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Analysis: Nacewa's brilliant team try underlines the quality of Leinster's attack

Isa Nacewa’s first-half try highlights many of the positives in Leinster’s attacking play.

OVER THE COURSE of five phases and in the space of just 44 seconds of the first half against Wasps at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, Leinster’s try through Isa Nacewa encapsulated much of what is good about their attack.

Isa Nacewa and Johnny Sexton Isa Nacewa and Johnny Sexton during Saturday's win against Wasps. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

A sharp strike from a set-piece, fluid attacking play from their backs, good individual decision-making, accurate skill execution, width, smooth transition into their shape, and an ability to paint different types of pictures for the defence.

All of those aspects and more were present as Leinster swept 48 metres to the tryline for captain Nacewa to dot down.

We use this score as the framework to pick out trends in Leinster’s play, both in this game and over the course of the current season, with the Stuart Lancaster-led attack now looking like a major threat to Clermont in the semi-finals.

There are other important aspects of their attacking play – namely offloading, kick return and the ability to transition from defence to attack rapidly – that we will look at elsewhere, but this try provides plenty of evidence of what Leinster did well on Saturday.

Set-piece launch

The eastern province have been very clever in their set-piece attack this season, even if the ideas haven’t always worked out perfectly.

Against Wasps, Leinster were able to repeatedly stretch the defence with their strike plays from scrum and lineout, and this try was a fine illustration of that.

Set-Piece

The first thing to point out here is Leinster’s eagerness to get the ball back into play quickly.

Cullen’s side were intent on lifting the tempo against the English side and keeping pressure on them with lots of possession. Leinster ended up having 23 minutes and 25 seconds of possession to Wasps’ 12 minutes and 43 seconds, certainly part of the plan.

We see Leinster hurry up their delivery into the lineout here as well, with Richardt Strauss [circled in red] throwing the ball in as the Wasps’ defensive line is still organising itself [white].

Set-Piece

With Johnny Sexton having called the pre-planned attacking play, Leinster use a six-man lineout, with Sean O’Brien out in the backline.

Jack Conan is the lineout target at the front and it was interesting to see him used effectively here again. While his ball-carrying is the obvious strength of his game, the Old Belvedere man is an intelligent all round player and offers a fine jumping option.

Set-Piece.1

Leinster’s lineout was not flawless on Saturday but Conan won three balls at the front of the lineout and it’s his take and pop off the top – lifted by Jack McGrath and Dan Leavy here – to scrum-half Luke McGrath that gets this attack rolling.

Backline precision

McGrath fires a sharp pass to Sexton at out-half and we see Leinster’s fluid attack unfold to pull the Wasps defensive line out of shape.

Backs

The movement from Leinster here is simple, but it’s very well executed.

O’Brien [first yellow] starts just outside Robbie Henshaw and his job is to run a hard line off Sexton as Henshaw bounces out behind him [red].

Garry Ringrose [second yellow] performs the same job as O’Brien, only he runs that same line off Henshaw as Adam Byrne [blue] moves diagonally to the left in behind him.

Backs.1

Given that Leinster hope to attack wide on the left, this is not one of the times where Sexton can aid his team by bringing the ball right up to the gainline [and getting smashed], so he delivers the ball to Henshaw nice and early.

O’Brien’s decoy run is excellent.

He’s looking to tie down James Haskell [in the red scrum cap] and in order to do that as effectively as possible, he subtly changes his running line at the last split second.

SOB

Initially it looks like Haskell may be able to slide out past O’Brien, but the Leinster openside re-adjusts his line to ensure he makes slight contact with the Wasps flanker, helping to detach him from the defensive line.

It’s subtle but it underlines that O’Brien is fully tuned into his role here, providing as much distraction for the defence as he possibly can. Leinster did this very well all afternoon against the English side, with further examples below.

When Henshaw receives the ball from Sexton, it’s tempting for him to pass straight away, but he too is accurate in his execution.

Henshaw

Henshaw receives from Sexton and takes four important steps, drawing Jimmy Gopperth right up to tackle him just after the Leinster centre releases his own pass to Byrne.

It’s something that Henshaw didn’t always do perfectly for Ireland during the Six Nations in this kind of situation, having received a screen pass, but he is a player who consistently displays evidence of being a fast learner.

Here, he removes Gopperth from the defensive line with his well-timed pass.

Outside Henshaw, Ringrose is doing his job superbly too, as he briefly slows his run to ensure that he arrives to the attacking line as a real option for Henshaw to hit short.

Ringrose

As we can see above, Elliot Daly has to genuinely worry about Ringrose receiving the ball, and he is attracted by the Leinster 13′s run, turning his body infield to track Ringrose [as indicated by the white arrow].

It means that when Byrne receives the ball from Henshaw, Daly now has to re-adjust rapidly and he is caught in a bad position, with Byrne’s pace taking him well onto Daly’s outside shoulder.

With Joey Carbery and Isa Nacewa further out on the left for Leinster, the danger is suddenly very clear.

Byrne

While Byrne makes around 30 metres with ball in hand, Leinster might look at this initial strike as a slight missed opportunity to stretch Wasps even further.

Byrne is moving diagonally across the pitch and with Daly sprinting hard to try and make up the lost ground, there is a brief window there for Carbery to take a switch line back underneath Byrne.

Carbery Switch

It’s very easy to pick these things out with the benefit of replays and freeze frames, as ever, but it would have been interesting to note how damaging a switch line from Carbery would have been here.

Daly would have found it extremely difficult to re-adjust again and get a strong left shoulder onto Carbery, while there is clear separation between Daly and the defenders further infield.

Carbery Switch Ringrose

As we can see above, Ringrose has identified the space after continuing his run upfield to support Byrne and is calling for an inside pass.

That pass is almost impossible to throw at this point, however, and Byrne is finally grounded by Daly just inside the Wasps 22.

Pick and go

Ringrose had one of his best games yet for Leinster on Saturday and in among the beautifully-balanced runs into space, the excellent defensive reads and the aggressive moments of contact were a handful of clever pick and gos.

Immediately after Byrne is tackled, Ringrose is on the scene and sniffing out an opportunity.

Ringer P&G

Ringrose darts to the right of the tackle after scooping up the ball, then ducks back inside Christian Wade’s tackle in now-familiar fashion to make more metres for Leinster.

Ringrose did this on two other occasions on Saturday, although in different circumstances. The other two pick-and-go carries came in Leinster’s defensive territory, after they raced back to gather in Wasps kicks.

With the bulk of the defensive line slow to catch up and organise itself – as above – Ringrose took advantage by picking and carrying at the fringes for smart gains.

There was so much more to his display against Wasps, but these moments point to an intelligent player who is growing in confidence and making sharp decisions.

Smoothly into shape

While Wasps are trying to catch their breath after being force to retreat in the two phases since Strauss’ lineout throw, Leinster are rapidly into their attacking shape and Luke McGrath is able to shift the ball away to the right.

Into Shape 3

He hits Sexton and then there’s a three-man forward pod outside the out-half ready to carry at the heart of the Wasps defence.

Into Shape 3

Making up the pod are Devin Toner [1], Hayden Triggs [2] and Tadhg Furlong [3].

In the middle of the pod, Triggs is always the likely target of Sexton’s pass, meaning he will have support on either side if he opts to carry. Furlong also provides an outlet for a tip-on pass from Triggs, so there are a couple of options.

Out of shot on the right is a second pod of three forwards, made up of Jack McGrath, Conan and Leavy. With Strauss hanging wide on the right and O’Brien in a similar position on the left, Leinster are in a rough 1-3-3-1 shape here.

The system itself is not the most important thing to highlight, however. We have seen Leinster in a 2-4-2 shape and other configurations at other stages this season, but what they are consistently bringing now is good width in their attacking line, ensuring the defence has multiple threats to worry about right across the pitch.

Getting back to our example here, Triggs makes a good carry for Leinster, using his footwork to beat the on-rushing Joe Launchbury, underlining another positive aspect of the province’s play – sharp footwork before the tackle.

Play off second receiver

Leinster continue to the right and again Sexton is in position as first receiver, having worked around the corner.

Loosehead McGrath has made a decision to head to the ruck after Triggs’ carry, so there are two forwards for Sexton and Henshaw to work with here, and they use them superbly.

Leavy BUst

Rather than making another direct carry off Sexton, Leinster throw something different at the Wasps defence as the out-half hits Henshaw and then Leavy carries on a hard line off the inside centre.

The movement from Leinster is similar to their initial set-piece strike play, with Conan [yellow below] coming on the flat, hard line as a decoy and Henshaw [red] fading out the back door.

Leavy Bust

Henshaw adds two little steps of footwork and Wasps appear to expect him to carry at them, as they sit onto their heels.

Circled in white below are Kearnan Myall and Gopperth, both sitting on their heels and watching Henshaw.

Leavy Bust.1

At exactly the same time, Leavy is straightening onto an aggressive line [blue] in between the pair of Wasps defenders and while Gopperth does react late to bite in on the Leinster back row, Leavy makes up a good five metres for Leinster with his carry.

It’s important to just briefly note Strauss wide on the right here [yellow below], holding the width since his lineout throw got the attack underway.

Leavy Bust. 1 Strauss

Leinster have been good at holding their width in this manner all season, using forwards to occupy these positions after set-pieces, rather than just chasing the ball across the pitch.

That tactic also gave us the beautiful sight of Furlong dancing around Cipriani out on the left wing later in the game.

Following the Leavy carry, Furlong, Jack McGrath and Strauss are present to the right of the ruck, but Luke McGrath hits Triggs to the left for the Kiwi lock to carry again.

Triggs Carry

Furlong arrives over to resource the ruck with Toner, and now Leinster are in position to pounce for their try.

Two playmakers

This scoring phase underlines the value of having a second playmaker in the backline in the shape of Carbery, and his pass is sublime, but we also see the importance of Sexton once again in this example.

Sexton

As Triggs is carrying, Sexton is scanning the Wasps defensive line [indicate above], noting that Cipriani, Daly and Wade are now isolated, and identifying that the opportunity is on the outside edge.

Within a second, Sexton is having a scan of his own attacking line [below], calibrating what exactly Leinster can do to unlock Wasps.

Sexton .1

It’s all happening at lightning speed in Sexton’s head and even as he’s scanning his own attacking line, the Leinster out-half is already firing out a concise instruction.

We see him in the right corner of the clip below [slowed down for purposes of clarity], beckoning for O’Brien to come on another hard, flat line outside him.

As Luke McGrath sets himself to pass, Sexton gets in another brief glance at the Wasps defence, which is now bolstered by a pair of forwards having folded around the corner.

Sexton

It’s one of a multitude of decisions Sexton makes in this game and throughout the course of every game he plays, but the point here is to stress the out-half’s ongoing importance to his province.

His decision-making in this instance – and a fine pass – gives Carbery time to throw a beauty of an assist for Nacewa.

Try

Once again, the decoy run is important for Leinster here, with O’Brien making sure he is a viable option for Sexton close to the gainline.

SOB Line

Carbery [red above] is bouncing out behind O’Brien [yellow], and the Leinster openside does a fine job again in his role, keeping his body open for a possible pass from Sexton and running to the inside shoulder of Cipriani.

As we can see below, that draws Cipriani [white] into sitting down on his heels.

SOB .1

Cipriani re-adjusts after Sexton’s pass gets to Carbery but he’s lost a lot of ground and the Leinster fullback is on his outside shoulder.

That in turn means Daly can’t fully drift off Carbery and onto Ringrose, with the Wasps 13′s head turned in on Carbery [white arrow below], even if he keeps his body open.

Width Daly:Wade

Wade is on the very edge of the Wasps defence [circled in white above] and perhaps the only hope for his side now is for the wing to hammer up and try to pick off Carbery’s pass.

The thing that makes it so difficult for him to do so is that Nacewa and Byrne have kept the width so well for Leinster out on the left. Wade has to worry about those two, while also having concern around a short pass from Carbery to Ringrose.

He’s caught in an awful position and ends up hovering as Carbery backs his skills to throw a stunning pass beyond him to Nacewa, inviting his wing to finish in the left corner.

The value of having Carbery available in this position is clear and we saw it throughout Saturday’s game as he distributed for Leinster after accepting passes from Sexton and also when the out-half was out of play or on the other side of the pitch.

Work hard

One aspect of Leinster’s peformance we haven’t mentioned here yet is their work-rate, which was outstanding against Wasps.

There were certainly poor patches of play from the eastern province and some errors that need to be ironed out of their game, but it’s clear that this group of players is now totally invested in what they are trying to achieve.

Even in the process of this try being scored, we get a small example of hard work.

Work Rate

Nacewa is scoring in the left corner but we’ve picked out Leavy in red over on the right.

The back row has split his head open carrying two phases before, but he is straight back onto his feet and, with blood streaming down his face, works to get across the pitch in the event that Leinster don’t manage to score.

It’s fine work rate from Leavy, symbolising what Leinster brought against Wasps.

That effort is a non-negotiable at this level, in truth, but right now it appears that Leinster are bringing many of the other things required of Champions Cup contenders.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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