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Analysis: How Ireland's forwards took Scotland apart in World Cup opener

A superb set-piece and ruthless streak broke the Scots in Yokohama.

THREE TRIES INSIDE the opening 25 minutes took Ireland clear of Scotland in Yokohama, producing a 19-3 lead that the Scots were always going to struggle to reel in, particular with a downpour of rain throughout the second half.

A brutal, bullying performance from the Irish pack was exemplified in their ruthless efficiency for these three scores.

Indeed, Joe Schmidt’s side dotted down tries on each of their three first visits into the Scotland 22, a scoring steak that left them fully in control of what many had hoped would be a tense, tight Pool A battle.

Second row double team

After a frantic opening few minutes, Ireland settled and the carnage started.

The first try stemmed from poor exit kick from Greig Laidlaw being fielded by Andrew Conway, before carries from Jordan Larmour and CJ Stander laid the platform for Iain Henderson’s eye-catching run. 

As Stander is tackled, we can see below that Scotland’s Grant Gilchrist at the top of the shot expects tighthead WP Nel to fold around into the pillar position, as indicated in white.


But Nel is simultaneously being told to stay at the left fringe of the ruck, so he fills in there, meaning that Gilchrist now has to close into the ‘pillar’ slot to the right of the ruck himself, as indicated in red below.


As Gilchrist is closing in towards the ruck, Conor Murray initiates the next phase by picking out Henderson on his left to carry.

Gilchrist is expecting Scotland captain Stuart McInally to close in towards the ruck just outside him, which would leave McInally in position to tackle Henderson.

As we can see below, Gilchrist [circled in red] is actually pointing for McInally to tackle Henderson.


Gilchrist is worried about an inside pass from Henderson here, with Ireland already having used that tactic early in the game.

Henderson intelligently accentuates the doubt in Gilchrist’s mind by carrying the ball in two hands and throwing a subtle dummy inside to further sell that idea.

It’s a minor detail but a truly crucial one.

With McInally slow to close the space between himself and Gilchrist, Henderson takes his opportunity with determination, accelerating as he moves the ball into his right hand, freeing his left to swat at McInally as he bursts through the gap.


We must note too that Cian Healy and James Ryan work around the corner here to provide that potential inside pass option for Henderson, who shows his dynamism to go through McInally and then evade the despairing diving tackle attempt of Gilchrist.

Johnny Sexton shows sharpness to get to Henderson’s right in support but the lock opts to carry forward into the tackle of Stuart Hogg, the Scotland fullback clinging on to drag him down. 

Ireland could potentially shift wide left directly from this ruck, Sexton and Healy having cleared out for lightning-quick ball, but instead they go into their grinding carrying game closer to the ruck.

With an offside penalty advantage playing, Jordan Larmour almost scores off an inside pass from Sexton, but it’s Ryan who forces his way over on the ninth phase.


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As we can see above, Murray is in position to pass the ball but Ryan takes control and nudges the scrum-half out of the way – a sign of his growing leadership.

Nel [white below] and Hamish Watson [red] are the Scottish defenders to the left fringe of the ruck and they set up low in their bid to stop Ryan. 


But there are few players in world rugby who carry lower to the ground than the astoundingly athletic Ryan, as demonstrated once again in this instance.

Aware that he only has a metre to make up, Ryan intelligently gets in underneath the shoulders of Nel and Watson.


Importantly, Ryan gets a couple of helpful contributions from Healy as he looks to finish.

Healy first pushes Ryan forward just as he gets in underneath the Scottish pair…


… then drives over the top of Ryan, adding momentum and taking Jonny Gray, who has attempted to get in on Ryan’s upper body from the outside, clear of the ball.


These are not flashy details from Healy but they make a difference in accentuating Ryan’s power to help the lock finish. 

This try was just one element of another sensational showing from Ryan in which he was Ireland’s second-busiest carrier with 14 – behind only CJ Stander on 16 – as well as their joint-top tackler alongside Jack Conan on 14.

This sixth-minute try also illustrated the poor fringe defence of the Scots, for whom the signs were ominous.

The maul makes a comeback

This was a superb day for Ireland’s maul, which made a strong return to form and sapped Scotland of territory and belief early in the game.

Ireland mauled their first four lineouts of the game, with the second motoring forward before Best broke blind and offloaded to Conor Murray, who chipped ahead into the Scotland 22. From there, Laidlaw’s poor exit led to Ireland’s first try.

Ireland’s third lineout maul saw them win a penalty that Sexton kicked into the left corner, from where they scored their second try. 

Simon Easterby’s pack set up in a ’6+1′ formation, with six forwards in the lineout itself and Conan in the ‘receiver’ position just behind, indicating that a maul is likely.


As we can see above, Ireland start with two clear pods – three men at the front and three at the back.

The movement on the ground from the Irish forwards is excellent here, though, allowing them to win the lineout cleanly.

Stander [red below] moves from behind Ryan back towards Henderson in the lineout, as if to go and lift Henderson.


Stander’s movement attracts the attention of Gray [pink above] from the front of the lineout, as Gray now tracks Stander’s movement towards Henderson, who is edging forward.

As Henderson continues to move forward, Ryan [yellow belo] now makes a similar movement to Stander, who has already stepped out of the lineout after his dummy run.

Ryan now looks like the likely front lifter on Henderson.


Ryan’s movement further convinces Gray that Henderson is going to jump here, and we can see Gray has tucked in close to Gilchrist, ready to lift his locking partner.

But, again, it’s a dummy from Ireland and Ryan drops out of the lineout as Henderson continues to move forward towards Healy, who hasn’t budged from the very front.

As we can see below, Henderson is already in front of Gray and Gilchrist [pink], meaning they’re not going to be able to jump to compete…


… leaving Henderson free to win clean ball from Best’s throw as he’s lifted by Healy and Peter O’Mahony, who has followed him all the way forward to the front of the lineout.


As Henderson claims the ball, we can see that Stander and Ryan have looped into the five-metre channel after their dummy runs in the lineout.

These runs from Stander [red below] and Ryan [yellow] indicate that Ireland are keen to shift their maul into the five-metre channel.


Meanwhile, Conan [white below] moves up from the receiver position behind the lineout to accept the transfer from Henderson as he comes to ground from his lineout catch.


The lineout lifters are crucial here, with Healy and O’Mahony ‘bracing’ at the front of the forming maul just as Henderson comes back to ground.

We can see below that O’Mahony [blue] clamps in behind Henderson, creating a buffer between the first defending Scottish forwards and the Ireland lock.


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Healy is doing a similar job on the other side, absorbing some of the pressure and protecting the players behind him as the ball is transferred.

We can also see Tadhg Furlong [red above] entering the maul to Conan’s right as he gets the ball from Henderson, and his role will also be to provide something of a buffer.

Back over on the left side of Conan, we can see that Ryan [yellow] and Stander [red] are already moving up beyond the ball.


Stander and Ryan are going to lead the shift drive from Ireland, essentially creating a new maul splintering off into the five-metre channel where Scotland have less resistance.

Stander does an excellent job of engaging in behind Healy just before Scotland prop Allan Dell can drive in, again creating security for what is to come behind him.

While that’s happening, Best [white below] arrives over from the touchline to accept a second transfer of the ball from Conan.


Ireland are now extremely cohesive, low and tight – with each of the forwards having perfectly slotted into their roles as they now look to drive forward into the five-metre channel.

Stander [red below] grips onto Ryan behind him and leads the way forward, while Furlong [blue] begins to drive forward from the right-hand side, shearing up past Henderson and O’Mahony.


We can see above that Scotland’s counter-drive is all coming from the right-hand side of Ireland’s maul, with their defenders having arrived behind Henderson’s lineout jump.

Scotland scrum-half Laidlaw’s worry is clear above as he points to where Ireland are gathering power. 

The Scots are attempting to drive Ireland out towards the touchline, but the Irish maul is beginning to pick up steam.


With Conan and Furlong following Stander and Ryan through [red above], we can see that Henderson, O’Mahony [both blue] and Healy – who is hidden in the mass of bodies – are providing protection from Scotland’s shove towards the touchline. 

Meanwhile, the ball is safely tucked in Best’s left arm, well away from any prying hands.

Scotland’s counter-drive actually ends up swinging around with Ireland’s forward momentum, as the Irish pack catapults forward and through Laidlaw.


Stander, still gripping Ryan behind him, bursts through into clear space [red above], just as Scotland captain McInally [yellow] decides to throw himself in from the side in a desperate bid to stop Ireland’s momentum from taking them over the tryline.

As McInally [yellow below] dives in underneath Ireland, Nel [white] grips onto Best’s shorts from behind on the other side, again doing anything he can to stop the hooker from scoring.


Barnes signals advantage. With Nel hanging out of him, as Laidlaw and Scotland wing Tommy Seymour provide roadblocks, Best now gets a little detached from the rest of the Irish pack, who are surging over the tryline.

The Ireland captain attempts to finish towards the corner flag [red below] but there is simply too much debris in front of him as he makes his surge.


Fortunately for Ireland, O’Mahony [yellow above] has continued to work through and into support for Best.

As Best now slows just above the tryline, with Scotland’s Ryan Wilson driving in from his left side, O’Mahony helps the hooker to wrench and roll himself back to the right.


Best lands onto his head in a deeply awkward position but he is just about able to get the nose of the ball to ground and referee Wayne Barnes awards the score.


There’s a huge amount of detail in this five-metre try as it unfolds over the course of 12 seconds.

It’s a deeply satisfying one for Ireland, with each of the forwards nailing their roles in the pre-planned play to allow Best to score.

A good day for the maul generally means a good day for the lineout and Ireland had a 100% return on their throw in Yokohama. There were two scrappy wins among those 12 successes, but this was a highly-pleasing day for lineout leader Henderson and forwards coach Easterby.

Furlong finishes it

The Ireland scrum had an excellent outing in Yokohama, winning all 10 on their own put-in and providing a consistently clean platform to play off.

The Irish pack won a scrum penalty in the first half – Murray missed with his shot at goal – earned a free-kick in the second half, then obliterated the Scots on their own feed heading into the final quarter, as replacement props Dave Kilcoyne and Andrew Porter helped Ireland to a clean win against the head.

The scrum was also the foundation for Ireland’s third try, after superb defence and chasing from Chris Farrell and Andrew Conway – who smashed Stuart Hogg over his own tryline – provided the Irish pack with a five-metre set-piece in the 25th minute.

Again, they made no mistake to ensure three successful returns from their first three visits into the Scotland 22.

Before Murray has even fed the ball into this midfield scrum, we can see that number eight Stander has detached his hands, awaiting the ball.


Stander should be bound, of course, but he’s keen to get the jump on Scotland and it is difficult for match officials to spot this as they keep a close eye on the front rows’ scrummaging.

Best hooks Murray’s feed down ‘channel one’ – in between the loosehead prop’s legs for the quickest route to the back of the scrum, where Stander’s early detachment means he is scooping the ball up before Scotland can react.


With Scotland’s back row still down scrummaging, Stander surges off the base of the scrum and directly between scrum-half Laidlaw and centre Sam Johnson, a hard-running forward against backs.


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Johnson and Laidlaw do manage to slow Stander, buying time for flankers Watson and John Barclay to arrive over from the scrum and help put him to ground. 

But Stander presents clean ball for a rapid recycle at the breakdown, with Farrell, van der Flier and Ringrose resourcing it.

Murray plays a one-out pass to O’Mahony coming around the corner [red below], with Ryan and Henderson either side of him in support.


Ryan Wilson, Gilchrist and Dell combine to tackle O’Mahony but again Ireland get a quick recycle for another carry around the corner as they beat the Scots at the fringes from close-range again.

Furlong and Best [yellow below] have come from the scrum to offer themselves up for the next carry. While the Scots have also got forwards around the corner defensively, we can see another spacing issue as McInally sets up several metres away from Gray on his inside, leaving clear space for Furong to attack [red].


Out of shout, Sexton is hovering in behind Furlong and Best, and that may well be distracting McInally from the threat directly in front of him.

Murray passes to Furlong and – despite having just been involved in an energy-sapping scrum – the tighthead thrusts himself towards the tryline.


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Barnes almost guides Furlong into the space here, as the tighthead follows the referee into that gap between Gray and McInally.

Furlong’s power so soon after the scrum is impressive, but he gets a helping hand with his finish from Best, who latches on [yellow below] to add more power.


With Sexton adding the conversion, Ireland are 19-3 up and there is to be no way back for Scotland.

For Best and his fellow forwards, this was one of the good days.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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