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Analysis: The latest Joe Schmidt special sees Stockdale scorch past Scots

Ireland scored a stunning try on the second phase of a lineout attack in Edinburgh.

Murray Kinsella reports from Edinburgh

THE CATALOGUE OF Joe Schmidt specials continues to grow and the latest one was a beauty.

“A perfect example of one of Joe’s set-piece moves,” is how Ireland centre Chris Farrell termed Jacob Stockdale’s try in Edinburgh.

Source: Guinness Six Nations/YouTube

Striking from a left-hand-side lineout in the first half of their Six Nations win over Scotland, Ireland scored on second phase through prolific left wing Stockdale.

The power play, while seeming relatively simple upon first viewing, had many layers to it.

“We haven’t used it before,” said Schmidt post-match in Edinburgh, but moves that Ireland have used before played into the success of this one.

Ireland start with a five-man lineout on the left, just inside the Scotland half.

As we can see below, scrum-half Conor Murray [circled] starts at the front of the lineout, while openside flanker Sean O’Brien is just out of shot filling the ‘receiver’ role that a scrum-half often takes.

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Murray’s presence briefly worries Scotland loosehead Allan Dell, meaning Jonny Gray in behind him has no front lifter [as indicated below] as Peter O’Mahony jumps for Ireland, lifted by Cian Healy at the front and James Ryan at the rear.

1:1

O’Mahony gets a clean win in the air and comes back down to ground before popping the ball off to Murray, who has looped around from the front of the lineout to accept the transfer, as illustrated in white below.

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Murray’s movement sets O’Brien in motion, breaking out beyond the 15-metre line [red above] to accept a pass from Murray. 

As Murray hits O’Brien with that pass [white below], we get a sense of how Ireland are set up off the lineout.

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Number eight Jack Conan runs a hard line short off O’Brien [yellow], as out-half Johnny Sexton [red] bounces out behind Conan.

Conan is looking to interest Scottish defenders as O’Brien screens an accurate pass behind the number eight to Sexton.

Once the ball is in Sexton’s hands, there is clever movement from the Irish midfield.

Sexton [red below] looks to straighten up, as Bundee Aki arcs towards the right touchline [yellow], looking to drag defenders in that direction.

The powerful Chris Farrell [blue] is simultaneously accelerating into the space Aki is vacating to make a short carry off Sexton.

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Scotland commit into a double tackle on the fast-moving Farrell, with Stuart McInally and Josh Strauss engaging him – two defenders off their feet already.

There is an immediate danger here to Ireland’s ball as Simon Berghan [white below] gets into a decent position to jackal over the ball, looking for the turnover.

5

We can see that O’Brien, Tadhg Furlong [coming from the back of the lineout] and Conan are arriving in, however, and they manage to rescue the breakdown for Ireland – O’Brien and Furlong shifting Berghan as Conan cleans tackler Strauss off the ball.

“I carried on the first phase and we tried to get quick ball, but it was actually slowed down more than I would have liked,” says Ireland centre Farrell. “But the move still somehow worked.”

Indeed it did, as Ireland struck accurately on second phase.

We know that Murray moves the ball to the right here, but as he gets set to do so, it’s crucial to note what is going on to the left of Ireland’s ruck.

6

Rory Best, having thrown into the lineout, is lined up to the left of the ruck with Ryan to his inside [circled in yellow above].

Best’s body language makes it look as if he is about to receive the ball from Murray and this is a crucial part of the set-play design from Ireland.

Note in the top left of the shot above how Scotland’s Ryan Wilson [circled in red] is pointing back to the left – he has seen this picture before, very recently.

The ref mic picks him up shouting, “Stay!” Wilson is telling Scotland loosehead Allan Dell to stay on that side of the ruck as Scotland fear an attack back to the left.

This fear is something Schmidt intelligently plays on with this particular attack.

“For Johnny to come back and strike that [right] side of the ruck, we thought might
be an opportunity,” explains Schmidt.

“You can never say for certain that they’re going to be opportunities. Mostly, we would strike on the other side [the left] of the ruck, certainly in some of the plays that we play and they’ve played since.”

Not only is Schmidt intimating that Scotland have stolen a couple of his plays, he is underlining that Ireland’s penchant for using bounce-back attacks at the side of the ruck is a key factor in the design of this particular play.

Lein

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As we’ve discussed before, Ireland use the above play – Schmidt’s Leinster doing it in 2012 – particularly effectively, hitting up from a lineout and then bouncing back against the grain to a forward positioned close to the ruck, running a dummy loop around him.

Best, in the example at hand against Scotland, is ideally positioned to be that forward and Wilson’s reaction indicates that he recognises the Ireland hooker as such.

Last weekend, we saw Ireland run a bounce-back play against England, with Conor Murray taking the loop pass from Furlong and very nearly breaking through.

Murray

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Scotland would have watched this intently, as well as being intimately familiar with Schmidt’s other bounce-back attacks.

Even in yesterday’s game, Ireland’s very first attack – eight minutes before Stockdale’s score – involved a bounce-back play after two carries infield from a left-hand-side scrum.

BB

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We can see the Scots react well here after O’Mahony has carried around the corner, as Wilson [red below] and Greig Laidlaw [yellow] indicate the bounce-back, with Dell [white] staying on the left side of Ireland’s ruck.

1

Though Sexton slips after taking a pass from Conan in this instance, Schmidt has teed the Scots up for what is to come later. The trap has been laid.

As he might describe it himself, Schmidt knew that they knew and he played on the fact that they knew.

Back to the Stockdale try, where we will see how Dell again initially staying on the right affects things on the other side of the ruck soon, while the threat on the left side of the ruck was possibly also key in allowing Stockdale to finish, as we’ll get to later.

The real target of Murray’s second pass is O’Mahony [white below], who is coming around the corner after winning the lineout.

7

In this split second, O’Mahony is clapping his hands and loudly shouting, “Mur, me!”

The intention is to ensure Scotland identify O’Mahony as the ball-carrier early, attracting their attention to the Ireland back row and giving them a target.

In Ireland’s opening attacks of this game, we saw how Scotland flooded two tacklers into each collision with the Irish ball-carriers and Schmidt’s play design uses that expected aggressive intent against the Scots.

“We felt that if we got the ball into Pete’s hands, that they [Scotland] would feel we would just carry around the corner,” explains Schmidt.

Scotland are certainly attracted to O’Mahony as the probable ball-carrier but there is plenty going on around the Ireland blindside.

“There’s massive detail on the second phase,” says Farrell.

8

As O’Mahony is about to accept Murray’s pass, Aki is accelerating into a hard line to O’Mahony’s right [indicated in yellow above], further drawing the eyes of Scottish defenders there.

Keith Earls [14] and Rob Kearney [15] are holding the width, while Quinn Roux [red] is working around the corner as if to carry on the phase after O’Mahony carries.

Over on the left of the ruck, we can see that Healy [1] has held there to further interest Scotland on that side, while Stockdale [11] is tucked in behind the ruck.

But the key mover here is Sexton [blue below].

111

In this frame, it looks like Sexton could accept a pass out the back of Aki, moving the ball wide to the right.

But, as we know, Sexton instead makes a late change of direction to take a switch pass back under O’Mahony.

Just before the phase begins, we can see that Stockdale, tucked in behind the ruck [yellow below], is doing his utmost not to attract any attention at all – virtually standing still with his hands down by his sides.

11

As O’Mahony gets on the ball, we begin to get a sense of how Scotland’s defence is being manipulated.

O’Mahony runs diagonally to his right, attracting fringe defender Jamie Ritchie with him [red below] and opening up space on the right edge of the ruck.

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Sexton [blue] is cutting back to the inside and O’Mahony is leaving up a deft switch pass for him to accept, as Stockdale [yellow] gets into motion.

Scotland’s Dell [white] is working around to cover into the space being vacated by Ritchie, although his journey has been made longer by some subtle work by Furlong.

If we rewind slightly to before Murray has passed, we can see Furlong [white below] stepping forward after being involved in the clearout on Berghan.

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By lengthening the ruck in this manner, Furlong is also ensuring Dell has to go backwards and around the ruck as he folds over to the other side.

A small detail, but it gives Dell a second less decision-making time over on the other side of the ruck.

Furlong’s positioning is also going to help Stockdale break through the gap when he gets onto the ball.

Just before that break, Dell arrives around the corner late and sees Sexton coming at him – a chance to hammer Ireland’s key man – and doesn’t quite catch Stockdale in the corner of his eye.

12

Dell plants and fully commits into the tackle on Sexton [white above], with the Ireland out-half bravely taking the ball right up to the tackle before passing to the accelerating Stockdale [yellow], who has just managed to avoid bumping into referee Romain Poite.

“You know, the guy [Dell] maybe could have got to Jacob if he wasn’t that intent on getting at Johnny, so sometimes that works to our advantage,” says Schmidt, indicating that Scotland’s intent to hurt Sexton worked against them.

“They over-read on Johnny and he played Jacob coming through the middle,” says Farrell.

The shot above also shows us that Best [red] has worked up ahead of the ball, expecting the linebreak.

Stockdale receives the pass from Sexton and just manages to evade two despairing tackle attempts. The Ireland wing deserves credit for his acceleration and balance, but his cause is aided by the work of others. 

Circled in white below is O’Brien.

13

The Ireland flanker, having cleared out at the ruck, is briefly tugging at the jersey of Berghan as Scotland’s prop gets back to his feet. 

O’Brien – whose other hand is doing something similar to Strauss’ jersey – only clings on for a split second but it’s enough to delay Bergan ever so slightly and he just misses the tackle on Stockdale.

The retreating McInally nearly manages to get a grasp on Stockdale, but he too has been delayed.

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Furlong’s step forward at the back of the ruck has left him slightly blocking McInally’s retreat [white above] and it delays him enough to ensure he can’t get a firm grasp on Stockdale, who accelerates away from the Scotland hooker.

Where the hell is the Scotland backfield cover?

Well, Ireland’s play design has opened up space there too.

Scotland fullback Blair Kinghorn – just on for the injured Stuart Hogg – has swept up from the backfield all the way to the left-hand touchline [indicated in red below], concerned about a wide attack there.

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The presence of Kearney and Earls lures Kinghorn up, while we can see that Earls [blue] is displaying typically strong ‘animation,’ with his hands out calling for the ball even as Sexton is switching underneath O’Mahony.

There is another defender in the Scottish backfield in Finn Russell, who has essentially swapped places with right wing Tommy Seymour at this lineout defence.

Initially, Russell [white below] does move across to his left as Ireland play off the midfield ruck.

17

However, Russell then stops this movement and checks just as Sexton takes the switch pass from O’Mahony.

There are three possibilities to explain why – Russell presumes O’Mahony will just carry the ball; he fears Ireland will bounce back underneath the ruck and attack to the other side of the ruck; or else he just switches off.

Either way, he plants and stops tracking to the left, leaving him in a poor position [white below] to recover and tackle Stockdale.

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Stockdale is just about to gather Sexton’s pass in the shot above, and with clear space in front of him.

“No better man to get it in his hands than Jacob,” says Schmidt. “I thought he looked quick and strong today.”

Russell and Kinghorn attempt to sprint back and redeem their positional failings but Stockdale, a pure finisher, takes his chance by getting up to speed and scorching around Russell to dot down untouched.

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As ever, Schmidt will have been pleased with the work rate of Best, Kearney and Earls to get in support of Stockdale in the event that he was tackled.

In the background of the shot above, we can see Sexton lying prone on the deck after taking a massive shot from Dell.

It’s the kind of punishment Sexton regularly takes for his team, playing right up to the tackle before freeing team-mates.

JS

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Sexton’s willingness to fully engage Dell is an important part of this Ireland try, one piece in a multi-faceted puzzle that left Scotland utterly stumped.

“We thought it might be an opportunity,” says Schmidt in rather understated fashion.

In a scrappy Six Nations encounter, this searing moment of set-piece class from Ireland was a key point of difference. 

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Murray Kinsella

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