Dublin: 12°C Thursday 26 May 2022

Analysis: Ireland's clever kicking shows Schmidt is keen for more variety

The Irish scrum-halves didn’t kick a single time during the win over Italy.

NO TEAM HAS been as heavily associated with the box kick in recent years as Ireland, but we may see them moving away from a reliance on the tactic coming into the World Cup.

Joe Schmidt’s team have had great success in the past from using their scrum-half, usually Conor Murray, to kick from the base of rucks – either clearing the ball to touch or, very often, hanging the ball in the air for chasing players to contest.

However, Ireland’s box kicks have been less effective in more recent times – particularly during this year’s Six Nations – due to their own lack of precise execution, as well as opposition teams’ ability to subtly block their chasing players off the ball [something Ireland themselves have been very good at too].

While it’s important to stress that this was their first game of the new season, Ireland’s kicking in a World Cup warm-up win over Italy on Saturday was perhaps the most interesting tactical element of the game.

Scrum-halves Luke McGrath and Kieran Marmion didn’t kick the ball a single time in the game, as Ireland opted against box-kicking to contest or even using their scrum-halves to exit from their own 22.

In recent seasons, Ireland have very rarely used their out-half to kick from their defensive territory but they exclusively used Joey Carbery and his replacement, Jack Carty, to do so against Italy.

We see a successful example below, as Carbery lofts a kick for Andrew Conway to regather.


Click here if you cannot view the clip above

The value of this kind of kick is immediately obvious as Conway advances into what is a clear one-on-one contest against Italy wing Edoardo Padovani [circled in red below].


Importantly, Conway has a virtually clear path to run upfield in chase of the kick [as indicated in white above].

When Ireland box-kicked from scrum-half during this year’s Six Nations, their chasing player very often found themselves slowed or impeded by retreating opposition players, who ‘escorted’ them to ensure they couldn’t get into the air to genuinely compete.

Here, though, Conway gets up to the landing point of the kick with ease and then wins the ball back as Padovani fails to get off the ground. 

Carbery kicked in this exact manner five times against Italy, with Conway regaining possession twice and Chris Farrell making a linebreak after regathering a spill by Padovani on another occasion.

The Italians did adapt by putting more retreating bodies in front of Conway as the game progressed and it’s also worth pointing out that a poor kick from Carbery on the fifth occasion led to a passage of defensive pressure for Ireland.

Carbery also used two short attacking kicks coming out of Ireland’s 22, grubbering up the right-hand side for Conway to chase at one point, while the diagonal chip to Dave Kearney we see below eventually led to Conway’s try.


Click here if you cannot view the clip above

This superb Carbery dink comes just two phases after Conway has won one of the contestable kicks over on the right. 

It obviously takes a lot of skill from Carbery to measure his kick to bounce up for Kearney, but it’s an entirely sensible decision in this case.

As indicated in red below, Italy right wing Angelo Esposito is all the way up in the defensive line, rather than covering in the backfield.


Meanwhile, Italy fullback Matteo Minozzi is deep in the backfield to cover a possible longer kick from Ireland, leaving the space for Carbery to exploit beautifully.  

Kearney then nudges the ball past the advancing Minozzi and chases aggressively to tackle the Italy fullback, before Garry Ringrose smashes Esposito over the tryline for a five-metre scrum, in turn resulting in extended pressure capped off by Conway’s score.

The change of exiting tactics against Italy may have been down to the absence of Murray at scrum-half but even if so, that’s encouraging from an Irish point of view.

McGrath and Marmion are not quite as comfortable box kicking, so it would make sense for Schmidt to adapt Ireland’s tactics to suit the specific personnel, something which has not always been the case in the past.

More importantly, by using a different exiting tactic, Ireland are now already making future opposition worry about another possibility – potentially resulting in more space to successfully box-kick. Clearly, more variety is welcome.

Further out the pitch, there was some promising kicking from Ireland too, including the Carbery grubber below.


Click here if you cannot view the clip above

Again, Carbery exploits the Italian defence superbly here, with Esposito [red below] up in the line on the right edge.


Carbery [white] has switched back from the right-hand side of the ruck to accept the pass from McGrath.


Get closer to the stories that matter with exclusive analysis, insight and debate in The42 Membership.

Become a Member

That means Minozzi [yellow] is now forced to track back to that side of the ruck too, leaving him with lots of ground to make up.

Again, Carbery delivers a highly-accurate kick that bounces close to the touchline and, after sprinting hard to make up the distance, Minozzi opts to gather it and carry into touch for an Ireland lineout, eventually leading to Carbery’s try.

It’s worth noting that this grubber kick came on the third phase of an Ireland kick return attack – i.e. very early in their possession.

Too often during the Six Nations, Ireland kicked only when left with no other option, having battered away for phase after phase until it was clear their running game would not yield success.

On this occasion, Ireland are proactive with their kicking game and, again, that is a promising sign for Schmidt’s side as they aim to bring a varied and unpredictable approach to the World Cup.

It was notable that fullback Jordan Larmour kicked six times in this game against Italy, including a pair of grubbers and a chip on kick return. 

Carbery, meanwhile, put boot to ball 13 times in open play, while replacement out-half Carty did so five times, showcasing his ability to find space in the backfield. 

In contrast, Johnny Sexton’s stats for kicks in open play during his five Six Nations appearances earlier this year were nine, one, one, seven and six.


Click here if you cannot view the clip above

The kick from Carty we see above comes soon after a Tadhg Beirne turnover, again early in Ireland’s possession and with the Italian defence not in ideal shape.

Carty may actually have intended to keep the ball in play in this instance, pressuring Italy even more but Ireland are able to win the ball back as the Italians overthrow the ensuing lineout.

Once again, the kick from Ireland is an economical and intelligent way of exploiting space downfield without having to play phase after phase in the middle third of the pitch. 

While Carbery and Carty are both strong at delivering the kind of kicks we saw from Ireland against Italy, it’s clear that regular out-half Johnny Sexton is thoroughly capable of delivering in this regard too.

Not everything Ireland tried against Italy worked – this was the first game of the season, after all, and wayward execution and errors were certainly expected.

But as Schmidt’s side build towards the World Cup, they will already have future opponents thinking about their kicking game. The added variety we saw against Italy underlines that Schmidt wants his team to be more unpredictable in Japan.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

Read next:


This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel