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Analysis: Intelligent Ireland U20s dominant on way to World Championship final

Murray Kinsella examines the brilliant win against Argentina in the semi-final.

THE IRELAND U20S were dominant in yesterday’s 37-7 semi-final victory over Argentina to set up a World Rugby U20 Championship decider against hosts England on Saturday in Manchester [KO 7pm, TG4/Sky Sports].

This semi-final success was once again built on a foundation of superb work from Ireland’s pack, while Nigel Carolan’s entire matchday squad showed work-rate, excellent basic technical skills, finishing prowess and rugby intelligence to score four tries.

Work-rate brings reward

Ireland’s opening try stemmed from the superb work of Peter Malone’s forward pack, who mauled the Argentinians backwards to draw a penalty advantage that the backline made perfect use of.

Try 1

The kick from out-half Johnny McPhillips is superb, finding the space behind Pumitas fullback Bautistia Delguy but with a high enough trajectory to ensure wing Matthew Byrne can realistically compete in the air.

We saw with the Ireland senior team last weekend how important it is for the chasing player to get off the ground and compete, with Andrew Trimble forcing an error from Lwazi Mvovo even though he was some distance away from the ball.

Byrne’s role is similar in this instance, although he does actually come into physical competition with Delguy to force the fullback to spill the ball.

Byrne

While Byrne is working hard to chase and then get off the ground against Delguy, Shane Daly and Jacob Stockdale – the try-assister and try-scorer - are beating the next two closest Argentina players for work-rate.

Work Rate

The two Irish players seem keenly aware of the opportunity here, while the two Argentina defenders working across are slow to react and actually don’t sprint until the ball has come loose from Delguy and the try is on.

It’s that work-rate from Daly and Stockdale – a trait of this Ireland team in general – that sees them in position to pounce.

Finish

As we see above, Cork Con centre Daly is aggressive in seizing the ball, elbowing Delguy away, and then shows his awareness to offload up from the deck to the waiting Stockdale.

The fullback demonstrates his finishing intelligence by pirouetting to the far side of the despairing tackle of Juan Cruz Mallia and diving over to score relatively unimpeded.

Control

The final scoreline of 37-7 does not exaggerate the control Ireland enjoyed in this contest, with the calming influence of out-half McPhillips important.

His place-kicking was excellent throughout, helping Ireland to build their early lead to 21 points and then punishing the quite incredible lack of Argentinian discipline in the second half.

Territory

The kick above is a fine example of the assured touch McPhillips has provided for Ireland and he’s one of the many players who look to have learned huge amounts as this season has progressed.

Here, McPhillips shows his ever-growing tactical awareness to identify Pumitas left wing Facundo Dominguez joining the frontline defence.

Territory.1

That movement leaves space deep to the right of the backfield and McPhillips rapidly calculates the weighting of his kick to roll it perfectly into touch ahead of the covering Delguy.

Stephen Kerins at scrum-half was once again a lively presence for Ireland, pushing the tempo whenever possible and also directing his excellent pack around the pitch well.

After Ireland’s pool win against Wales, we picked out the ball-carrying of the forwards as a key strength in Carolan’s side and that was evident once again in this semi-final.

There were huge, direct carries from Andrew Porter and others yesterday but along with those blockbusting carries there were many more demonstrations of excellent footwork from the forward carriers.

Jones Carry Feet and Finish

Flanker Greg Jones is the man to show that off a strong left-footed step to beat the rushing defender above, fighting through the contact to eke out as many inches as possible, before finishing with clean placement of the ball.

That finishing position is typical of the Irish forwards, who have excelled in the very basics of ball-carrying in this competition. With Kerins directing the likes of Jones, David Aspil and Sean O’Connor onto the ball, they helped Ireland to keep control of the game within a simple game plan.

To go along with the straightforward carries, there were once again promising signs that this crop of young Irish forwards are comfortable handling the ball. Even the barnstorming Porter showed he can tip on passes to better-located players when it might be tempting for him to carry solo every single time.

Jones Link

Back row Jones is the man to demonstrate his passing skill in the example above, finding impressive centre Conor O’Brien out the back door of Aspil.

It’s simple stuff, of course, but it’s extremely positive nonetheless to see that Carolan is giving his hard-carrying forwards the freedom and structure in which to pass the ball.

O’Brien does well to break a tackle here, but the work of Aspil off the ball is important.

Jones Link

The St. Mary’s man’s running line just forces Santiago Mare to step backwards in order to get around him, therefore becoming every so slightly disconnected from the defenders either side of him.

As Mare comes forward again, O’Brien bursts into the slight gap and shakes off the tackle to once again get Ireland moving forward in control.

Awareness

Max Deegan was a worthy recipient of the man-of-the-match award after his latest all-action performance, with his first-half try among the highlights.

Deegan Try

Argentina have been very clever with their plays off lineout in this competition and this try suggests that Ireland had done their homework, led by performance analyst Jim Herring.

Deegan is alert and aware, understanding that the Pumitas have had success in peeling away to the outside of dummy maul set-ups. His reaction is superb as the bounds clear after initially looking like he is thinking of hammering into the forming maul.

Cue

Argentina scrum-half Patricio Baronio provides Deegan with the cue he needs, turning his upper body back inside to throw the pass.

With the mobile Adam McBurney having Baronio well covered after coming from the tailgunner position at the rear of the lineout, Deegan is comfortable making a sudden surge upfield – either to slam Tomas Malanos ball-and-all or pick off the pass.

It’s the second option that presents itself to Deegan and the athletic Lansdowne man then shows impressive pace and sprint endurance to beat Pumitas out-half Domingo Miotti to the cornerflag.

Set-piece foundations

As well as offering his clear prowess with ball in hand, Deegan contributed well to an excellent set-piece effort from Ireland.

Their scrum was utterly dominant in Manchester, with freakishly powerful loosehead prop Andrew Porter leading the way. He took Santiago Medrano apart, while over on the tighthead side Munster’s Ben Betts was superb once again.

The Young Munster prop was essentially third-choice before this tournament but has impressed since taking over from Conan O’Donnell and Conor Kenny. His work in the loose has shown the prop’s rugby intelligence too.

Between that pair, hooker McBurney has been strong and the Ireland front row will take an aggressive mindset into the final against England.

With the scrum contributing majorly to Ireland’s control against Argentina, their lineout and maul showed up very well too. Just minutes before their third try, some superb maul defence work ensured the Pumitas didn’t score.

Maul D

Ireland are 14-0 ahead at this point and the concession of a try would be a psychological and scoreboard blow.

The Pumitas’ initial drive looks promising but lock Ignacio Calas at the front falls to deck without being dragged down by Ireland, meaning the Argentinians have to shift away to the right.

Argentina on Floor

Ireland react proactively as the tryline beckons for the Pumitas, however, with Deegan surging up through the middle of the shift to target the ball.

The number eight is aided superbly by captain James Ryan, who excels in the tight exchanges. Ryan binds himself onto Deegan and helps to pivot the number eight around and onto the ball.

RyanDeegan Pivot

Suddenly, Ireland have splintered the ball carrier from the rest of the Argentina maul, with Ryan and Deegan both in behind him.

With the referee, Craig Maxwell-Keys, content that Ireland have come through the middle, Deegan wrestles onto the ball.

Deegan on Ball

The maul goes to deck swiftly after Deegan has his hands on and with the ball trapped in, Ireland earn the turnover scrum.

Porter and the front row, driven by Ryan and O’Connor in the second row, as well as by the back row, fire up at scrum time and shunt the Pumitas backwards. Medrano loses his bind, the penalty follows and the superb resistance by Ireland’s pack is complete.

McPhillips fires a beautiful line kick up into the Argentina half and then the backline takes over after Ryan’s excellent lineout take, with Stockdale scoring on the first phase of the lineout attack.

The back three, as we will see below, take the credit but it’s the Irish forward pack who put them in position.

Back-three bond

After a Six Nations in which the backline didn’t consistently spark, Carolan’s men have come into their own at this tournament. As we’ve underlined above, the forwards’ fine work has been laying the foundation but Ireland’s backs have found a more clinical edge.

Centre pairing Daly and O’Brien have been balanced and incisive, while the back three of Stockdale, Hugo Keenan and Byrne have shone.

COB Placement

A clever bit of play from O’Brien in midfield after Ryan’s lineout win allows Ireland to shift the ball out to the wide left channel when Argentina think they are close to winning the possession back with a choke tackle.

As we can see below, O’Brien’s initial carry is quite upright.

Upright

With Miotti and Mariano Romanini both clamping onto him up high, O’Brien is suddenly in real danger of succumbing to the choke tackle.

Even with Aspil, Deegan and Porter joining what is now a maul, there’s little hope of O’Brien fighting to the ground and placing the ball back from that position for Kerins to gather.

Instead, O’Brien problem-solves on his feet and intelligently releases the ball onto the ground as the maul moves up the pitch.

Place

We can see above that O’Brien is still being held up even as Kerins begins to move the ball away. Of course, there is some danger that the ball could bounce off an Irish foot or the lack of an offside line could see Argentina rush towards Kerins, but it happens quickly and cleanly for Ireland.

We saw similar play from South Africa against Ireland – although not as a response to a choke tackle threat – as they looked to ensure rapid ball for scrum-half Faf de Klerk even before a tackle could be completed.

With O’Brien’s clever action, we’re essentially still on first phase as Ireland play away to the left.

Try 3

McPhillips runs a dummy switch with Daly and then releases the ball out the back of Stockdale to Byrne.

Stockdale does well here not to collide with Mallia, even though his decoy run knocks the Argentina 13 backwards out of the defensive line for a split second – similarly to the Aspil action earlier.

That disconnect sees right wing Malanos opt to bite in on Byrne, rather than drift off, and the Ireland wing perfectly times his draw and pass to find Keenan, taking a thumping hit for his trouble.

DrawPass

Left wing Keenan immediately shows the footwork and evasion skill that has made him such a threat in this tournament, bouncing back inside the drifting Mallia with explosive power.

The big step from Keenan results in Mallia slipping and the Pumitas centre takes advancing fullback Delguy out of the game with him.

Keenan Step

With space now in front of him, Keenan can stride forward before offloading out of the tackle of Mare to Stockdale, who has resumed his upfield support line after avoiding a collision with Mallia.

Again, Ulster’s Pro12-capped flyer Stockdale shows his finishing quality.

Stockdale

He rapidly transfers the ball into his left arm, allowing him to fend Marcos Kremer with his right. Having dealt with the back row, there is a strong option for Stockdale to pass inside to Kerins, who has run an excellent support line.

However, Stockdale ignores that option and confidently backs himself to beat final defender Dominguez, who is sprinting across from the left side of Argentina’s backfield.

The footwork from Stockdale beats him easily and Ireland have a lead that they never looked like giving up.

Finishing on top

As pleasing for Ireland as the first-half tries and set-piece excellence were, they will perhaps have taken more pride from keeping the Pumitas scoreless in the second half with a strong and hard-working defensive performance.

The Argentinians became increasingly frustrated by the Irish resistance and their already poor discipline completely caved in to allow Carolan’s side to finish on top.

Daly Try

Even with 82:59 on the clock, Ireland are screaming “hammer, hammer” in defence and the try scored by Daly is their reward for the defensive hunger.

A fitting end to a dominant semi-final win.

Ireland face a monumental challenge in Saturday’s final against hosts England but having beaten last year’s champions New Zealand, Grand Slam holders Wales and the Pumitas in this competition already – as well as downing the English during the Six Nations – Carolan’s charges will be backing themselves to cause another upset and finish the job.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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