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Moving parts in Irish lineout need time to sync, says Henderson

‘When you start pushing the boat out and then something doesn’t go quite as well, a lot of players will start feeling the external pressure.’

Iain Henderson and Will Connors on lifting duty during last Saturday's captain's run.
Iain Henderson and Will Connors on lifting duty during last Saturday's captain's run.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

THERE WASN’T MUCH in the way of soul-searching done in camp over the last three days, says Iain Henderson, despite what was ultimately a worryingly inadequate showing by Ireland against Georgia on Sunday — particularly during a second half in which they scored just three points to Georgia’s same tally.

Instead, they just got on with their week which ends in a showdown with Scotland, who will doubtless get a whiff of blood as they cross the Irish Sea.

But even if there had been some kind of damning collective introspection, it seems unlikely that Ulster skipper Henderson would have stewed for too long: he’s of the mold wherein he prefers to put things right on a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday than to dwell on the wrongs of a Sunday.

And it will take cool heads as well as rockets up the proverbial if Ireland are to see off the Scots this Saturday.

“I think most people you talk to would say I’m a relatively calm individual,” Henderson says. “I don’t get fired up very often. And when it comes to games, it’s time to work, I suppose.

There are a lot of guys who get really fired up in training and fired up when they don’t get things right, whereas I definitely try to bring a more calm approach. There’s a lot of boys when they’re captain will really rile things up and get shouting and yipping and yawing, and I think that works well. Sometimes that works for me — other guys doing it. I’m not that type of character. As a captain, I do rely on players doing that. When I captain Ulster, I do rely on certain players stepping up to do that; certain players riling those types of boys up.

“It’s definitely a mix,” adds the 28-year-old lock. “If you had a team full of people who are calm and level-headed and don’t shout, you might end up being very flat all the time. However, if you end up with a team full of people who like to scream and show how passionate they are through that, you might end up with a team who get very angry with themselves and flustered quite a bit.

“So, I think you need a balance of people who can lower the emotion level a wee bit and bring everything back to basics, but on the flipside of that have people who can fire people up and bring people along with them.”

iain-henderson Iain Henderson during Ireland training last week. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

As he worked his way back towards something resembling match fitness throughout the Autumn Nations Cup, Henderson was entrusted to provide assistance to Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby — specifically in relation to work on the lineout, which has been frankly terminal to Ireland’s chances in tougher games during Andy Farrell’s tenure to date.

Ireland’s woes from the touchline were particularly accentuated during recent defeats at the Stade de France and Twickenham, in the latter case leading directly and indirectly to English scores off Irish ball.

Against Georgia, Easterby and his pack steadied the ship: Ireland were 100% accurate off their own ball from 16 put-ins, and they also got after Georgia to the extent that Levan Maisashvili watched six of his side’s own throws go awry, one way or the other.

But without wishing to demean the Eastern Europeans who gave Ireland a torrid time in several other areas and were probably worth more than their 13-point margin of defeat, it was ‘only Georgia’.

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Still, it is only a relatively new Irish lineout, one consisting of new combinations by the game, which has taken the brunt of many frustrations over the course of the autumn. Perhaps emblematic of Farrell’s reign to date, it still needs a lot of work, but in order for that work to be done, it also needs more time.

“I think a lot of it is getting to know people, getting to know how they work,” Henderson explains. “Different people definitely jump in the lineout in different ways. Anyone who’s lifted in a lineout will know different people jump slightly differently and some people, even though they look more athletic than others, are a lot more difficult to lift than others. Other people can’t stop as quickly as other people.

The more you play with someone, the more you understand how people move. And it’s the same with hookers. Hookers, when they’re throwing, get to know someone who jumps in a slightly different way. And I’ve spoken to Rob Herring and other hookers about this; I spoke to Rory Best about it in the past: throwing to different people, they understand that they have to throw it slightly differently, depending on the personnel and also depending on lifters. So, there are a whole load of moving parts in a lineout.

“Judging a lineout from a completely outsider point of view, like when we review other teams’ lineouts, it’s very, very difficult for us to say if it’s an overthrow or not an overthrow, because we don’t know if the jumper has jumped in the right position; we don’t know if the movement at the start of the lineout was how they had drilled it during the week.

That hooker might be expecting the pod to be a foot further back than they are or a foot further forward. That’s the difference between people saying, ‘Oh, the hooker’s overthrown that,’ but the hooker might have thrown it exactly 100% the same as he’s thrown it all week in training. Unless you’re involved in the lineout process earlier in the week, it’s very, very difficult to see if that’s the case.

“You do get to learn so much off people; the more you train with people and the more you play with people, you do understand that they have different traits and you get to learn their different traits.”

iain-henderson-and-tamaz-mchedlidze Henderson competes with Tamaz Mchedlidze of Georgia. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

There are means of mitigating against such teething problems as well, however. And somewhat fittingly, the key to oiling a successful lineout system might well be to turn a deaf ear to post-match noise just as one tries to block out distracting forces when putting in on the field.

“You might make slightly different calls, easier calls, calls that aren’t going to be contested rather than backing yourself to do a potentially more complex movement or a more complex throw.

It’s when you start pushing the boat out a wee bit and saying, ‘You know what, we’ll back ourselves to do this one this weekend,’ and then something doesn’t go quite as well, a lot of players will start feeling the external pressure — whether it’s through the media or through social media — for not getting things right. Whereas that’s maybe not quite the case. Maybe the case is that we pushed the boat out and tested the water a bit too much and we maybe [need to] reel it back in, really nail what we’ve got to do, and then rebuild from where we know we can work from.

As for the lineout against Georgia specifically, Ireland “still had a fair bit of detail in our calling system — a lot of calls in there,” says Henderson. “The calls we did make, Georgia showed us some relatively easy pictures to go to, sometimes — I would guess a fair bit easier than what Scotland would show us, or other teams that we’ve played.

“There was a bit of back-to-basics for some aspects. And there were other areas where we just knew [where best to throw and jump against Georgia]. It was our plan to throw to the front maybe three times. That was the set play we wanted to play off. It was, maybe, a more simplified menu but we still had more complex movements in there, as well, that we went to.

“I think we had 16 lineouts and I didn’t catch any lineouts at the weekend, and that’s probably a first in a long time for me. But for building confidence for me, it’s great for me to see that everyone else can catch lineouts and I don’t have to catch any; knowing that everyone is capable and the hooker is capable of finding them.”

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey pick up the pieces — all of them — after Ireland’s Twickenham defeat:


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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