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Analysis: Ireland's defence slips up to allow Médard heartbreaker

The France fullback crossed for the winning converted try in the closing 10 minutes in Paris.

IRELAND’S ATTACKING DEFICIENCIES and scrum problems were clearly major factors in their defeat at Stade de France last weekend, but it was Maxime Médard’s converted try that did the damage on the scoreboard.

The result doesn’t solely revolve around this concession, but Joe Schmidt and his players will certainly have looked at the try with a view to learning from it and improving for the next time they face a similar situation.

What will Ireland have picked out?

Quick ball

We will look in-depth at last weekend’s scrummaging contest in a separate analysis piece, but it obviously has a big part to play in Médard’s try.

After two resets and then three consecutive penalties against Ireland in a series of scrums that lasts more than four minutes, Schmidt’s forwards are well aware that they need to keep their heads down and scrummage here.

France get a stroke of fortune at this sixth scrum as the ball shoots straight out channel one from Guilhem Guirado’s hook, with replacement number eight Loann Goujon apparently taken by total surprise as he attempts to control the ball only after it has passed out of the scrum.

TOD Head

Maxime Machenaud at scrum-half reacts brilliantly for the French, however. He immediately scoops the ball off the deck and bursts around to the right-hand side of the scrum, taking himself away from the defensive threat Conor Murray poses.

As we can see above, Ireland’s back row remains down and driving at the scrum, attempting to provide their front five with as much power and stability as possible, with a penalty try looming.

Once the ball is out, the Ireland back row needs a really clear shout of ‘break!’ or whatever call they usually get from their scrum-half [who has a better view of the ball] to signify that the scrum has ended, allowing them to break off and move onto their next roles.

Either that call doesn’t come from Murray, or Ireland’s back row understandably fail to hear it in the deafening cauldron that was the Stade de France at this moment in time.

TOD Head.1

We can see above that O’Donnell only begins to break from the scrum by the time Machenaud is already around the set-piece and running hard at Ireland’s defence. O’Donnell breaking from the scrum even a split second earlier could have made the difference for Ireland.

As we see above, Heaslip and Stander are still completely bound and driving at the scrum. By the time the number eight and blindside break, Médard has already burst past Robbie Henshaw.

Machenaud’s quick reactions allow him to burst around the right side of the Ireland scrum and run directly at out-half Ian Madigan. Naturally enough, the Irish backs are taken by surprise at the ball even coming out of the scrum, but they’re in decent shape to cope.

Man-On

As indicated above, it’s man-on-man defence for Ireland. Madigan matches up on Machenaud [yellow], Henshaw on Médard [red] and Fergus McFadden on Hugo Bonneval [blue].

The situation is obviously more difficult this close to the Irish line, meaning they have to advance with more speed to ensure that France don’t win the first collision, wherever it’s going to happen. Ireland want to hammer into the space and take the tackle to the French.

Ireland are in good shape to do so, but a hint of redirection from Médard beats Henshaw and opens the Irish line.

Médard Straightens

Having initially faded away from the scrum, Médard reacts to Machenaud drawing Madigan in by straightening back up, but Henshaw doesn’t react to that shift of line from the France fullback until too late.

The Ireland inside centre shoots beyond Madigan, just losing the connection with his out-half. Crucially, Henshaw glances in at Machenaud and the ball, losing vision of Médard for a brief enough moment to miss the subtle redirection of running line.

Henshaw needs to have an awareness of what Machenaud is doing with the ball of course, but his priority must be Médard here – the fullback is his man and his responsibility.

As with any analysis, it’s very easy to pick these things up with the benefit of multiple replays and the luxury of pausing and rewinding, but Henshaw is likely to have learned from this situation.

Henshaw Loses Médard

He loses track of Médard for a split second as he continues to hammer forward at speed, and gets done on the inside.

Every good defensive system has a back-up safety net if the frontline fails, and O’Donnell is the man who looks to provide exactly that in this case.

We’ve already touched upon his delayed exit from the scrum.

Even being a split second earlier on the break from the set-piece would have allowed O’Donnell to be in place to swallow Médard up in a firm tackle, but instead he is left struggling across as the France fullback classily changes his line back out away from the posts after beating Henshaw.

TOD

O’Donnell’s life is made so much more difficult by that Médard footwork, with the Toulouse man shifting off to his right just as the Ireland openside lines up his hit. It means O’Donnell can’t chop in low, though even if he had Médard’s momentum might have allowed him to stretch out and score.

Instead, O’Donnell is high around Médard’s upper body, but he can’t get his left shoulder firmly into the contact without his feet being planted in close to the Frenchman. It’s an arm tackle, and Médard shows great strength to stay upright and fight through the tackle attempt.

Clearly the scrum circumstances greatly affected O’Donnell but he will be characteristically hard on himself in his own analysis of this missed tackle.

Inevitable

In truth, the French try had a real air of inevitability about it and not only because referee Jaco Peyper arguably should have gone for a penalty try the second time Ireland were penalised at scrum time under their posts.

Just minutes before, the French had ignored a man in huge space wide on the right in an incident that echoed Ireland’s failing in this zone against Wales in last year’s Six Nations.

Overlap

In the situation above, the French have a man wide right in the shape of Bonneval. The Stade Français flyer is in huge space and out-half Jules Plisson [circled in yellow] has identified as much.

Plisson is screaming into the ruck for the ball to be released to the right, but he is either ignored or, more likely, not heard. It’s remarkably similar to what happened to Ireland in Cardiff last year, and something that occurs far too regularly even in Test rugby.

The sheer volume in venues like Stade de France makes it massively difficult obviously, but the pressure of being this close to the tryline also plays a major role. Too often communication fails when these opportunities arise.

Instead of two simple passes, or even one, France pick and jam again, but are prevented the try by some brave and illegal play by Rob Kearney.

RK

The Ireland fullback launches himself in and under Damien Chouly as the France number eight makes a final surge for the line. Kearney’s actions prevent the try but he technically makes no attempt to wrap his arms in the tackle.

Expecting Peyper to pick that up in this instance is demanding, however, and Kearney’s intelligence and bravery prevent the French from scoring on this occasion. Instead, the scrum battle re-commences and finally Médard crosses.

Access

Ireland could move a step further back in their analysis to note where this French possession and territory originated from in the first place.

Ireland’s increasingly fatigued and error-ridden performance in the second half extended into some poor kicking and chasing and it was one such example that invited the French into Irish territory in the build-up to the above incidents.

The above takes place in the 61st minute, almost a full 10 minutes before Médard eventually scores.

The clearing kick from McFadden here is poor, low and aimed directly at the French fullback in the centre of the pitch, handing him exactly the kind of kick return opportunity that he thrives on and that Schmidt identified pre-match as necessary to avoid.

Compounding the poor kick is a missed tackle by McFadden on kick chase, with Jack McGrath and Mike McCarthy instead forced to plug it up on the inside. Again, we must commend Médard’s footwork in this instance as he beats the first Irish tackle and then gives a clever offload to keep the momentum going against a fractured defence.

The plugging tackle from McGrath and McCarthy is the one in which the Ireland lock is concussed, clashing heads with his prop. That means Ireland are instantly a man down in defence, with McCarthy prone on the ground.

Schmidt’s men are therefore on even more of a soft drift defence as the French cleverly shift the ball wide left after bursting into the Ireland half. Ireland are in no position to advance and make a dominant tackle, and we see Médard exploit that brilliantly.

He steps back to O’Donnell’s inside and takes the tackle as he offloads to Yacouba Camara running a sharp line. Nathan White and Jared Payne [who had a sensational defensive display] read the offload very well and swallow Camara up, but it’s more huge gains for the French.

Ireland are in genuine emergency mode now, particularly with a player out of the game, and the French very nearly take their chance here.

Rory Best misses a tired tackle attempt on Virimi Vakatawa as the French wing makes a pick and jam initially in the clip above. It’s a tactic that Guy Novès cleverly asked Vakatawa to use, echoing the All Blacks’ use of their wings on early phases, but even still Best might feel he should have cut Vakatawa down.

Instead, it’s more gainline for France and they almost pounce on the very next phase.

McFadden Calling

In the image above, we can just see McFadden at the top of the screen screaming for support on his inside, asking somebody to fold around the corner and fill up that channel inside him.

Instead of folding directly around and into that ‘A’ position, however, Best initially looks for Stander to push out of the pillar position, as we see below.

Best and McFadden

The more ideal move here might have been for Best simply to move directly to the ‘A’ role, one out from the pillar. The majority of defensive systems would have that as a standard procedure anyway, although Ireland’s may be slightly different.

The result of McFadden feeling that his inside has not been plugged is that he is hugely concerned about the presence of Wenceslas Lauret on the inside shoulder of first receiver Plisson.

McFadden Inside

McFadden feels he can’t fully commit to Plisson initially as he worries about an inside pass to Lauret. He gets flat footed as he sits down indecisively for a split second, as we see below.

Médard is running a clever line from outside Plisson too, leaving McFadden feeling that he has to cover all three players.

Flat Foot

Outside McFadden, Murray is already drifting off to keep track of Jonathan Danty. It’s a mess for Ireland, but this is exactly what occurs when a side makes the gains they just have against the Ireland defence. Plisson then has the intelligence and vision to produce the break, taking full advantage of McFadden’s compromised position.

Plisson cuts past McFadden and draws in Payne, who is acting as the ‘fullback’ in this disorganised and scrambling Irish defence.

Trimble Save

Bonneval is lurking on the touchline, but Andrew Trimble does brilliantly to get a big right paw up to Plisson’s attempted floated pass over the top of him.

It’s an incredibly important defensive contribution from Trimble, but Peyper returns to penalty advantage for an Irish failure to roll away from the tackle a number of phases before.

With the French firing the ball into the left corner and hammering their way towards the Irish posts, Trimble’s right hand only delays the inevitable.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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