when we were in their 22, 10 metres from their line, five metres from their line particularly just before half-time and we didn’t take those opportunities.”

Let’s have a closer look at what O’Connell was talking about:

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I’d appreciate people’s honest, constructive feedback on this type of video post. Is there interest in more of this kind of thing? What could be done better? Let me know. Thanks.

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Photos: Mathilde Bourel is on Flickr, and can also be found on Twitter.

Do Clermont Have Any Weaknesses?

Nyanga the Butcher

Unforgivable try-butchering from Yannick Nyanga last weekend during Clermont vs. Toulouse.

Clermont’s formula for success is very simple. They have an abundance of players who are superb individually, but crucially, all of them buy into the Vern Cotter mantra of working extremely hard. The Auvergne-based heavyweights have threats literally everywhere across the field, as well as off the bench. Their attacking game plan is nothing revolutionary, just good players making good decisions at the right time. On form, they can score from almost any situation.

Many of these scores come from moments of individual brilliance in open phase play, which is backed up by their excellent support running. The likes of Fofana, Sivivatu, Nalaga, Chouly and Hines will create chances however you defend against them, and they are excellent finishers. It’s very difficult not to see them scoring tries in Montpellier. That much is obvious, but the big question remains, do Clermont have any weaknesses? I’m going to use Clermont’s most recent match, the 39-17 win over Toulouse last weekend, to look for any potential areas to target.

The loss of captain Rougerie is a blow. While the 32-year-old is perhaps edging past his peak, he is of massive importance to Clermont, not just for his leadership. He’s still a good player, and his defensive game is undervalued. Clermont’s backline like to press up hard in defence, even in the opposition’s half. That places great demands on the 13’s decision making, and Rougerie more often than not gets it right. While King and Stanley are superb attacking replacements, they don’t offer the same security as Rougerie on ‘D’.

Rougerie

The loss of Rougerie could make Clermont weaker defensively.

One way to beat a rush defence is to try get around the outside edge of it. In the screen-grab above, Toulouse have tried something like that. From a Toulouse scrum, Clermont come up fast and McAlister flings a wide, flat pass to Fickou in the 13 channel. The aim is to get Fickou outside Rougerie , but he reads it superbly and forces a knock-on. Munster might get some success in this situation now that Rougerie is missing. Lualala has great feet and neither King nor Stanley possess quite the same level of decision-making as Rougerie. ROG threw some encouragingly excellent passes vs. ‘Quins and more of the same may reap rewards.

Another obvious way to break down a defense which likes to get up quick is through well-placed kicks. Unfortunately for Toulouse, McAlister either didn’t spot opportunities or executed badly. Below, you can see that fullback Lee Byrne (last player out on the left) has stepped up into the defensive line. This was something that was repeated on several occasions. Contrary to what you might expect, Parra also steps into the line and Clermont have nobody covering in behind. The closest thing to a ‘sweeper’ is outhalf Delany, coming from the other side of the scrum. A good chip or grubber by McAlister for Fickou and it was try-time. Instead, the outhalf did a goose-step and gave his centre a forward pass.

Clermont Defense

Clermont like to fill the first-up defensive line, not just close to their own try-line.

The next example (below) is further out, around the halfway line, but the premise is similar. Clermont’s defence is up quickly, without a winger hanging back. McAlister has spotted the opportunity and attempted a cross-field kick for Huget, who can be seen out on the far wing. Unfortunately, McAlister’s kick was poor, too far ahead of Huget, and bounced badly. But again, there’s try written all over the opportunity. Clermont do seem to repeatedly stack the defensive line. Whatever about his weaknesses, ROG still possesses an accurate kicking game, certainly better than McAlister’s, and he will spot these opportunities. Zebo will be ready and waiting.

Clermont Cross Field Kicks

There may be chances for well-placed ROG kicks.

Staying with kicking, Toulouse got a lot of change from their re-starts. Clermont are going to score on Saturday, so Munster will need to be precise in retrieving possession from these situations. McAlister dropped every single one of his kicks just over the 10-metre line, above hooker Benjamin Kayser. Clermont seemed unsure of who should claim the ball in that zone and Toulouse won possession back at least 4 times in this manner. The screen-grab below shows exactly where Toulouse targeted (in this case Nyanga wins the ball). It may not be a case of going after the exact same zone for Munster, but in O’Connell, O’Mahony, Ryan and Zebo they have excellent kick retrievers.

Drop-Offs

Clermont were very poor at receiving restarts.

Munster will certainly need to mix up their attacking game this weekend, and using last weekend’s game as a guide, they should look to attack the fringes around the rucks. Again, Toulouse had some success here. Louis Picamoles’ try (video below) was the most obvious example, but there were other instances where the big Toulouse carriers made yards. Scrumhalf Luke Burgess sniped intermittently and also made decent ground. Conor Murray’s skills look suited to the task. However, Clermont are usually far more watertight in these areas and they will certainly step up a level for the Munster game.

Putting it all together, attacking and targeting Clermont around the fringes and with kicks in behind may not result directly in tries, but it will challenge Clermont’s stifling defence. They’re extremely strong in the middle, where they’ll come up hard and smash ball carriers. If you play into their hands, they’ll turn you over and score tries from that sort of broken-up situation. It’s an obvious thing to state, but Munster need to play with lots of variety, constantly challenging Clermont to react.

While the scoreline and various media reports suggest that Clermont wiped the floor with Toulouse last weekend, it doesn’t tell the whole story. Outhalf McAlister missed two kickable penalties and turned down a few other chances for kicks at goal. Toulouse also butchered a genuine try-scoring chance (photo at the top) when Nyanga selfishly failed to pass to Fickou. Admittedly  Clermont’s 2nd-half display was lazier than usual, having built up a strong lead. That won’t happen again this weekend. They are a phenomenal side, that’s beyond doubt. But they can be beaten. 6 losses in the Top 14 this season show that. The odds are heavily in Clermont’s favour but this match is not a foregone conclusion.

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* Apologies for the poor quality screen-grabs. It would be great if people could let me know if they enjoy this sort of piece, where I try to do more detailed analysis. If so, I could look into a better way of highlighting examples in the future, possibly in videos or more detailed photos of play. Let me know what you think.

Miserable End to Ireland’s Season (Part 1)

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Ireland’s season ended in the worst possible way on Saturday, a 60-0 annihilation by the All Blacks. The narrow loss in the 2nd test had given us all hope of another strong performance, but Ireland turned in their worst display in recent memory. While the All Blacks were at their excellent best, Ireland were at their unacceptable worst. Regardless of injuries to Ferris, O’Connell and Bowe, and the oft-repeated excuse of a long, arduous season, Ireland should never lose a game by 60 points.

One of the most frustrating aspects of this loss was that Ireland suffered from the same weaknesses that affected them in the 1st test, and throughout the rest of the season. The passive nature of the defence was the prime example. Ireland have shown that an aggressive, proactive defensive system suits them far more. The 2nd test in Christchurch, as well as the 17-17 draw with France in this year’s Six Nations showed that Ireland are far harder to break down when get up hard off the defensive line. On Saturday, this failed to happen and the All Blacks ran riot.

The first of the All Blacks tries came about after something of a lucky bounce after Aaron Smith kicked through. The hosts went through several phases, keeping their attacking shape superbly, particularly as they went left-to-right. Conrad Smith then made a big surge and Ireland were caught numbers down on the right-hand side. Pause the video above on 9:17 and you’ll see Paddy Wallace has recognised that the All Blacks essentially have a 4 v 3 and is signaling for help. Aaron Smith’s usual quick service allows Sonny Bill Williams to use his footwork and then Cruden gets the offload away for Cane to score.

All Blacks vs. Ireland

(c) Geof Wilson.

The try reminded me of the first score we conceded against Wales in the Six Nations this year. We were caught numbers down in a narrow channel close to the touchline, but in both cases, Ireland’s defence could have been more aggressive. Obviously, it’s preferable never to be outnumbered, but it will happen and there must be a strong reaction, especially the close to the try-line. SBW’s little bit of footwork made Wallace and Earls momentarily sit back on their heels, when they, and Kev McLaughlin outside them, needed to be far more decisive (Watch from 8:05 for the entire passage of play).

The second All Blacks try came directly from 1st phase ball off a scrum, something of a rarity in international rugby. I don’t want to take anything away from Cruden’s magical offload, but again Ireland’s passivity was central. The All Blacks were playing off a scrum going forward, but still Ireland’s defence just wasn’t good enough. As soon as an outhalf attacks the gain line like Cruden did, the defence needs to step up and close down the space around him. Cruden was never going to be able to throw a long pass in that situation so it’s time to bite in and hit someone.

All thoughts of drifting across the pitch should have left the Sexton, Wallace and O’Driscoll’s minds. They should be looking instead to get up off the defensive line  and smash Cruden. But pause the video at 15.30 and you’ll see Sexton planted on his heels and Wallace actually taking steps backwards. Yes, the scrum went forward, giving the All Blacks a big advantage but these are still elementary errors. Fergus McFadden is completely ineffectual sweeping across behind the ‘D’. He doesn’t even lay a hand on SBW as he bursts through. Again, a lack of intent in defence. (Watch from 14:53).

All Blacks vs. Ireland

Ireland’s defensive line speed simply wasn’t quick enough. (c) Geof Wilson.

SBW’s second score, just 7 minutes later, was perhaps the weakest of the 9 Ireland conceded. Again, it was an effective All Blacks attack, with quickly recycled ball and lots of momentum. But to be cut apart by a simple switch that close to the tryline is poor. Unfortunately, Paddy Wallace was involved again. Between himself and Dan Tuohy, Williams simply had to brought down, especially as the bodies were in the right positions defensively. The line speed was again slow and Cruden had plenty of time to skip and burst on a wide angle, setting Williams up. (Watch from 20:45).

After the 1st test, I wrote that Ireland needed to cut out the unforced errors, highlighting how each of the All Blacks’ 5 tries that day stemmed from Irish mistakes. Well, try 4 was horribly similar to some of the tries we conceded in the 1st test. Seconds after throwing a pass straight into touch, Brian O’Driscoll dropped a switch pass from Wallace on the All Blacks’ 22, and the most clinical team in the world punished Ireland to the full extent. It was shocking inaccuracy to botch a simple switch, and summed up Ireland’s lack of accuracy and directness in attack.

That 4th try, from Ben Smith, came in the 23rd minute, and Ireland didn’t concede another until the 43rd. So what happened in between? Ireland actually enjoyed plenty of possession during this period, but failed to make it count. The Irish attack was blunt to say the least, with just 1 clean line-break in the entire 80 minutes, from lock Donnacha Ryan. The main attacking play Ireland looked to use was a simple screen, putting the pass behind a decoy runner, to a deeper lying player running on a wide angle.

All Blacks vs. Ireland

(c) Geof Wilson.

With the All Blacks’ defensive line speed very quick, it simply didn’t work for Ireland. The lack of accuracy even extended to simple plays like this. Check out 30:20 for one example of the move, with Ireland actually conceding a penalty because of their poor timing. In general, the New Zealanders were hard up off the line. Ireland needed to be far more direct, as they were in the 2nd test, when our main carriers got on the ball and ran hard, from depth. Even if we insisted on running these screens, the ‘decoy’ player needed to be hit a few times to really question the All Blacks defence.

To come away from that extended period of possession scoreless pretty much condemned Ireland to a heavy defeat. Over the 80 minutes, Ireland actually had slightly more possession than the All Blacks, around 56%. To be beaten 60-0 in that situation is hard to understand and accept. Ireland’s attack rarely looks built to break down the particular opponent it faces. How often do we see an attacking tactic that picks out an opposition weakness? Very rarely. With Less Kiss in charge of both defence and attack, he is simply too stretched, and both aspects of Ireland’s game are suffering. Ireland’s need for a top-quality, innovative attack coach is now glaringly obvious.

Look out for part 2 of this analysis, where I’ll look closely at the 5 tries Ireland conceded in the 2nd half and see what lessons can be learned from them. As always, any comments would be greatly appreciated, so please add one below!

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Photos courtesy: Geof Wilson.

All Blacks Far Too Clinical

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Ireland started this game well and enjoyed the better of the opening 20 minutes. Their attacking play was very encouraging after some of the stodge served up in recent years. Sexton looked to put width on the ball and got his backline running from depth. The outhalf also added a few well-judged kicks in behind the All Blacks to mix play up. Ireland managed to create several openings (see Keith Earls at 22.05 in vid) but crucially didn’t take any of these half-chances.

The All Blacks were uncharacteristically sloppy during that period and indeed, after the opening quarter, the handling errors were 5-0 in Ireland’s favour. But the hosts recovered in supreme fashion. Savea’s massive hit on Kearney in the 18th minute (27.00) allowed Carter to stroke over a gorgeous penalty from half-way to make it 9-3 on the scoreboard. With that, the All Blacks started to take control. A sustained period of pressure inside the Irish 22 ultimately led to the game’s first try.

Ireland actually managed to repel the original attack and O’Brien won one of many Irish penalties at the breakdown. That phase of defending clearly tired the Irish as first Sexton got very little distance on the penalty and then Murray’s poor box kick was clinically punished by the All Blacks. The scrumhalf’s kick went from Ireland’s 22 to the NZ 10 metre line, far too long. The Irish chase could perhaps have been better, but Murray’s kick is the dream scenario for a counter-attack.

Reddan

Reddan needs to start next Saturday. (c) Nigel Snell.

The All Blacks recognised the situation immediately. They were ruthless in taking the opportunity. Earls and McFadden should have done better with the switch between Conrad Smith and SBW, but it was clearly advantage to the attacking team in that situation. Smith took out two defenders, then so too did Williams with his offload. Carter actually had three options to give the scoring pass. A sniff of a try and every single one of the All Blacks snapped into action. Clinical. (Starts at 34.35).

That was actually Murray’s second overly-long kick of the game. Check out 21.40 for a similar kick earlier in the game. This weakness in Murray’s game is something I’ve mentioned before. Munster conceded a strikingly similar try against Northampton earlier this season. Overall, the kicks summed up a poor display from the scrumhalf. Before the game, I backed him to provide speedier service than usual but it didn’t happen. Reddan must start next Saturday, especially if Ireland look to spread the ball again. All Blacks’ debutant Aaron Smith showed Ireland exactly what they were missing with his crisp delivery. Smith has since claimed he wants to speed the game up even more next weekend.

The 2nd All Blacks try also originated from an Irish mistake. In the 34th minute, Ireland knocked a penalty into the corner 5 metres from the NZ tryline. An efficient lineout followed and then Murray hit O’Driscoll on a flat line. The captain threw a poorly judged offload and the All Blacks countered the length of the field. After the match, O’Driscoll spoke about the need for Ireland to be more patient in attack. I’ve no doubt he was talking about himself. It was a superb opportunity for Ireland to score before the break, completely wasted. (Starts at 43.57).

Sexton

Sexton had a positive game. (c) Ken Bohane.

3 minutes after O’Driscoll’s offload attempt, Savea bashed over Kearney in the left-hand corner. While Israel Dagg showed decent footwork and a nice pass to put Savea down the touchline, the try really showed that Fergus McFadden is not an international-level winger, defensively at least. He’s a centre and should play there from now on. Essentially, the situation was a three-on-three and there was no need for McFadden to bite in. NZ exposed him badly, taking two phases in close after the lineout and then attacking down the blindside in McFadden’s channel. (Starts at 48.06).

So Ireland went from an attacking situation where they could have reduced a 16-3 deficit just before the break, to going in 23-3 down at half-time. This was further compounded by conceding within 5 minutes of the second-half. There’s a strange similarity here between Ireland’s rugby and football teams this weekend. Trapattoni’s men conceded in the 43rd and 48th minutes, while Kidney’s side let in scores in the 37th and 43rd minutes. Both 5-minute spells proved to be decisive in the games. Something in the Irish psyche?

Savea’s hattrick try just after half-time was the killer blow. Once again, the All Blacks’ possession stemmed from an Irish error. Attacking down the short side, o’Driscoll left a pass behind Earls and NZ won a lineout. Again, the All Blacks immediately recognised the opportunity. While it wasn’t quite a quick lineout, the ball came out of touch sppedily. Sonny Bill banged it up the middle, then Earls got too narrow in defence, allowing Retallick to offload. In that kind of space, Carter, Dagg and Savea are lethal. Simon Zebo should have done better with his covering tackle, but the damage was done earlier. (Starts 58.35).

This guy’s pretty good eh? (c) Adidas Italy.

With Carter kicking accurately from the tee that was 30-3 and Ireland done and dusted. They managed a consolation score after good work from Rory Best. McFadden got the chance to show his pace but it was an opportunistic try rather than a cleverly constructed score. (Starts 1.06.15). Thomson crossed for the All Blacks’ in the 55th minute immediately after the impressive Declan Fitzpatrick left the field. Ireland’s scrum went backwards and with Heaslip’s head down trying to scrummage, the space was there for Read to offload. (1.14.14).

The All Blacks became less clinical after that score, which meant that Ireland were spared more punishment on the scoreboard. They didn’t score again until the 78th minute, when Conrad Smith straightened his line in between two inexperienced players, Darren Cave and Zebo. One of the two should have got a hit in on Smith, but both made bad reads and the classy New Zealander went through untouched. Both players will have learned from it, and hopefully they get a chance to improve next weekend.

So positives for Ireland? I was really impressed with Fitzpatrick on his debut. He certainly dealt with the considerable challenge of Tony Woodcock, and Ireland’s scrum was really solid until his departure. Hopefully, his glutes are ready for next weekend and he can get at least another 40 minutes in. Interestingly, Ireland dominated at the breakdown, winning lots of turnovers. The first 20 minutes was encouraging from Ireland. If they can be inspired by the All Blacks’ clinical finishing, we should see a few more scores on Saturday.

Still, the All Blacks will get stronger too. They are playing with a bit more freedom now that the World Cup monkey is off their backs. They are on a different level to Ireland, and it would be a miracle to beat them in the next two tests. However, there’s still value to be taken from the games. More of the attacking intent, cut out the unforced mistakes and see guys like Tuohy, Zebo, Fitzpatrick and Cave learn lessons from the step-up.

What did you make of the game? What changes would you make for next weekend? Who did well and who did poorly in your opinion? As always, any comments are welcome!

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Photos courtesy: Ken Bohane, Nigel Snell, Adidas Italy.