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Analysis: Peter O'Mahony's sweeping turnover sets a clever trend

The Highlanders adopted the tactic with time running out against the Hurricanes last weekend.

PETER O’MAHONY’S LAST-gasp turnover penalty against Glasgow Warriors back in October was always likely to be important and it might yet prove to be the difference between the teams in their race to top Conference A of the Guinness Pro14.

Of course, it was Rory Scannell’s remarkable long-range kick at goal that earned Munster a dramatic 25-24 victory at Thomond Park, but the nature of how Johann van Graan’s side won the penalty was memorable.

Glasgow fed the ball into a scrum in the 79th minute and O’Mahony immediately settled into something of a sweeper role behind Munster’s defensive line, as highlighted below.

Early

Aware that Glasgow would attempt to run the clock down with narrow carries off their rucks, O’Mahony dropped just behind the defence in search of a turnover to save the game for Munster.

With the defenders in front of him bringing linespeed and attempting to chop Glasgow’s ball-carriers to the ground, O’Mahony surged up for his first sniff at a turnover with 78:46 on the clock.

First Sniff 78.46

With Glasgow’s support in strong positions, O’Mahony didn’t get into a jackal position but he continued to hover behind the frontline defence searching for an opening.

Below, we see O’Mahony in movement from left to right, beginning to set up behind the next Glasgow carry.

3rd

O’Mahony’s positioning means he obviously won’t be involved in the tackle itself – which he wants to stay detached from – but is in range to rush in and jackal as the tackle is completed.

Again, he attempts to do so here and reaches over at the ball this time.

6, you're never on your feet

As we can see above, O’Mahony is not on his feet competing for the ball and referee Dan Jones warns him off.

Throughout this passage, Munster are appealing to the referee that Glasgow are ‘sealing off’ the breakdowns, going off their feet in a bid to prevent the Irish province from competing for a turnover, but their complaints fall on deaf ears.

O’Mahony is patient and on his third attempt to attack the ball, he comes up trumps.

Below, we can see him sweeping across into position behind the frontline defence and this time he speaks to CJ Stander before the Glasgow carry.

Words

We don’t know exactly what O’Mahony is saying to Stander here but what follows allows us to make a good guess.

Words

O’Mahony encourages Stander to tackle the first supporting Glasgow player in this instance, rather than the ball-carrier himself.

Glasgow’s Callum Gibbins [7 above] is in position to ‘latch’ onto ball-carrier Kevin Bryce here, potentially giving him additional power into contact but, more crucially on this occasion, leaving him in a position to ensure Munster cannot compete for a turnover.

TO POM

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As we see above and below, however, Stander slips beyond Bryce and instead tackles Gibbins.

Latcher

Nobody actually tackles Bryce but he falls to ground anyway, Glasgow having been content simply to run down the clock without attempting to make progress upfield with their carries.

With Stander now taking up the space beyond the ball [white below] and impeding the arriving Glasgow players, O’Mahony sweeps up from behind Stander to jackal [yellow].

Past Ball

With Bryce suddenly isolated, O’Mahony has just enough time to get over the ball before the Glasgow support arrives.

JJ Hanrahan and Billy Holland immediately move to anchor O’Mahony into place, attempting to give him stability as he jackals [white below].

Anchor

Glasgow make an impact on O’Mahony and it’s arguable whether he is on his feet as he competes here.

As we can see below, his left hand goes onto the ground before he’s on the ball, ensuring he doesn’t flop straight to deck.

PIC

However, referee Jones’ view is impeded by the Glasgow players arriving to the breakdown and he awards a penalty to Munster.

“You [Glasgow] are straight down and he [O'Mahony] is on his feet,” says Jones. 

After O’Mahony receives treatment from Munster’s medical team, Scannell steps up to hammer over the winning three points and spark raucous celebrations at Thomond Park.

Munster weren’t the first team to have deployed this tactic and they certainly weren’t the last.

We saw a similar example in a sensational game of Super Rugby last weekend, with the Highlanders manufacturing a last-gasp chance to grab victory from the Hurricanes.

Leading 31-28, the Hurricanes were attempting to run down the clock in the 80th minute, with Highlanders openside James Lentjes [white below] taking up the same role as O’Mahony.

1

Lantjes is denied an opening at this first ruck, as the Hurricanes get support players into position to recycle.

2

Undeterred, Lantjes sweeps across to his right as the Hurricanes line up a carry to that side.

Movement

Click here if you cannot view the clip above 

As we can see above, his team-mate Elliot Dixon [in the 20 shirt] is thinking along similar lines.

Dixon [white below] prompts Shannon Frizzell [6] to step into his position in the frontline defence and joins Lentjes [yellow] in lining up just behind it. 

3

Frizzell takes on the Stander role for the Highlanders here.

As we can see below, Frizzell [blue] targets Xavier Numia, who is providing the closest support to ball-carrier Vaea Fifita.

There is a genuine tackle on Fifita here and it’s crucial as Thomas Franklin [red] chops in low and takes out Fifita’s legs.

4

Franklin also swings into Numia’s legs, further muddying his access into the breakdown and buying time for Dixon and Lentjes.

Dixon and Lentjes sweep in from behind to jackal at almost exactly the same moment. 

As we can see below, Ardie Savea is the Hurricanes player arriving from Fifita’s outside shoulder and he drives in to remove Dixon [white].

5

But with Numia unable to get a shot onto Lentjes, that simply leaves the Highlanders openside locked onto the ball.

As indicated below, Dan Lienert-Brown [green] reacts by moving to anchor Lentjes into position over the ball.

6

Referee Glen Jackson already has his whistle raised to his mouth and, with 79:22 on the clock, awards the penalty in the Highlanders’ favour

Unfortunately for the Dunedin-based outfit, they couldn’t squeeze out a win from the ensuing three minutes of pressure from five-metre lineouts.

Ulster, who had to defend through 40 phases of Leinster possession at the end of their recent Champions Cup quarter-final, had Jordi Murphy occupying this role on three occasions during that passage.

1

However, Leinster guarded their possession greedily and Murphy didn’t get a genuine glimpse at the ball.

We saw Leinster utilise the tactic just last month away to Edinburgh in the Pro14 but, interestingly, it didn’t come with the Scots attempting to run down the clock.

Instead, Leinster pounced as Edinburgh built towards an intended exiting kick.

Deegan TO

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Max Deegan [white below] sweeps in behind the frontline defenders from outside.

Deegan Move

With Deegan hovering in behind, Joe Tomane [yellow below] is the chop tackler for Leinster, going in low on ball-carrier Bill Mata’s legs.

Meanwhile, Mick Kearney [red] engages nearest support player Ross Ford, leaning into him above the tackle.

Tomane Kearney

In attempting to roll away from his tackle, Tomane also proves an important obstacle for the next arriving Edinburgh player.

As we can see below, Tomane [yellow] takes out Ben Toolis’ legs as he’s attempting to engage into the breakdown.

Tackler Roll

Deegan, having swept up from behind the tackle, has already jackaled over the ball and with his team-mates causing havoc in front of him, he’s soon awarded the turnover penalty by referee Ben Whitehouse.

This Leinster situation is similar to the previous two turnovers in that they can confidently predict the opposition will make a short carry close into the ruck.

It’s also similar in that the Edinburgh call-carrier is not centrally focused on making a positive carry.

That Leinster used this simple tactic relatively early in the game – rather than with the final seconds ticking away – was somewhat unique.

While overuse would, of course, lead to teams simply passing out the back to expose a frontline defence shorn of at least one body, it will be intriguing to note if and how teams work similar situations in the future.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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