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Analysis: Outstanding Caplice and Lyons lead the way for Ireland Women

The tighthead prop and blindside flanker were superb in the win over Scotland.

“WE WERE HURTING from last week,” said Anna Caplice after her player of the match performance for Ireland Women against Scotland in the Six Nations on Friday night.

Ireland responded to the pain caused by their heavy round-one defeat to England in impressive fashion, notching a bonus-point win in Glasgow that combined physical aggression with clever skills.

pjimage Lyons and Caplice were outstanding for Ireland.

Blindside flanker Caplice had strong competition for the player-of-the-match award from several of her team-mates, particularly Leah Lyons – who shifted from hooker to tighthead prop for the visit to Scotstoun Stadium.

The performances of Caplice and Lyons highlighted what was a good outing for Ireland on many fronts – set-piece, work-rate, decision-making, ball-carrying, energy, and the ruck. 

In a game where Ireland dominated possession, Caplice and Lyons both contributed tirelessly in the ball-carrying stakes, with the flanker leading the charts with 20 carries and Lyons not far behind on 16.

Harlequins front row Lyons showed her power for a crucial try on the stroke of half-time, landing a psychological blow for Ireland.

Lyons Try

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Lyons’ ability to dominate the collision is key here, but she benefits from the assisting work of loosehead prop Laura Feely, who latches on pre-contact.

Feely

Feely provides Lyons with additional stability to deal with the first contact and then adds to the power of her drive for the tryline.

Ireland latched well throughout this game, with hooker Emma Hooban lending Caplice support for the flanker’s second-half try, which secured the bonus point.

Caplice Try

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Richmond back row Caplice – who was left out of the Ireland squad for the November Tests – brought major energy on her return to the starting XV on Friday.

She carried for 106 metres in total, consistently displaying awareness to make yardage for her team.

We get a good example of that below, as Caplice picks and jams close to the ruck to take advantage of good clearout work by Feely – who drives beyond the ball to open the gap.

Caplice PJ OL

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This bust comes on the back of a Lyons carry – the tighthead made 79 metres in a performance where she broke the gainline with 69% of her carries.

Mallow woman Caplice shows her skill level by offloading to the supporting Aoife McDermott and then following up to hit the breakdown [red below] when the second row is tackled.

PJ OL Clear

It’s an important clearout from Caplice, who had a total of 47 involvements in attacking rucks for Ireland on Friday, as well as competing defensively in five.

Ireland’s breakdown retention – i.e. where they kept the ball after being tackled – was superb in this game, hitting 99% and meaning they had over 29 minutes of possession.

They repeatedly opted to quick-tap their penalties instead of kicking to touch, stressing and tiring out the Scotland defence. That level of possession requires dogged ruck work and Adam Griggs’ side delivered that in bucketloads.

Lock Nicola Fryday had an eye-watering 60 ruck arrivals on Irish ball, while captain Ciara Griffin [54] and McDermott [53] were not far behind. Every single member of the pack had over 35 in a hard-working collective rucking display.

All of that possession allowed the likes of Ballyhooly native Lyons to show their quality on the ball.

Lyons Fend

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Clearly, Lyons’ power is vital here but there is real technical accuracy in her right-handed fend too. Ireland used the fend – an important tool for any ball-carrier – particularly well against the Scots.

Lyons Fend

We can see above that Lyons gets a strong connection in this instance, targeting the upper chest to ensure that the defender will not be able to get a shoulder into the tackle. 

Many fends fail because they are inaccurate, but Lyons is good at finding shoulders, the upper chest and even the head at times.

Lyons is about so much more carrying herself, however. The former Highfield front row’s decision-making, communication and skill level are highly impressive.

Lyons Chat

As highlighted above, Lyons is constantly communicating off the ball. In this instance, she’s organising the players around her two phases before she actually gets on the ball and makes a deft inside pass.

Lyons’ game awareness is elite and she passed frequently in this game on top of her carrying.

Lyons consistently carries the ball in two hands and stays ‘square’ up the pitch, fixing the defender in front of her.

Tip

This often results in slivers of space opening up between defenders, allowing Lyons to release ‘tip-on’ passes to team-mates arriving on her outside shoulder.

Lyons Chat Tip

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This clip once again illustrates Lyons’ communication off the ball. We can see her calling and gesturing to Claire Molloy outside her, then staying square on the ball and delivering an accurate pass for the brilliant openside flanker to carry.

Caplice is another player with the good habit of carrying the ball in two hands, as we see below.

Caplice React

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Ireland’s lineout has a rare moment of inaccuracy but former UL Bohemians back row Caplice reacts typically sharply to gather the ball and burst forward.

Two Hands

By carrying in two hands, she buys herself time on the ball as the defenders around her hesitate to fully commit. It’s basic stuff, but Lyons and Caplice are both good in this area.

Ireland worked hard off the ball even when they weren’t involved in the carry against Scotland, as we see from Caplice below.

Caplice Animation

Caplice [white] is a carrying option to the right of the ruck, but out-half Nicole Fowley [yellow] has called for the ball out the back.

We can see that Caplice’s hands are up as she begins her decoy run to hold the interior Scottish defenders, while Foley bounces out the back. Again, it’s simple stuff but this ‘animation’ from Caplice so often buys time or space for team-mates elsewhere. 

Ireland’s set-piece was superb in Glasgow, with a 100% return on their own throw.

Despite the move to tighthead, Lyons threw for Ireland and, aside from the one example above, found her jumper with accuracy every time.

Lyons Throw

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Wet and windy conditions made life tough at lineout time but with McDermott calling intelligently in the second row and Ireland predominantly using six- or five-woman lineouts, forwards coach Jeff Carter would have been pleased. 

The scrum was outstanding once again, with the turnover below the highlight.

ATH

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Tighthead Lyons is obviously crucial to this big win on the Scottish feed but we can see that it is a hugely cohesive effort from the Irish pack.

Their timing on the drive is superb, just as Scotland have hooked the ball and therefore have one less leg on the ground providing stability. With the back row and second row all working behind them, the front row of Lyons, Feely and Hooban drive up through their opposite numbers.

Ireland actually score their bonus-point try through Caplice on the possession that ensues, just reward for a brilliant effort from the Irish pack.

On a satisfying day for scrum coach Mike Ross, Ireland’s forwards also provided a clean platform for their backs on the Irish feed, with a 100% return on their own scrums.

With Ireland dominating the possession [70%] and territory [64%], Scotland struggled to create attacking opportunities but that was also down to some strong defensive work from the visitors.

Caplice topped Ireland’s tackle count with 20, clocking up a 100% tackle completion rate.

Caplice Chop

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We see a typically accurate tackle from Caplice above, as she chops in low at the knees of the Scottish ball-carrier to win the gainline and allow Feely to jackal over the ball.

The threat of Feely commits two Scots to the clearout, in turn leaving the third arriving player slightly isolated over the ball.

Lyons doesn’t need to be asked twice, hammering in on the counter-ruck.

Lyons Counter

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Lyons’ explosive effort allows Griffin to poach possession for Ireland and though they knock-on in the subsequent scramble, it’s more searing pressure for Scotland in an area of the pitch they are keen to get out of.

Lyons made five tackles at 71% completion in this game, but she managed to get some strong impact into her hits, as we see below.

Big Shot Lyons

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The hurt of losing to England on home soil will linger for Ireland Women but this aggressive, intelligent and skillful performance against Scotland was a stride in the right direction.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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