Beirne's break, Sexton's subtle touches, and Ireland's shape key to superb start

Ireland delivered 156 seconds of excellent rugby to send themselves on the way to making history.

THE ALL BLACKS were under their posts before they could even catch their breath.

156 seconds is all it took for Ireland to land a telling first blow on Saturday in Dunedin.

Andy Farrell’s side made a near-perfect perfect start to send themselves on the way to making history in New Zealand.

Ireland’s first job is dealing with Beauden Barrett’s kick-off, which he hangs up just in front of the 22-metre line.


It’s an excellent kick from Barrett, hanging in the air for four seconds and dropping in between Ireland fullback Hugo Keenan [yellow below] and the two-man pod of jumper Peter O’Mahony and lifter Dan Sheehan [red].


O’Mahony retreats and initially looks like he will be the one to claim Barrett’s kick but it comes towards ground slightly too far beyond him and Keenan is perfectly positioned in behind to field it instead.

The movement from O’Mahony and Sheehan here means that the chasing Jordie Barrett has to angle his run around them [blue below], while the retreating Josh van der Flier and Garry Ringrose ensure Quinn Tupaea [white] has to do the same from the other side.


It all means Keenan can claim the ball uncontested and get to ground as Tupaea arrives in to tackle him.

Tupaea and Barrett have a counter-rucking effort as they look to disrupt, but James Ryan, van der Flier, Sheehan and, O’Mahony combine to clear them away.

Ireland’s first carry of the game is an excellent one by Tadhg Beirne.


Beirne wins the collision against Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Brodie Retallick. The Ireland lock is helped by the shape around him.

Note below how Tadhg Furlong [red below] runs a convincing line outside Beirne for a possible tip-on pass, while Johnny Sexton [yellow] is connected in behind for a potential link pass out the back from Beirne. Beirne also has Andrew Porter on his inside shoulder.


We even see the detail of Ringrose [white above] having his hands up ready to receive a pass from Sexton if Beirne does link out the back.

And with Beirne initially shaping to pass, Brodie Retallick in the All Blacks’ defensive line has to momentarily hesitate before committing his right shoulder into the tackle on Beirne, while Tu’ungafasi arrives in with his left shoulder.

Beirne brings good leg drive into the contest, ensuring Furlong and Porter have an easier job in clearing out the breakdown, leaving the ball on a plate for Jamison Gibson-Park’s exit kick.

Watch next how the Ireland scrum-half buys himself a little bit of extra space.


Just before he lifts the ball, Gibson-Park leans his head back away from the caterpillar ruck and that ever so slightly unbalances Retallick [number 4] before he charges up, while doing the same to Sam Cane [7] on the other side.

This kind of dummy by scrum-halves when box kicking is technically against Law 15.16 (g), which says players must not “take any action to make opponents believe that the ruck has ended when it has not.” The sanction is a free-kick.

We have heard referees warning scrum-halves about it or even free-kicking them occasionally, but Gibson-Park’s version here is very subtle. It buys him a sliver of extra time and space to get his kick away.


It’s a superb kick from Gibson-Park to find touch just short of the halfway line. Anything beyond the 10-metre line is generally seen as positive.

Ireland deliberately kicking to touch is also an early insight into their intent to go after the Kiwi lineout, having kept the ball in play very often with their kicks in the first Test. 

With lineout leader Sam Whitelock missing for the All Blacks, Paul O’Connell’s pack were intent on applying early pressure at the set-piece.

We can see below how they set up with jumping pods in the middle [red] and at the back [yellow] of this first lineout.


Ireland are basically giving the Kiwis the option of winning the lineout at the front through Dalton Papali’i but that’s not the best attacking platform to play off.

Instead, lineout caller Retallick [white] joins and triggers the throw to the middle, shifting towards the touchline to lift Scott Barrett.


Ryan and O’Mahony [red] both get an early read on Retallick’s intentions and they mirror the Kiwis’ movement forward.

With Caelan Doris reacting to lift Ryan from behind, we see below how he gets in the air to put major pressure on Barrett.


The match officials are happy that Ryan hasn’t played Barrett in the air as the Kiwi lock manages to bat the ball back.

All Blacks’ hooker Codie Taylor is then smothered by Gibson-Park and O’Mahony as they swarm through.


Immediately, the All Blacks have lost nearly 15 metres from their lineout and missed out on a perfect early chance to launch their attack.

While Ardie Savea fights to win back a couple of metres on the next phase, Doris and Porter wrap him up and threaten to make a choke tackle turnover.

This is not the kind of ball any team wants to play off, so the Kiwis are forced to go to their kicking game through Aaron Smith.


It’s a decent box kick from Smith as the ball travels 20 metres and hangs in the air for over four seconds, but Ireland’s work off the ball is solid to ensure Mack Hansen can field it cleanly without a contest.

It’s not ideal for the Kiwis that flanker Papali’i [white below] is the primary chaser in the shortside but O’Mahony and Gibson-Park [red] do a robust job of closing him out with their kick escort, adjusting their runs to ensure Papali’i can’t get at the ball.


On the other side of the ruck, van der Flier [yellow] makes sure that Tupaea doesn’t have clear access to get pressure onto Hansen either.

The clean take from the Irish wing now launches his team into their first attacking possession and they score 10 phases later.

O’Mahony, Furlong, and Ryan arrive at the first breakdown after Hansen goes to ground and Retallick is a pest there, slowing the ball down until Ryan clears him away with aggression.


Away to the left, Ireland have got into shape and are ready to attack the Kiwi defence.

Even as Hansen lands with the ball, we can see Ireland organising themselves.


Sheehan, Doris, and van der Flier [red above] are slotting into position in a 3-man pod, with Sexton [yellow] already setting up in behind them. Note also how Beirne [white] is working hard to get back into a wider position.

Gibson-Park hits the 3-pod to the left and Doris is the man at the heart of it, bringing both a ball-carrying threat and a passing threat.

In this instance, he opts for a tip-on pass that sends van der Flier hurtling over the gainline.


The set-up here is exactly the same as what we saw earlier, with Doris having van der Flier running an excellent hard line off his left shoulder [red below] as Sexton bounces out behind the openside flanker [yellow]. Sheehan offers a tip-in option for Doris, one that Ireland used a few times in the first Test.


Doris’ own carrying threat is a key factor too, forcing Taylor to sit down on him.

Sexton being so connected to Doris is also very important.

Sexton actually starts almost in contact with Doris, as we can see below.


That connection highlights to the Kiwi defence that Doris has an option to link pass out the back, an option that Ireland regularly use within their attacking shape.

And so, New Zealand loosehead prop George Bower [white below] has that option in his mind as Ireland run at the defence. Bower briefly appears to have eyes on Sexton, rather than the more immediate threat of van der Flier.

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The fact that Ireland have so much width in their attack – James Lowe is standing on the left touchline – means New Zealand’s defenders are quite spread out anyway and then Doris makes a good decision to play the front-door option by passing to van der Flier.

He punches over the gainline and though Scott Barrett catches up from inside to tackle him, Doris and Sheehan can clear out the breakdown for a lightning-quick recycle.

The next phase is quite similar as Beirne makes the big linebreak.


Sexton is now at first receiver and he has Beirne [red below] running the front-door option as Henshaw [yellow] offers the back-door option.


This time, it’s Kiwi tighthead Ofa Tu’ungafasi who Ireland exploit.

Sexton’s first couple of steps are straight up the pitch, meaning he engages Cane directly in front of him, leaving Tu’ungafasi further exposed.

Henshaw’s connection and darting run are really important again.

The angle below gives us a great sense of how he attracts Tu’ungafasi’s eyes to the extent that the Kiwi tighthead overlooks Beirne until it’s way too late.


Sexton’s characteristic sleight of hand with the pass helps to sell this option to Tu’ungafasi.

At the exact moment below, Sexton’s body langauge more strongly suggests that he will go out the back to Henshaw but all options are on. The Ireland out-half is always difficult to read.


The speed of the previous Irish breakdown and that width we mentioned earlier means that the Kiwis haven’t been able to ideally set themselves in defence.

We can see below that the spacing between Tu’ungafasi and Tupaea on his outside is very wide, further accentuating Tu’ungafasi’s concern about Henshaw receiving the pass from Sexton and turning the corner to run at his outside shoulder.


This is all being computed in a split-second, of course, and Tu’ungafasi reads off Beirne completely despite the proximity of the Ireland lock.

As Beirne receives that late pass at the line from Sexton, he can burst through Tu’ungafasi’s weak inside shoulder and break upfield.


Beirne has Henshaw in support on his left, with Keenan also working up on that side, but opts to carry the ball himself as Beauden Barrett closes up to tackle.

Porter carries strongly off Gibson-Park on the next phase as Ireland win penalty advantage for the All Blacks being offside in their scramble back.

Ireland then use the same play as the one they scored with early in the first Test, Sexton throwing a back-door pass to Henshaw, with the centre dropping an immediate pass back inside to Lowe running off his shoulder.


In the first Test, Sexton hit Ringrose and he dropped the ball back inside to Keenan, who threw a long offload to Keith Earls for his try.

In this instance, Bower makes a fine tackle on Lowe and there is a sudden breakdown threat from Papali’i but watch how Henshaw blasts him clear of the ball.


Van der Flier’s angle of entry from the left is certainly questionable but referee Jaco Peyper seems content that it has no material impact on the play.

The next phase sees Sexton back on the ball and demonstrating his playmaking composure.

Beauden Barrett rushes up off the edge of the Kiwi defence to get into Sexton’s eyeline, hoping to intercept or dissuade Sexton from passing.


Sexton readjusts on the move, dummying a pass as he draws in Leicester Fainga’anuku, then passing in behind Barrett at a late stage.


It’s a lovely bit of play from Sexton to find Hansen in space out on the right with a chance to finish.

Hansen looks to fix Jordie Barrett on his inside shoulder before stepping back outside, but Barrett does a good job to stay alive into the tackle and wrap up the Ireland wing down low.


Hansen offloads to avoid carrying the ball into touch and then O’Mahony does a remarkable job of keeping the ball in play under pressure from Savea.

It’s great awareness of the touchline and a very composed offload from O’Mahony to Sheehan.

Gibson-Park, Ringrose, and Lowe clear out the ensuing breakdown and then van der Flier makes another excellent carry as Ireland play off the touchline.

The shape is very familiar to us with van der Flier at the centre of the 3-pod playing off Sexton, while Keenan is connected out the back.


This time, van der Flier carries the ball himself, showing a rapid burst of footwork to step back inside the advancing Cane and drive into Bower’s tackle.


Ryan and Furlong clear out this time but Ireland stutter slightly on the next phase as Sexton and Keenan’s back-door passes are well defended by the Kiwis.

The ball slows up, so Ireland need to generate momentum again.

They do so in characteristic fashion as Ryan now plays the link pass to Sexton and he in turn goes out the back for Hansen to use his footwork. Watch how Furlong and van der Flier sit down defenders off the ball.


It takes a good recovery from Savea turning in to prevent Hansen from breaking right through to score, but Ireland sniff blood.

Gibson-Park bounces back to his left. He and Beirne identify the same opportunity in the fractured New Zealand defence.


Bower is still retreating as Beirne essentially follows the Kiwi prop into the space between Tu’ungafasi and Cane.

Gibson-Park picks him out with an excellent pass.


Cane does enough to stop Beirne with a good tackle low down but he fails to roll away as Ryan and Furlong are on scene to ensure Papali’i can’t jackal successfully.

Cane’s failure to roll clear means a second penalty advantage for Ireland but they don’t need it as they score on the next phase.


The front-door option from Sexton has been a feature of this passage and he goes there to Porter for the finish.

Again, Sexton does a good job of engaging the defender in front of him in Taylor [yellow below].


Tupaea [white] wants Taylor to be able to shift out onto Porter as he worries about Keenan out the back, with Sexton’s body language again suggesting he may pull his pass behind Porter.

Tupaea is right to be worried about the back-door pass, given that Ringrose [white below] has worked hard across from the right-hand side to give Ireland a numbers-up situation on the left.


Henshaw is also set up outside Ringrose while Doris has been the man holding width on the left touchline for the last two phases, Lowe having roamed across to the right.

Really, both options are good ones for Ireland here but Sexton recognises that the powerful Porter has a one-on-one running at Tupaea’s exposed inside shoulder and he sends his loosehead prop surging onto the ball.


Porter shifts his running line slightly back out to his left as he receives the ball from Sexton, taking him well clear of Taylor and allowing him to finish through Tupaea’s despairing effort.

It seals a remarkably precise, calm start to the game from Ireland and Sexton’s conversion leaves them 7-0 ahead with just 3:30 on the match clock. 

There were twists and turns ahead, of course, but this stunning start meant New Zealand were rocked and Ireland were superbly positioned to go on and create history.  

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