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Analysis: The Jacob Stockdale try that downed the All Blacks in Dublin

Ireland had employed the clever reverse play before under Joe Schmidt.

THE MOVE IRELAND used for Jacob Stockdale’s try against the All Blacks isn’t quite a new one.

Rewind to Ireland’s 2015 World Cup warm-up win over Scotland in Dublin and we see a version of it in action, with a distinctly less successful outcome.

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Click here if you cannot view the clip above

The personnel is very different but the moving parts above are familiar to those who delighted in Ireland’s try against the All Blacks yesterday.

Ireland’s inside centre, Gordon D’Arcy above, switches off the out-half, Ian Madigan in this case, and hits the blindside wing, Tommy Bowe, in behind the initial lineout.

Unfortunately for Ireland in the instance above, Scotland’s forwards haven’t shifted and scrum-half Henry Pyrgos is covering in behind so there’s no space for a chip. Ireland get penalised for blocking ahead of Bowe’s run.

One aspect of Joe Schmidt’s genius is how he tucks plays away, puts them in cold storage and then unveils them again in a shiny new format for big occasions.

It happened for the Grand Slam-clinching win over England, as Schmidt and his players cut Eddie Jones’ team with a move they’d first used three years before against the English.

While Ireland have used this reverse play from a lineout since 2015, it has never been as effective as it proved to be last night.

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Click here if you cannot view the clip above

Although Ireland are playing from left-to-right in this case, the premise of the move is the same as in our first example. 

Ireland use a five-man lineout with the two extra forwards, Josh van der Flier and CJ Stander, lining up in midfield outside out-half Johnny Sexton.

Winning the lineout is the first task for Ireland and they just about manage to do so.

After some dummy movement from James Ryan, Peter O’Mahony jumps with a lift from Cian Healy and Devin Toner. As we can see below, the All Blacks get Kieran Read in the air to apply pressure.

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It appears that Read may even get a hand to the ball but it falls down into Kieran Marmion’s grasp and the All Blacks captain pays a price for his aggressive competition.

Having been launched across the gap in the lineout by his lifters – Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick – Read comes down on top of Healy and is completely upended.

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Read lands heavily on the ground and remains out of play for the remainder of the passage, which proves important, as we’ll see soon.

As Sexton receives the pass from Marmion, there are lots of pieces in motion around him.

Van der Flier and Stander [red below]  are running hard lines to the outside of Sexton, interesting the All Blacks’ midfield defence and also helping to hide Aki [yellow], who is already switching back underneath Sexton.

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Garry Ringrose [green] is showing the kind of ‘animation’ that Schmidt demands from players away from the ball to further disguise Ireland’s intentions.

Stockdale [circled in blue] has remained in his starting position behind the lineout, waiting for Aki to feed him, while hooker Rory Best [white] is retreating back to the touchline after throwing into the lineout and making an initial dummy movement infield.

Ireland’s moving parts are important but we must also understand how the New Zealand defence is functioning here and why Ireland felt this play might work.

“One of the things with the All Blacks is they work so hard to get into that chip line, they work across to get to the far side of the defence up, so we felt we could go down that short side,” explained Schmidt post-match.

First, let’s focus on what Schmidt means when he’s referring to the All Blacks working hard to get into the chip line.

As Ireland throw into the line0ut, we can see Kiwi scrum-half Aaron Smith circled in white below.

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He starts in the five-metre channel, guarding against Ireland trying to immediately sneak into that zone off a trick play at the front of the lineout.

As Ireland shift the ball into Sexton’s hands, though, we can see that Smith is moving infield to cover in behind the Kiwis’ frontline defence.

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Smith is essentially covering the short chip space in behind those fast-advancing defenders in the All Blacks’ midfield.

Ireland’s pre-match analysis showed them this tendency and it’s a key part of why they opted to use this move.

What about Schmidt saying the Kiwis “work across to get to the far side of the defence up”?

The reverse angle of this try allows us to appreciate that element.

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Click here if you cannot view the clip above

All Blacks left wing Rieko Ioane [yellow below] is essentially up in the defensive frontline, rather than standing slightly back from it.

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That, in turn, means fullback Damian McKenzie [white above] is positioned wide to the left to cover a possible Ireland kick there and also to ‘close the gate’ and race forward if Ireland pass the ball wide to the Kiwis’ left.

That, in turn, means right wing Ben Smith is required to work from right-to-left to fill in the space behind McKenzie should the fullback be required to advance. Smith is also the last defender in the event that Ireland pass to the width and get outside McKenzie.

Furthermore, Smith is covering a longer chip from Ireland down the middle of the pitch. 

Smith’s starting position, though, is not far off where Stockdale is going to chip the ball into after Ireland play their reverse move but they’re going to drag him out of it.

As Aki accepts the well-executed and disguised switch pass from Sexton – who gets hammered by Dane Coles for his troubles – we should note the running lines of the Irish forwards who have initially been involved in the lineout.

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In stark contrast to our 2015 example at the beginning of this article, the Irish forwards are working hard to get infield, avoiding the clutter that ensured a penalty against Scotland and further selling the play to the Kiwis. 

Importantly, that movement drags Kiwi tighthead Nepo Laulala [red below] infield from his starting position at the very front of the Irish lineout – another defender gone from that area.

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As Aki fires an accurate pass into the hands of Stockdale, danger alarms sound for the Kiwis.

Read is still on the ground in pain.

“I got put on my arse in the lineout, so I can’t remember too much of it,” said Read afterwards.

Brodie Retallick [white below] has realised the threat and we can see him beckoning for support on his inside.

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We can see that Ben Smith [red] has also reacted to the danger, shifting back to his right after initially beginning to move infield when Marmion passed to Sexton.

Smith can see Best hanging on the touchline outside Stockdale and moves up from the backfield.

The player closest to Retallick is his locking partner, Whitelock, who is attempting to drift across but gets impeded by subtle nudges from Ryan and Healy as they run those intelligent lines after the lineout.

With Whitelock struggling to get across, Retallick can’t drift off Stockdale onto Best, meaning Smith keeps closing up from the backfield onto the Ireland hooker.

That, in turn, means that there is now major space behind the Kiwis. 

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McKenzie [red above] has taken off in a bid to get back across the pitch but he’s left with huge ground to make up.

It’s hard to say for certain what would have happened here if Read hadn’t fallen at the lineout.

Perhaps he would have been in position to help Retallick manage the reverse play from Ireland and, therefore, Smith could have remained in behind to fill the space that Stockdale targets with his chip.

But, equally, Read could have chased the ball infield when Marmion hit Sexton – as Ireland’s lineout play is designed to ensure.

Stockdale’s involvement is, of course, a piece of individual brilliance but it seems clear that the chip kick had been discussed by Ireland as a possibility in this instance.

Ireland were well aware that McKenzie would be positioned wide on the left and would have felt that if they could get an overload back down the short side, then Smith would close up from the backfield. 

They got their wish and Stockdale took advantage in sublime fashion.

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Click here if you cannot view the clip above

The kick and chase is very reminiscent of Stockdale’s effort against England in the Grand Slam-clinching win at Twickenham earlier this year. 

Given the clear quality of his chipping game, it’s no surprise that he has been working hard on this skill in recent times.

“Those wee chips in behind and the dink into space is something I’ve been working on with the Irish kicking coach, Richie Murphy,” Stockdale told The42 in May.

“The easier kicks are the ones where you’re able to batter it long, so those smaller kicks probably take more skill and it’s something you have to practice and hone in a wee bit more.”

Stockdale did, of course, have a chip kick blocked down less than four minutes before this successful effort.

Read

Click here if you cannot view the clip above

With Read advancing fast, Stockdale leaves it too late to attempt his chip here, giving the Kiwi captain an opportunity to leap and get an arm to the ball.

Stockdale could have been forgiven for opting against a similar kick again in this game but instead, he backs his ability to execute the skill only minutes later.

The Ulster wing gets a clean release of the ball even as he’s moving towards Retallick at pace…

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… ensuring that it drops straight onto his foot and allowing him to nudge the ball just clear of Retallick’s hands.

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Stockdale’s pace allows him to burn past the retreating Aaron Smith, looking to recover for the All Blacks, and then even as the ball bounces infield, Stockdale shows superb reflexes to readjust at full tilt.

The Ireland wing regathers the ball and immediately transfers it into his left arm, freeing his right in case he needs to fend the arriving McKenzie.

Smith tackles him from behind but Stockdale’s momentum allows him to slide towards the tryline, dotting down to send Irish fans into raptures. 

Having almost cost Ireland a try with his chip kick minutes before, Stockdale’s bravery in backing himself again is commendable.

“We prepare really well to make sure that we know we can execute things,” said Ireland captain Best. “When they don’t necessarily come off the first time, it does take a little bit of confidence to chip that over again.

“Jacob’s a fantastic player and he got his opportunity. It was a really well-worked move, Bundee put him into a bit of space. I was outside him, probably not in as much space, and he put it over the top. 

“He doesn’t necessarily look the fastest until you try to keep up with him, that big long stride on him. And as has happened to him over the last 12 or 18 months, the ball bounced his way but I do think you make your own luck with those bounces.

“He’s in the right place at the right time and it was very important for us. We knew we probably needed to score a try in the second half to win that game.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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