IRELAND WOMEN GO into their Grand Slam showdown with England as the underdogs, but if they are to secure a fifth win in this championship, the lineout and maul are going to play crucial roles.
The two most recent wins for Tom Tierney’s side in this Six Nations have underlined the importance of their ability in these areas and, although England will have belief they can do damage against Ireland’s set-piece, it’s likely be to essential for Ireland again in Donnybrook today [KO 8pm].
Ireland have two excellent lineout locks in Sophie Spence and Marie-Louise Reilly, who wins her 50th cap against the English, and they are also excellent in these facts of the game. Assistant coach Declan O’Brien is working with two fine lineout proponents in Spence and Reilly.
We get a fine example of Ireland’s threat below, during the win over France in round three of the Six Nations.
It’s a five-woman lineout for Ireland, with Reilly, Spence and number eight Paula Fitzpatrick providing three jumping options, while props Lindsay Peat and Ailis Egan are book-ending the lineout as lifters.
The three players in the middle – the jumping options – are all obviously capable of lifting too, so there are strong options for Ireland to go to, with blindside flanker Ciara Griffin in the ‘receiver’ position to help steer a maul.
We get a good example of Ireland’s mobility across the ground here, as Spence turns and comes to the front of the lineout to jump, with Reilly following her to lift from behind, while Peat does the same from the front.
Having competed in the air, France are slow into position to compete against the forming maul, but we get a good sense of the Irish organisation here.
As we see above, Reilly and Peat do a fine job of spearheading the Irish maul in their ‘bracing’ roles after lifting, providing a really solid front end and ensuring that the power coming from behind is going to be used ideally.
Those players in behind can focus on driving, rather than having to directly fight with French defenders.
Ireland power forward, reacting superbly as they shear off to the left, and make huge ground in just the second minute of the match. Warning served.
The French manage to get a good sack in on Spence at the next Irish lineout, but we see the intelligence of Ireland’s pack at the very next lineout, this one within five metres of the French tryline.
Clearly, the visitors are expecting another big maul effort, but Ireland throw something very different at them.
Spence dummy jumps at the front and then shifts backwards, again showing that solid footwork, with Reilly looping into the vacated space and bringing Fitzpatrick with her to lift at the rear.
Also coming from the tail of the lineout is tighthead Egan to receive the pop off the top from Reilly, with openside Claire Molloy in support.
Egan looks to be heading directly into a one-on-one with France scrum-half Jade Le Pesq, but loosehead Lise Arricastre reacts superbly at the last second to get an important hand to Egan and slow her progress.
Ireland don’t convert this close-range chance into a score, but the variation of the lineout shows how they are thinking their way through the lineout battle and changing the picture for the French.
Soon before Ireland score a try from a maul in the second half, Tierney’s side again set the bait.
Captain Fitzpatrick is in the sin bin at this point, so Ireland run another five-woman set-up, with Molloy acting as the receiver this time.
The throw goes to leading threat Reilly in the middle of the lineout and Ireland look to maul directly after she has transferred the ball to receiver Molloy.
France survive this onslaught, but Ireland have laid the trap.
Two lineouts later, Ireland again bring superb variation to strike for the try that has been coming.
This time, Ireland – with Fitzpatrick back on and France now missing Marjorie Mayans – start with a full seven-woman lineout, scrum-half Mary Healy acting as the receiver.
There’s a dummy jump from Molloy at the front and then she drops out of the lineout to move back towards the tail, with Reilly jumping to catch the ball, lifted by Peat at the front and Egan at the back.
France are almost certainly thinking that a maul is coming when Reilly lands, but instead there’s another pop off the top, this time towards the rear of the lineout.
Waiting there to catch is Spence, with Fitzpatrick and Griffin ready to form a maul around her.
There’s big danger of Ireland being penalised for obstruction ahead of the ball here, as they bind around Spence, although Molloy shows great patience after arriving around from her initial position at the front of the lineout.
With the entire move pulled off at speed, it’s difficult for the match officials to pick up any obstruction and Ireland are free to maul away, against a weak French resistance.
Note how France’s attention is initially directed towards Reilly, before they reorganise back to Spence.
However, Ireland are already set with a tight maul and they power their way over, with hooker Leah Lyons arriving in to steer them over for the try.
Against Wales last weekend, a maul try proved crucial again for Ireland, with loosehead prop Peat barrelling over on this occasion.
The try comes just before half time and allows Ireland to head into the break with a precious 7-0 advantage.
Again, they run their maul off a full seven-woman lineout, with Spence jumping at the front, lifted by Peat and Griffin.
As soon as Spence lands, Wales do their utmost to sack her – circled below – attempting to bring the ball straight to ground before a maul can properly form.
But Spence shows her strength and determination to keep her feet, giving her Ireland team-mates time to get a solid maul set around the ball and give themselves an opportunity to shear off when Spence is taken out of the fight.
Fitzpatrick is crucial in ensuring Ireland can do so, as highlighted below.
Recognising that Ireland won’t make further progress driving towards the left, where the touchline waits, Fitzpatrick rotates backwards around to her right, staying bound all the time.
That means she is now the new front of the maul as Ireland’s drive shifts right.
We can see how hard Fitzpatrick is working to maintain a strong bind, keeping Ireland tight in their maul and ensuring Wales can’t get anywhere near the ball.
Scrum-half Healy recognises the new opportunity and she pulls on Peat’s jersey, encouraging her to shift over to the right and onto the ball.
Just after taking the transfer from Egan at the back of the maul, which is still going forward, Peat identifies that Wales have committed their entire pack to defending it and spies space to break off to the right.
Her timing is superb and Welsh loosehead Caryl Thomas can’t react to halt her, with the out-half Robyn Wilkins completely mismatched in the tackle.
It’s a superb try from the Irish pack and they will need more efforts like these against England today.
Tierney’s side are extremely fired up for their shot at a Grand Slam and the lineout and maul are likely to be crucial if they are to pull it off.
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