# Ruck Stats
Analysis: Van der Flier and tireless captain Best top Ireland's ruck charts
Joe Schmidt’s men were largely efficient with their clearouts and turned over lots of Scottish possession.

IT’S UNLIKELY THAT anyone expected Rory Best to be an 80-minute man at this World Cup but the Ireland captain proved the doubters wrong at the first time of asking.

The 37-year-old played the entirety of Sunday’s opening win against Scotland, delivering the kind of inspirational work-rate that his coaches and team-mates value so highly.

rory-best-speaks-with-jonathan-sexton Craig Mercer / INPHO Best was excellent for Ireland on Sunday. Craig Mercer / INPHO / INPHO

“He was loving it so we left him out there,” explained Ireland assistant coach Richie Murphy.

On top of his lineout throwing, strong scrummaging, five carries, eight passes, and eight tackles, Best was the busiest Irish player when it came to involvements at the ruck – the part of the game that is the core of Joe Schmidt’s rugby philosophy.

The Ireland head coach places a huge emphasis on ball retention and recycling speed at the breakdown and ruck, meaning players’ performances in this area of the game come under severe scrutiny.

Best is a master of the ‘unseen’ stuff, regularly notching up high figures and high quality when it comes to ruck involvements. Sunday was no different as he contributed to a total of 42 rucks. 

We’ve been collating ruck marks from Ireland games for some years now but for this World Cup, we’ve aimed to simplify how we present the data to you.

Essentially, we’re still noting and grading every single ruck action by each Irish player, but now we’re going to attach a score to each action to give us an overall leaderboard after each game.

joe-schmidt-ahead-of-the-game Craig Mercer / INPHO Craig Mercer / INPHO / INPHO

The scores reflect the quality of each ruck action from the players – rather than how early they arrived at the ruck or just their total number of involvements – given that Schmidt places a major emphasis on that quality. 

In attack, players score points in the following manner:

  • Ineffective = -2 points
  • Spare = 0
  • Guard = 1
  • Effective = 2
  • Dominant = 3

In defence, the following points are awarded:

  • Miss = – 2
  • Present = 1
  • Slowing = 2
  • Turnover Assist = 3
  • Turnover = 4

If you’re not familiar with the terms we use for each ruck action, click this link and scroll to the bottom of the article for an explanation. Note that the previous attacking ‘present’ marking is now ‘spare’.

Returning to last weekend’s game against Scotland, Best emerged second in our ruck points leaderboard with a superb performance at the coalface.

Ireland ruck leaderboard vs. Scotland:

 57 points Josh van der Flier 

52 Rory Best

34 James Ryan

32 Jack Conan

27 CJ Stander

22 Tadhg Furlong

21 Tadhg Beirne

19 Iain Henderson

18 Dave Kilcoyne

18 Andrew Porter

17 Garry Ringrose

17 Cian Healy

14 Jordan Larmour

11 Jacob Stockdale

11 Chris Farrell

11 Peter O’Mahony

Bundee Aki

Niall Scannell

Jack Carty

Johnny Sexton

Conor Murray

Andrew Conway 


As we can see above, openside flanker Josh van der Flier, who delivered a huge workload against Scotland, was just ahead of Best in terms of ruck points.

It’s worth underlining that van der Flier played only 65 minutes of this game due to a blood injury and then being replaced late on after suffering cramp.

TO Van der Flier makes a turnover for Ireland.

[Click here if you cannot view the clip above]

The 26-year-old still completed 10 tackles, carried the ball four times, and made 37 contributions to the ruck and breakdown.

Crucially, van der Flier delivered superb quality in those ruck involvements, as is reflected by his place at the top of the leaderboard. 

Two turnovers in defence were particularly impressive from van der Flier, the first a counter-rucking effort that allowed Ireland to spring onto the attack and the second a jackal turnover just in front of his team’s tryline after they had gone down to 14 men due to Tadhg Beirne’s harsh yellow card. 

Van der Flier isn’t a player who tends to make many headlines but he has repeatedly delivered effective performances in big games under Schmidt. This outing against Scotland was yet another example as van der Flier lead the way at ruck time. 

Best did have more ‘guard’ markings than any other Irish player but there was quality in his 10 effective clearouts, as well 10 efforts at the defensive breakdown, where he slowed Scottish possession three times and generally made a major nuisance of himself.

This was very much a case of the captain leading by example, while van der Flier did the same.

Unsurprisingly, second row James Ryan also delivered good quality in his contributions to come in third on the leaderboard for Ireland, while Jack Conan impressed as he got a 62-minute outing in two stints off the bench.

Garry Ringrose was the top-placed back on the leaderboard, with his performance including four effective markings at the attacking ruck.

Ireland’s tight five forwards were generally accurate with their attacking clearouts, while Schmidt’s team were excellent at the defensive breakdown. 

JL Jordan Larmour with his second turnover penalty in two games.

[Click here if you cannot view the clip above]

They registered six turnovers in our markings, with van der Flier and Bundee Aki contributing two each, while fullback Jordan Larmour also jackaled for a turnover penalty – his second in two games.

We also gave Beirne a turnover marking for the incident which saw him yellow-carded. Our view was that the Munster man won the race to the breakdown and got his hands onto the ball just before the arrival of Scotland’s Ali Price.

Referee Wayne Barnes viewed it differently, of course, and said “clear ruck” as he sin-binned Beirne. 

But Ireland’s willingness to attack the breakdown frequently was an interesting theme in this game, particularly as they have increasingly opted to stand off the breakdown in the past year or so under defence coach Andy Farrell, seemingly preferring to have players on their feet in the defensive line.

In this game, Ireland clearly felt they could have real success in attacking Scotland’s possession at the breakdown, with an extremely high total of 52 defensive efforts from th disciplined Irish players across the course of the 80 minutes.

There were, of course, shortcomings at the ruck and breakdown from Ireland too, and Schmidt will have been swift to highlight those in his reviews this week.

The Ireland head coach will pick out the six ‘ineffective’ markings in attack and demand better from his players. 

CJ CJ Stander gives away a penalty at the attacking ruck.

[Click here if you cannot view the clip above]

CJ Stander’s penalty concession for going off his feet inside the Scotland 22 will be among the frustrations for Schmidt – though Ireland argued with Barnes that Jonny Gray was blocking his path – as will Sexton, Murray and Conan failing to retain possession after Jacob Stockdale’s chip and regather up the left in the first-half.

Jack Carty accidentally nudged the ball out of another Ireland ruck in Scotland’s 22 in the second-half, while Cian Healy and Stander also notched an ineffective mark each in amongst some other excellent contributions.

As is ideal, Schmidt has much to be pleased with but just enough bad examples to keep a fire lit underneath his players. 

Total number of ruck contributions:

42 Rory Best [9 first arrival, 12 second, 10 third, 10 defensive]

37 Josh van der Flier [11 first, 4 second, 3 third, 1 fourth, 9 defensive]

27 CJ Stander [6 first, 5 second, 5 third, 3 fourth, 8 defensive]

26 Jack Conan [6 first, 10 second, 8 third, 1 fourth, 1 defensive]

24 James Ryan [11 first, 4 second, 8 third, 1 fourth]

17 Cian Healy [7 first, 3 second, 3 third, 2 fourth, 2 defensive]

15 Andrew Porter [3 first, 5 second, 4 third, 2 fourth, 1 defensive]

15 Iain Henderson [3 first, 5 second, 2 third, 5 defensive]

13 Garry Ringrose [8 first, 2 second, 1 third]

13 Dave Kilcoyne [2 first, 4 second, 5 third, 2 fourth]

13 Tadhg Furlong [7 first, 5 second, 1 defensive]

11 Tadhg Beirne [3 first, 5 second, 1 fourth, 2 defensive]

Peter O’Mahony [4 first, 2 second, 1 fourth, 2 defensive]

Jordan Larmour [2 first, 3 second, 2 third, 1 fourth, 1 defensive]

Chris Farrell [4 first, 1 second, 1 third, 2 defensive]

Jacob Stockdale [4 first, 1 second, 1 defensive]

Johnny Sexton [1 first, 4 second]

5 Jack Carty [3 first, 1 second, 1 fourth]

Niall Scannell [1 first, 3 second]

Bundee Aki [1 second, 2 defensive]

Conor Murray [2 first, 1 defensive]

Andrew Conway [1 first]

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