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Analysis: Schmidt's attack strikes but ruthless edge needed against France

Ireland manufactured seven linebreaks against the Welsh but could have converted more chances.

HAVING LIMITED WALES to zero linebreaks in Sunday’s 16-16 draw in Dublin, Ireland would have been enthused to create seven of their own.

That’s a higher number than England, Australia, Uruguay or South Africa managed at the World Cup, although the creative Fijians did also manage to cut Warren Gatland’s men seven times in their Pool A clash.

While the number of linebreaks is a clear positive for Ireland from last weekend’s fixture, they only scored one try and 16 points, meaning Joe Schmidt will have pointed out the need for his men to be vastly more ruthless against France in Paris on Saturday.

Opening flourish

Given how poorly Ireland had started against Wales in last season’s Six Nations – when they gave up a 12-0 lead in less than 14 minutes – and their most recent fixture against Argentina in the World Cup – a 17-0 deficit in less than 14 minutes – a strong start on Sunday was crucial.

With their very first attacking possession of the game, Schmidt’s men ensured they got exactly that. Robbie Henshaw was nailed in midfield by Jamie Roberts off the scrum platform, but Ireland recovered and worked an opening intelligently.

Having carried at the Welsh through Henshaw, then CJ Stander and Rory Best close to the ruck, Ireland looked to add a little variety on fourth phase and Simon Zebo delivered with a superb line to the inside shoulder of Jonathan Davies.

Schmidt’s men looked to sit the Welsh midfielders down with multi-layered movement in front of them on several occasions in last weekend’s game and this is one such instance.

Zebo:Payne Lines

As highlighted above, Zebo runs the hard, direct line [yellow] off Johnny Sexton, targeting the inside shoulder of Wales centre Davies. Meanwhile, Jared Payne is bouncing out behind Zebo [red] to run towards Davies’ outside shoulder.

The double-layered movement causes exactly what Ireland are hoping for, namely Davies sitting back on his heels [blue], rather than continuing to move his feet as he comes towards a tackle.

There are two options for him to cover and he’s left in an indecisive position.

Zebo:Payne Lines.1

Davies’ planted feet mean that when Zebo receives the ball, the Welsh 13 is poorly set up to react. We see above that he rises up slightly out of that planted position, but his feet still haven’t moved. Already, this is a collision that Zebo is going to win.

That’s exactly what occurs and though Zebo doesn’t break clean through – Davies actually does well to bring him down in the end – Ireland are right in behind Wales and opportunity beckons.

Quick ball is needed and like so many of his teammates on Sunday, Henshaw ensures that Conor Murray is provided exactly that.

Henshaw Clear

The retreating Sam Warburton has thoughts of a possible poach on an isolated Irish attacker, but Henshaw arrives in with a nice right-shouldered shot on the Welsh back row to clear him away and provide utterly clean ball for Murray.

As we see in the initial clip, Ireland convert that front-foot into a genuine linebreak for Sexton, with Stander doing extremely well to put the out-half away.

Stander Pass and Shield

Stander is best renowned for his ball carrying of course, but here the Munster man appreciates that the space is to the outside of the exposed second row Luke Charteris and softly moves the ball on to Sexton.

What’s most impressive about the debutant’s contribution is how he stays big after his pass, continuing upfield and stepping in front of Charteris to ensure the lock has even less of a chance of scragging Sexton.

Instead, Charteris has to rip Stander out of his path and by the time that happens, Sexton is away. Subtle but important from Stander.

Davies does superbly to cover across and haul Sexton down, cleverly slapping down the out-half’s fend in the process, before that disciplined Welsh defence recovers its shape extremely quickly and slows the Irish progress. Stander is the man to speed it up again.

Wales attempt the choke tackle, meaning the ball is up off the ground even when the contest is taken off its feet. Stander rapidly identifies the opportunity as Wales are slow to put a pillar defender in place on the right side of the breakdown.

Again, the Welsh cling on as Warburton dives in low on Stander. One of the complexities of rugby is that a linebreak or half-break can actually leave the attacking team so susceptible to a turnover.

Stander Fight

The situation above exemplifies that, as Warburton goes low on Stander and it suddenly looks like fullback Liam Williams is going to have a wonderful opportunity to jackal over the ball without any Irish support in close proximity.

Stander recognises that too, however, and shows excellent fight to just plant his left leg out in front of him and delay the completion of the tackle until Murray has had a chance to make up ground.

Stander Fight.1

Again, a small detail but an important one as Ireland retain possession after getting behind the Welsh.

Schmidt’s men revert to their traditional one-out hammering tactics thereafter to draw a penalty from the Welsh nine phases later for creeping offside, though the real damage was done earlier for the 3-0 lead.

Variety

Ireland have consistently faced criticism for the lack of variety in their attacking game under Schmidt, though such arguments are unfair at times. Against Wales on Sunday, there was a degree of variety in how Ireland attacked.

Above, we saw a simple screen play, a straightforward two-pass phase for a linebreak and a pick-and-go, as well as the well established one-out stuff.

For Ireland’s second score of the afternoon, there was again a nice element of variation as they forced their way into the green zone.

Ireland go direct for two phases off the initial lineout through Henshaw and Stander, before we see Sexton bouncing back against the grain at the start of the clip above.

There’s no success in terms of a bust but Ireland make metres by allowing Henshaw to use his footwork against a relatively surprised defence. A phase later, they go direct with Stander, but the blindside uses his acceleration well to locate the space to Rob Evans’ outside shoulder.

Next up, there’s a three-pass phase from Ireland as Sexton moves the ball to Best, who opts to pass to Jamie Heaslip and again Schmidt’s men are over the gainline, this time into the all-important 22.

Pass

Passing is an interesting topic when it comes to Ireland. At last year’s World Cup, Schmidt’s side had the highest average number of passes per game in the entire competition with 191.

That’s four more passes per game, on average, than Argentina and nine more than New Zealand.

However, Ireland were some way down the table in terms of phases of attack that included three passes or more. While New Zealand had three or more passes on 27% of their phases of attack and Argentina were at 22%, Ireland only came in at 14%.

Even more revealing is the fact that only 13% of Ireland’s passes in the World Cup came from forwards. Only the USA, with 10%, had a lower percentage than Schmidt’s men in that department.

The World Cup numbers also tell us that 55% of Ireland’s passes in the tournament came from the scrum-half, and only South Africa, Japan and the US had higher percentages than that.

Now add in the fact that Ireland had the highest average of rucks/mauls per match at the World Cup with 122 – and a successful retention rate of 96% at those rucks and mauls – and we’re getting a very clear statistical picture of what they often did with their possession in that tournament.

Back to Sunday’s draw with Wales and the stats tell us that Ireland had 124 rucks in the game, with a retention rate of 97.6%.

In total they passed the ball 178 times, but interestingly 16% of the passes came from forwards. That’s obviously not a major leap from the World Cup but it will be intriguing to see if that small rise becomes a trend moving forward in the championship, or whether this particular game just suited a handful more passes from forwards.

With 98 passes in total, scrum-half Murray contributed almost exactly 55% of Ireland’s passes on Sunday, so that was very much a continuation of what occurred during the World Cup.

Attempting to justify a statistical shift based on one game is of course not fair, but even still, something as simple as Best moving the ball to Heaslip in this instance in order to allow Ireland over the gainline is encouraging.

Pass

We will follow any developments in this area with interest, but it is telling that simple passing from an Irish forward – topped by an excellent Heaslip carry – allows them into good field position.

Once Ireland get into that 22, they largely revert to familiar habits with the type of one-out attack off Murray that ensures their scrum-half pass ratio and rucks-per-game figures remain so high.

Perhaps the greatest success of Schmidt’s reign is the rucking efficiency of Ireland, typified by Sunday’s win as Ireland hammered Welsh bodies away from the tackle zone.

In the clip above, after Best has helped Ireland into the 22 with one of his six passes during the game, it’s Jack McGrath who provides a powerful example of the effectiveness Schmidt likes to see post-tackle.

Deal with Pest

Warburton has a cut at the ball at the previous ruck, kicking it and almost spoiling the Irish possession, but McGrath gets a fine opportunity to aggressively remove the Welsh captain at the very next breakdown.

Warburton is in a relatively good position here after bringing Tommy O’Donnell to deck and his intention is to clamp around the ball.

Deal with Pest.1

However, McGrath identifies the threat early, accelerates into Warburton and makes contact with plenty of venom, forcing the Wales flanker to instantly release his hold on O’Donnell and ensure more clean ball for Ireland.

Three phases later, Ireland’s one-out pressure game pays off as Roberts fail to roll away from a tackle on McGrath and the penalty arrives, bringing with it a 6-0 lead inside those opening 14 minutes.

Certainly a better situation at that point than in Cardiff in 2015.

Set-piece strikes

Another pillar of the Schmidt era have been the strike plays from set-piece platforms, although this element of Ireland’s attack was not quite as effective in the bigger games at the World Cup.

Against the Welsh, we saw signs of Ireland heading in the right direction in their use of set-piece foundations.

Stander very nearly had his first international try off the clever lineout play we see above, a peel move around the back of the lineout that sent the dynamic Munster man hurtling towards the Welsh tryline.

It’s an intelligent move from Ireland, as they play around the expected Welsh resistance to what looks like it’s going to be a straightforward catch and maul from Ireland.

McGrath and Toner

The movement of McGrath [1 above], Stander [6] and Devin Toner [5] is crucial to the play, as they will peel around the tail and create the opening for Stander to thunder forward.

Toner initially appears to be the main jumping option, but instead shifts towards the front of the lineout to allow Heaslip in to lift O’Donnell from the front, with Mike McCarthy performing the same role from the back.

McGrath, Toner, Stander

With the ball still in the air from Best’s throw towards O’Donnell, we can see McGrath, Stander and Toner have already begun their movement towards the back of the lineout set-up.

As O’Donnell lands, Toner is in position to accept the transfer of the ball and the Welsh reaction here – they don’t compete in the air as they expect a traditional maul – is to engage in a counter-drive.

DM 1

Instead, Toner spins out and away from O’Donnell as McGrath arrives to latch onto the towering Ireland lock’s outside shoulder, providing a further screen to the ball.

Again, the Welsh reaction is that there’s going to be a maul formed, but this time on Toner. In essence, it’s a second dummy maul from Ireland within the space of a second. Evans and Scott Baldwin, the Welsh tailgunner, are lured towards Toner.

DM 2

As we know, Toner and McGrath are operating in a state of subterfuge here as the lock flicks his pass out to Stander, who is already moving at some speed.

The actions of Wales second row Charteris are absolutely crucial here. Go back to the original lineout and he can be seen at the front for Wales, lined up opposite Stander.

Charteris

The Racing 92 man reads the Irish movement around to the back of the lineout, first into that secondary dummy maul created by Toner and McGrath, and then, even more intelligently, he picks up the pass to Stander rather than hammering into that dummy maul.

It proves to be important as Stander hurtles past Baldwin – who is lured towards Toner and McGrath just enough to miss his reactionary tackle attempt – and into the tackle of Rhys Priestland.

The replacement out-half does well to go low around the legs of the Ireland back row, but it’s notable that Charteris arrives in high to ensure that Stander is stopped in his tracks.

Charteris.1

There was still George North in front of Stander to prevent any big stretch for the tryline, but Charteris’ involvement means the right wing is not needed to complete the tackle.

O’Donnell is the man to pick the ball from the breakdown, but it would have been interesting to see Best scoop it up on the move instead.

Besty

The Ireland captain is moving at such pace that any pickup would have truly tested his skills, but there is space in front of him. His first thought – as always for Schmidt’s side – is to hammer any bodies away from the ball, as he did brilliantly for Paul O’Connell’s last Ireland try, but there’s no one to hit here.

Instead, O’Donnell has a dive only for Samson Lee and Roberts to combine to prevent him from scoring, before Stander is cleverly held up by Justin Tipuric.

Even taking into account the failure to score, it’s a lovely set-piece strike from Ireland and they did force their way over from the scrum resulting from Stander being held up.

It wasn’t the only nice set-piece play from Ireland on Sunday, with the backline getting in on the act in the second half. Once again, however, they couldn’t seal the deal with a try.

The forwards are important again as Best finds the Heaslip and Stander-lifted Toner, who pops down to McGrath, the prop in turn finding Ruddock as he drifts out from the initial scrum-half position behind the lineout.

Centres Henshaw and Payne are the decoy men as Ireland’s backs run a double screen play after Ruddock finds Murray moving across the pitch, with Sexton mirroring the scrum-half’s line a few metres further across the pitch.

Strike .1

Ruddock finds Murray behind Henshaw, the Connacht man running ahead of the ball in a successful effort to tie down some of those inside Welsh defenders.

As the ball arrives into Murray’s hands, we see Henshaw arc his initial unders [against where the ball is coming from] line back outside to ensure that he gets a nudge in on Tipuric, as highlighted below.

Strike .2

That leads Ireland nicely into the next mini-section of this play, a second screen with Payne acting as the decoy on this occasion and Sexton bouncing out behind the Ulsterman.

Payne’s timing on this decoy run is worth noting, particularly at the very beginning of his movement. The temptation is to burst straight into an acceleration to lure a defender, but Payne is patient enough just to stutter his steps until he identifies his cue to turn on the pace – namely the ball arriving into Murray’s hands.

If Payne leaves any earlier, he’ll be too far ahead of Murray to be a viable target for a pass. Instead, Payne’s late arrival means Roberts has little chance of sighting him and Payne therefore gets a vital block in on the Wales centre.

Strike .3

Essentially Roberts has been removed from the game and the space suddenly available to Sexton is obvious. We should note that never once does Roberts look up or scan for Payne as Ireland’s play unfolds inside – he totally loses track of Payne.

Outside Roberts, Davies is presuming that Roberts has read the play, identifying that the ball is going out the back door of Payne to Sexton. Indeed, Roberts does read that but Payne takes him out of the game due to that lack of even a glance up.

That leaves Davies drifting out on to Zebo in the presumption that Roberts has his inside shoulder to deal with Sexton.

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Strike.4

Sexton has a gap of more than five metres to burst through and he tucks the ball into one arm to do so after completely selling Davies out with that final dummy pass towards Zebo.

Sexton strides forward to draw in Wales fullback Williams before throwing an absolutely scintillating pass wide to Andrew Trimble on the touchline.

Sexton Pass

It’s aesthetically pleasing of course, massively so, but the end result is a Wales lineout and a chance to clear the ball from their territory. So there’s a major positive in the construction of these two set-piece strikes.

The dummy maul is built on the belief that Wales will counter-drive against an expected traditional maul, while this backline play exposes the Welsh centres with that same multi-layered movement we mentioned earlier.

But Ireland don’t convert the pressure into points. How might Ireland have converted Sexton’s linebreak on this play into scoreboard movement?

It’s worth stressing that it’s an easy job to point out better options with the benefit of multiple replays of an event that happens at extreme pace in the reality of Test rugby. Nonetheless, Sexton and co. will hope to be more ruthless when they create such an opportunity against France on Saturday.

The option from Sexton is not necessarily a bad one, and Tom James does brilliantly to recover from a dab at the ball in the air to tackle Trimble, but Sexton had other options.

Strike.5

Carrying the ball himself is the most conservative option of course, but Sexton could have looked closer to home with Zebo coming up fast on his outside shoulder.

Was there communication from the Ireland fullback here? It’s impossible to know, but that short slipped pass from Sexton may have been the most ideal option of all, even if it involves slightly slowing his own run as he draws in Williams.

Whatever about the actual option and decision making, the set-piece attack from Ireland is excellent but they will have targeted a great increase in their ruthlessness at Stade de France once they get in behind.

Try time

Ireland, like so many teams around the world, go to the grinding method once they get close to the opposition tryline. One-pass phases, rapid tempo and ferocious breakdown work are the hallmarks of how Ireland attempt to force their way over those hugely demanding final few metres.

Murray’s try on Sunday was a fine example of that.

From the scrum platform created by Stander being held up in the first half, Ireland keep their foot on the throat wonderfully. This is the kind of ruthless edge that Schmidt will demand more of.

Henshaw, as so often, is the first to carry from the set-piece, powering over the gainline as Priestland goes low on him. Quick ruck ball is the primary focus now for Ireland and Sexton and O’Donnell are the men to deliver.

Ruck 1

Tipuric is the threat on this occasion, but Sexton and then O’Donnell arrive in low to shift him backwards. As importantly as actually hitting the Wales openside, the Irish rucking pair put Tipuric to ground well beyond the ball.

Ruck 1.1

Not only does that open up the back of the ruck to allow Murray the ultimate quick ball, but it also provides a stumbling block for any Welsh defenders attempting to fold around the ruck to get into play on the next phase.

The next phase sees Heaslip chopped low and powerfully by Taulupe Faletau, but we see the work rate of the number eight as he gets his left leg back out for one more drive towards the line, at the same time as Stander [6 below] helps out smartly.

Stander

The Munster blindside wraps himself onto Heaslip and actually looks to drag him forward, at the same time as Payne hammers in from behind to keep the momentum going. Henshaw contributes again to provide more clean ball for Murray.

McGrath is up next, smashing into contact with a Toner leech and O’Donnell again getting beyond the ball. More quick possession and Murray picks out the defensive error to score.

Final Ruck

As the pillar defender, Tipuric has to deal with Murray until the ball is clearly passed away but he instead shoots off from his position as he buys the dummy from Ireland’s scrum-half.

It’s a defensive error, but Murray’s identification of it is certainly important too. The 26-year-old is now one of the leaders in this squad and it’s always encouraging to see players take responsibility close to the line and follow through on it.

Murray is aided over the line by the most subtle bit of work from Mike McCarthy at the front of the ruck.

Final Ruck.1

The Ireland lock starts in a sort of ‘guard’ position to the right of the ruck in front of the ball, but it’s worth noting how he ever so slightly shifts forward a step as Lee is folding across from the left.

He doesn’t get any major contact on the Wales tighthead at all, but his movement does interfere with Lee’s line of running and provides Murray with that extra little whisper of time and space, helping him to stretch out in Lee’s eventual tackle and score.

Under Schmidt, every little action makes a big difference.

Punishing period

At 13-0 with 28 minutes played, Ireland were coasting. The Welsh were absolutely always going to come back into the game or have a purple patch at some point, but the manner in which Ireland contributed to that was hugely disappointing.

The ten minutes before half time and the 13 minutes after the break ultimately cost Schmidt’s side a win on the opening day of the championship.

On the very first exit after the Welsh restart following Murray’s try, there’s an error from Ireland as Zebo completely misses Williams on his chase. The Wales fullback kicks directly into touch after he darts past Zebo, but it’s an error nonetheless from Ireland.

Zebo has to make some contact here, get a shoulder or even an arm on Williams after he catches the ball, but instead he loses concentration and allows his opposite number past.

Ireland get a lineout from Williams’ poor kick and with it another chance to be solid and secure following that try scored only moments ago. Instead, it’s one of the shakiest lineout wins of the afternoon.

The throw is a real stretch for McCarthy to gather even at the apex of his jump and then the transfer to O’Donnell is initially sloppy. The ball is secured, however, and now Ireland really need a confident, positive action.

Instead, the box kick from Murray sails directly into touch, allowing Wales an instant chance to build some attacking pressure back on Ireland.

On the very first phase of that attack, Wales go wide to the right and Keith Earls is penalised for a dangerous tackle on Williams. It’s another error – whatever about one’s view of the incident – and means four in the space of a minute and a half for Ireland.

Wales suddenly find themselves back in the game after a bout of Irish mistakes, and their try follows soon after.

Missing chances

Another three points for the Welsh after the break, this time from Irish indiscipline bring the scoreline back to 13-13, before Ireland build a strong attacking position in the 50th minute after they fire up their maul and drive to within striking range.

They look to ramp up the tempo and ruck work once again, but the lack of ball security in the instance above ends the period of pressure with no return on the scoreboard.

Min 50 -PM L.1

There’s two sides to every story in rugby, of course, with Davies producing a brilliant strip of the ball but it’s an area where Ireland just cannot afford to allow themselves to be turned over, particularly after the Welsh have drawn level.

It’s hugely frustrating for Ireland, but a poor exiting kick from Wales after the subsequent scrum hands Ireland the opportunity to enter the 22 on attack for a second time in the space of a minute.

First of all, it’s thrilling to see any side cut through the opposition on kick return and it’s not something that Ireland have done a lot of at all under Schmidt. This poor kick from Wales scrum-half Gareth Davies gives them an excellent chance and Zebo takes it.

Even before Trimble has fielded the ball, we can see below that Zebo is scanning the pitch ahead to search for that opportunity to cut the Welsh.

Kick Return Break.1

It’s a really positive mindset from Zebo, even if the space in front of him is quite clear as Roberts gets totally disconnected from Alun Wyn Jones and the rest of the advancing Welsh pack.

Zebo knows exactly where he’s heading as soon as the ball is in his hands, but again a subtle piece of work from McCarthy aids his cause.

McCarthy Block

McCarthy is retreating after the Welsh kick but recognises Zebo’s intent to break into the space the lock himself is occupying. Instantly, his attention turns towards doing whatever he can to be a nuisance. Jones becomes the Ireland lock’s own little project.

McCarthy Block.1

Again, there’s no excessive contact from McCarthy in blocking the Welsh defender, but he intelligently holds his ground and ensures Jones can’t a firm shoulder into Zebo.

He does get a hand to the Ireland fullback, but McCarthy’s contribution helps to ensure that’s not enough as the Munster man powers through Jones and Roberts’ despairing tackle attempts.

It’s an encouraging break and Ireland again find themselves in a hugely promising attacking position. They go back to the familiar grind, but another error lets the Welsh off the hook.

Stander is the man turned over again, this time by Welsh openside Tipuric.

The blindside flanker had a phenomenal debut game, but might look back on this incident as one in which he could have made a better decision. He opts to pick and jam around to the right-hand side of the ruck, but he’s acting alone in this instance.

Tipuric Steal

Murray is scanning to his right and planning to pass to that area, and Stander is alone in his pick-and-jam intention. There is space to Faletau’s right at the ruck and Stander is possibly thinking of his excellent earlier foray in the Welsh 22.

On this occasion, however, he might have been better waiting for a tap of support from behind before carrying the ball, that comforting pat on the arse or back that signifies that a teammate is ready to latch onto him and ensure Ireland are likely to both make gains and retain the ball.

Tipuric Steal .1

Instead, Faletau makes a good low tackle and Tipuric has enough time to show an extremely clear release before targeting the ball for what is a clean turnover.

Murray might feel he could have reacted better, but the point again is that Ireland have let the Welsh off the hook.

Fast forward three more minutes and yet another Ireland attack comes up with nothing as Schmidt’s men spill the ball when attempting to pass under pressure. There is space for Zebo if he can gather, but it must go down as another missed chance to apply real pressure and convert into either a penalty or try.

Kick return

The linebreak from Zebo in the kick return instance above was one of the most positive things Ireland did, even if it was made more straightforward by the fractured Welsh defence.

As Ireland look to continue to grow under Schmidt, this is certainly an area where they can make big strides.

Later in the game, we get another kick return chance for Ireland inside the Welsh half after a very poor clearing kick. Again, Trimble shifts the ball inside to Zebo, but on this occasion a second pass looks to be the best option for Ireland.

Counter -CTP - Henshaw

We can see Henshaw working hard to provide width for Ireland as he retreats, and Zebo also has Earls and Payne outside him and running into space. The opportunity appears to be on the outside edge, or perhaps through a one-on-one for Earls, but Zebo tucks and carries.

That is, of course, the safest option of all as Zebo is therefore closer to more support and Ireland can then look to build their attack from that starting point. Other sides would take the ‘risk’ here and shift the ball to the left edge in a bid to exploit the Welsh, trusting their backs to resource any ensuing ruck.

Even later in the game, Ireland had another chance to return a Welsh kick.

This time, Ireland do shift the ball from edge to edge, using three passes from Sexton, Zebo and Trimble to create a two-on-two. The outcome is negative for Ireland, however, as Earls and Payne misread each other.

The switch does look to be on, but Payne hesitates at the last moment and the breakdown occurs. Ireland still have much progress to make on kick return.

Comfort outside structure

Perhaps the biggest concern about Ireland’s attack under Schmidt has been an apparent discomfort when they move beyond their pre-planned structures and plays. Despite having a large number of individual players who would seem suited to more off-the-cuff rugby, it’s not an area in which they’ve excelled.

We looked yesterday at the promising signs in their transitions from defence to attack against Wales, and there were a couple of other glimpses of Schmidt’s men making good decisions even without pre-called plays.

Above, we see Payne run a simple trail off Earls, who immediately enters the mindset of a two-on-one with Roberts in front of him.

It’s some of the most simple play you’ll see, but it’s encouraging to witness two of Ireland’s more creative players linking in this manner. For Payne to follow it up with an excellent offload – the only one from Ireland all game – is even better.

Heaslip floods onto Payne’s offload for a momentous carry too, bringing Ireland into the Welsh half as O’Donnell follows up. We then instantly see Ireland switch back into a bit of shape, but it’s positive this time rather than restrictive.

Ireland set up with a simple two-forward pod of Nathan White and McCarthy outside Sexton and have Payne hanging behind, but even that basic shape gives them options and poses questions for the Welsh defence.

Sexton hits White, who goes out the back door – a forward passing the ball – to Payne, whose pass on towards Zebo in a degree of space draws a penalty from Priestland attempting and failing to intercept.

There’s no end result, but even that glimpse of Ireland invention on the initial Payne bust and offload, then the ease at slipping into shape on the next phase is exciting for Ireland.

The decision not to kick for the posts with this penalty, the game still at 13-13, is one Ireland may well have pondered briefly post-match.

This is Ireland

Ireland showed relative variety in their attacking game against the Welsh, impressing in certain patches but showing a lack of ruthlessness in others. In reality, we saw many similar traits to so many of Ireland’s previous games under Schmidt.

They have a well-established process when they enter the green zone in terms of looking to convert territory into pressure, while their attack further out the pitch is varied and sometimes inventive.

They are intelligent and accurate on their set-piece strikes, but like most teams can convert those ideas into points more often. Among the encouraging signs were a linebreak on kick return and the sight of forwards showing slightly more willingness to pass the ball.

As with their defence, Ireland will feel they have established a strong base to build on in terms of their attack for the rest of the championship. Given France’s try-scoring potential, Schmidt’s men may well need more than 13 points on Saturday.

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Murray Kinsella

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