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Analysis: Ultan Dillane is an intriguing possible replacement for Stander

The 22-year-old looks ready for his first Test start against the Boks in Test two.

CJ STANDER’S BAN leaves Joe Schmidt facing at least one enforced change for Saturday’s second Test against the Springboks in Johnnesburg, meaning last weekend was a good time for Ultan Dillane to give his latest impressive audition off the bench.

Sean Cronin and Ultan Dillane celebrate after the match Dillane made an impact off the bench last weekend. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The absence of Stander leaves a hole in the back row, of course, but Iain Henderson has played in the six shirt for Ireland thrice and filled that jersey in all but one of his nine Ulster appearances this season.

Schmidt may be loath to break up the second row partnership of Henderson and Devin Toner, which outmuscled the highly-lauded Springboks pair of Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager, and Rhys Ruddock is therefore another strong option to start.

The Leinster man has seven more caps than Dillane and also showed a glimpse of his power off the bench last weekend in Cape Town. Munster’s Donnacha Ryan has extensive experience at both lock and blindside flanker too, providing another element for Schmidt to consider.

Stander’s absence leaves the Ireland head coach with an intriguing decision and his final call is likely to be related to how he wants his team to approach this second Test.

Ryan’s lineout brain and raw aggression, Ruddock’s power in contact and leadership, Dillane’s unique explosiveness and energy. That’s a rather simplistic summation of the options, of course, but there is real quality for Schmidt to choose from.

Certainly, the selection of Dillane in the second row and a move to six for Henderson would excite Ireland fans. The Ulsterman was defensively destructive in the first Test but did not have ideal opportunity to show his ball-carrying prowess. His seven carries all came in congested channels.

Rhys Ruddock Ruddock is a strong contender too. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

With Stander missing, Henderson now becomes the go-to forward carrier for Ireland and a shift to six, somewhat relieving him of some of the workhorse duties involved in playing at lock, may be the ideal platform for him to take the game to the Boks.

Whatever way Schmidt opts to juggle his options, 22-year-old Dillane has demonstrated that he is ready to start for the first time.

Clever carrier

Connacht man Dillane has played just 65 minutes of Test rugby in his four appearances off the bench for Ireland so far, but he has made almost every single one of them count.

His power, acceleration and intent to break the defensive line have been clear from the outset.

The thrust against England on debut was memorable, although the lock failed to fix fullback Mike Brown after breaking through and therefore allowed the Harlequins man to drift onto Josh van der Flier. An early Test lesson.

Dillane

Having made in impression during the Six Nations and in Connacht’s Guinness Pro12 success, bursting off the bench in Cape Town last weekend with 12 minutes remaining was an interesting challenge for Dillane.

Ireland led 23-13 when he strode onto the pitch but within 20 seconds Pieter-Steph du Toit was streaking under the posts to make it a three-point game.

The pressure rose on 14-man Ireland, though Dillane looked mature and focused as he went about doing what Schmidt asks of his replacements – fitting into the system before worrying about making the big impact.

Having been forced to watch du Toit race past him on the intercept, Dillane’s first physical involvement was a tackle assist after Ireland chased their deep restart. Jared Payne’s sensational offload to Andrew Trimble got Ireland back on the front foot on kick return, before Dillane’s first carry underlined what he brings.

Carry 1

With Stander ruled out of the second Test, Ireland are without their primary ball carrier in the pack. That was not highlighted as much as it might have been with Ireland at 14 men last weekend simply because they understandably didn’t attack with ball in hand a huge amount.

Dillane is a different athlete to Stander – less blocky in stature, longer and more explosive – but his ball-carrying is very effective.

It’s not just about the physical prowess. Dillane is an intelligent player and in this instance we can see him getting his head up to scan the defence before thundering onto the ball.

Look

It’s only a glance but it allows Dillane to pick out the chink he’s going to use his acceleration and power to target.

The 22-year-old picks an intelligent line to challenge the Boks’ defence, slightly arcing away from the ruck and therefore ensuring that he gets to the outside shoulder of four defenders.

Line

That forces the Boks’ defenders to work hard as, even on this one-out carry, they are being stretched to react.

With Sean Croning briefly interesting Trevor Nyakane on Dillane’s outside shoulder, the lock tucks the ball into his left arm and dips his right into the tackle of du Toit. The Kerryman manipulates his body into contact consistently well.

It’s only a short gain for Ireland in this instance but it’s an excellent basic carry. The twist of his upper body on the ground to ensure clean ball presentation is a detail Schmidt will have appreciated too.

17 seconds later, Dillane has his second carry and is met by a thumping double tackle from Nyakane and Duane Vermeulen but again we see that clean presentation that allows Conor Murray to play away.

Carry 2

Dillane hits his first ruck wide on the left three phases later, when Keith Earls is levelled by Willie le Roux, then makes his third carry in a minute coming back around the corner.

It’s short off Murray with little opportunity for gains but, again, the presentation is clean and Paddy Jackson is narrowly wide with a drop goal attempt directly from that ruck.

Lineout lift

Dillane’s next duty is a take at the rear of a five-man Ireland lineout in the 74th minute.

LO 1

Dillane’s dynamism makes him an excellent jumper and again it’s an attractive feature for Schmidt and forwards coach Simon Easterby ahead of the second Test.

Were Henderson to relocate to the six shirt he would still play a prominent role in the lineout, of course, but the introduction of Dillane would mean Ireland having three genuine primary jumpers in the lineout. Bringing Ryan in would produce the same result.

The lineout was an interesting battle in Cape Town. With 15 won/1 lost [93.8%] on their throw, compared to Ireland’s 10 won/2 lost [83.3%], it would appear that the Boks had a more successful evening of lineout work.

Noting where the ball was won is of interest though. Eben Etzebeth is one of the most explosive jumpers in the world and can essentially guarantee a win at the front of the lineout even when the opposition mark up against him. Most of the Boks’ lineout ball was thrown to the front or middle, with just one genuine long throw to the tail.

Winning ball at ‘two’ is not the most ideal for launching attacks away from the lineout, but the Boks repeatedly went there.

Toner had one excellent steal in front of du Toit in the 66th minute and Ireland may feel they can attack the South African lineout a little more in this second Test.

The Boks ran a high number of five-man [five times] and four-man [five times] lineouts in the first Test. Ireland’s three jumping options in their five-man defensive set-up were Toner, Jamie Heaslip and Henderson.

Five-Man

As we can see above, Heaslip is at the centre of the five lineout players, with Toner in front and Henderson behind. Props Jack McGrath and Tadhg Furlong [on for Mike Ross] book-end the lineout to provide front and rear lifting options. Rory Best is the tailgunner.

Heaslip is a strong lineout player, an area of his game that can be overlooked, but it would be fascinating to see Ireland attack the Boks with three locks in this formation, particularly with Dillane’s explosiveness added into the mix.

Aside from the Toner steal late in the game, Ireland got close to the Boks’ throw on a number of occasions and Easterby might just be pushing the idea of going after Allister Coetzee’s side in that area. Dillane could aid the cause.

Tackle tech

Back to last weekend, Murray box kicked from the maul created by Dillane’s lineout take and the Boks looked to play out from the back. With Damien de Allende threatening, the Connacht lock made a superb first tackle.

Tackle 1

The strong technique Dillane shows here is typical of this Irish defensive performance as they got Boks carriers to deck swiftly when the choke tackle or ruck-slowing high tackle wasn’t clearly on.

De Allende is threatening here as the Boks search desperately to break out from deep but Dillane scythes in low with a firm wrap of his arms to take out the centre’s legs.

As with their attacking skills, Pat Lam’s Connacht have worked hard on the basic elements of defending. Skills coach Dave Ellis gets credit for the ball-handling improvements the westerners have made but players like Dillane and Niyi Adeolokun show how rapidly Connacht’s squad have improved with their defensive technique too.

Tackle

Again, it is basic stuff but that’s what Schmidt is looking for from a replacement with fresh legs.

16 seconds later, Dillane completes his second tackle, this time going in low with his left shoulder on Vermeulen to bring the number eight to ground. That low tackle focus – a habit of Dillane’s when the big hit isn’t obviously on – proves key for Ireland.

Penalty

As we can see above, Dillane’s targeting of Vermeulen down low traps the Boks back row’s left leg and grounds him, allowing tackle assist Murray to stay on his feet and offer a viable threat over the ball.

That in turn lures Boks prop Frans Malherbe into flying in from the side to remove Murray and Mathieu Raynal responds with the penalty – Malherbe’s third big penalty concession of the game – that allows Jackson to kick Ireland 26-20 in front.

Scrum solution

Dillane juggles the ball and almost knocks-on with his fourth carry in the 78th minute but recovers to take contact, before his next involvement comes at scrum time.

Scrum

This set-piece will be taken into consideration in the decision Ireland make about their team changes. As we can see above, Devin Toner is scrummaging at tighthead lock, as he has done for Ireland since the retirement of Paul O’Connell.

A lack of ‘natural’ tighthead locks is something Schmidt bemoaned before the tour began and used to explain his inclusion of Quinn Roux in the squad, when the South African native is not a first-choice player at Connacht.

Dillane scrummages at loosehead lock, although he has stated that he wants to learn the tighthead role as soon as possible and make a switch to that side of the scrum. He would certainly appear to have the power to make the move but that is somewhere down the line.

For this weekend, Ireland will be keen to ensure their scrum is as powerful and solid as possible. Tendai Mtawarira again caused Mike Ross problems in Cape Town and ensuring that Ireland’s balance in the scrum is strong will be important.

Work rate

Having made a final carry for no gains inside Ireland’s half on the second phase following this scrum, Dillane’s closing duties in Cape Town were defensive.

He tackled Lionel Mapoe near halfway with 30 seconds remaining, getting his head in a slightly awkward position, then was involved in a second scrum as the Boks launched one last attack.

A tackle assist on Warren Whiteley in midfield was followed by Dillane’s closing contribution of the game, a firm tackle low on Etzebeth.

Final Tackle

Last weekend didn’t allow Dillane to add any fireworks similar to his big linebreak on debut against England in the Six Nations but he did demonstrate once again that he is entirely comfortable and effective in Test rugby.

Schmidt’s tactical plan for the second clash with the Boks may dictate that Ruddock is the more ideal candidate to directly replace Stander at blindside flanker – meaning one change rather than two – or the head coach might be tempted by Ryan’s experience.

Nonetheless, Dillane is fit, hungry, explosive and clearly ready to make an even greater impact at the highest level for Ireland. If his starting chance isn’t to come this weekend, he still has a bright, bright future in green.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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