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Lowe's tackle, Ringrose and Conway's save, and Gibson-Park's rescues

Some of Ireland’s big defensive plays against the All Blacks will live long in the memory.

james-lowe-celebrates-a-penalty-in-the-final-seconds-of-the-game-with-garry-ringrose-and-tadhg-beirne James Lowe celebrates a huge Ireland turnover. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

IRELAND DID IMPRESSIVE damage to the All Blacks with their attack on Saturday, stretching and fatiguing the New Zealanders to breaking point on many occasions.

Andy Farrell’s side dominated the possession – over 22 minutes to the Kiwis’ 14.5 – meaning that they only had to attempt 124 tackles compared to New Zealand’s 250 tackle attempts.

But Ireland had some hugely impressive moments without the ball too, with their aggressive defence causing Ian Foster’s side real problems. On other occasions, Ireland scrambled superbly to deny the Kiwis tries when they looked a near certainty.

Indeed, some of the big defensive plays by Ireland will live as long in the memory as the attacking quality.

Having set a tone in attack by getting around the All Blacks in the second minute, Ireland did the same with their first defensive set from a Kiwi set-piece. 

The visitors play off a left-hand-side [LHS] scrum and Anton Lienert-Brown carries at the Ireland halfbacks, who lose the gainline but manage to make it a slow tackle by targeting the ball.

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With Jamison Gibson-Park and Johnny Sexton doing their best to slow up the recycle, back rows Josh van der Flier and number eight Jack Conan have time to fold around the corner and get set nice and early for the second phase.

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Setting early means Ireland can get off the line as the All Blacks go direct a second time. 

Van der Flier can pick out lock Brodie Retallick and go to meet him in the tackle.

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Retallick is upright in the carry and van der Flier wins the collison as he lands a strong right shoulder onto the All Blacks, getting off the line to tackle on his inside and driving Retallick backwards as Conan joins in.

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This is a hugely impactful moment from van der Flier and he shows fight throughout the tackle. It’s rare to see Retallick stopped in this manner and it’s a tone-setting moment for Ireland.

The collision win means the All Blacks have to commit bodies into the breakdown as van der Flier is a threat to the ball. In the end, the All Blacks have four players involved in this breakdown even after Conan [red below] has got back to his feet.

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Conan being back on his feet allows the Irish defence on the right side of the breakdown to shuffle a couple of steps wider, increasing their confidence levels in bringing more linespeed on the next phase.

Their defensive shape is ideal on third phase, with Andrew Conway and Hugo Keenan [out of shot below] guarding the backfield while 12 defenders are on their feet against 11 attackers [right wing Will Jordan is also out of shot].

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It all means that Ireland can bring aggressive linespeed from the edge [yellow above], as Gibson-Park closes up to that edge [red] after briefly dropping into the chip space behind the frontline defence.

Tighthead prop Tadhg Furlong shows his athleticism to race up with flanker Caelan Doris, forcing a knock-on from Ardie Savea.

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It’s a statement of intent from Ireland early in the game.

As they proved on Saturday night, though, the All Blacks are always, always a threat when they have the ball. 

In the 10th minute, Ireland needed some superb recovery defence to prevent the New Zealanders from opening the scoring.

The chance stems from Beauden Barrett’s beautiful kick pass to Will Jordan from an LHS lineout.

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Jordan gathers Barrett’s kick skillfully and instantly swerves inside Ireland fullback Hugo Keenan, who has closed up from his starting spot in the backfield.

With the kick in the air, we can see where Lowe, Ringrose, and Conway have to work from in order to prevent the try.

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Conway has started in the far 15-metre channel behind the lineout but gets promptly into motion as the All Blacks move the ball to Jordan.

Ringrose and Lowe have had to cover the possibility of Barrett passing to Rieko Ioane, Sevu Reece or Jordie Barrett, but their work-rate to scramble is sharp.

Lowe sprints hard to get to Jordan after he has beaten Keenan, but the Kiwi wing is able to offload from the ground and a try looks almost certain as the 6ft 5ins Jordie Barrett hammers onto the ball.

Tackle

It takes a remarkable double tackle from Conway and Ringrose to stop Barrett, who is close to 100kg and moving at real pace here, from bashing his way over.

As we can see below, Ioane has advanced beyond the tackled Jordan to impede Ringrose, who would obviously have attempted to prevent Jordan from offloading in the first place.

Ringrose [white below] has to fight past Ioane to get into the tackle on Barrett.

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Meanwhile, Conway has worked his way across the pitch back close to the tryline and can now come forward into the tackle on Barrett [red above], dropping in low around the Kiwi fullback’s legs and attempting to get a firm wrap with his arms.

It’s brave from both Irish players – Ringrose takes a wound to the head as a result – but they do enough to keep their team in the fight.

Aki, Sexton, and Lowe make a contest of the breakdown, slowing the Kiwis recycle again, and then Aki comes back for a second bite by reaching out to grab Lienert-Brown’s arm just as he lifts the ball to pass.

Bundee

Referee Luke Pearce is content that the Ireland centre is onside and Aki’s intervention takes the power out of Lienert-Brown’s pass attempt, allowing Rónan Kelleher to intercept.

The All Blacks subsequently jump offside and Ireland get a relieving penalty.

Three minutes later, Ireland score through Lowe down the other end.

Ireland’s defensive repertoire in this game included the classic choke tackle, with Caelan Doris central to a turnover in the 23rd minute. From a scrum inside their 22, the All Blacks look to give Jordan a chance one-on-one against Lowe, who does well to turn him inside.

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Doris is quick off the scrum and recognises the opportunity swiftly, wrapping in around the ball in a bid to hold Jordan up off the ground. Lowe stays in the contest too, while Conan also joins.

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The All Blacks tell Pearce that Jordan has got his knee to ground – which would mean a tackle has been completed  – but the referee disagrees.

The replays aren’t definitive but even if Jordan tipped his knee off the ground at the moment pictured below, this contest had already become a maul.

Knee?

Ireland are entitled to cling onto the ball and when the contest goes to ground, Pearce awards them an attacking scrum.

Unfortunately for Ireland, they were unable to take advantage of the ensuing attacking opportunity and several more during a 10-minute period of intense pressure in the All Blacks’ territory. 

Typically enough, having survived that onslaught, the Kiwis then went and scored.

It’s a try that will have frustrated Ireland. 

From an LHS lineout, the All Blacks run a maul break play with flanker Dalton Papalii shearing off the maul set-up, while hooker Codie Taylor trails on his inside after his initial lineout throw.

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It’s a nice disguise from the Kiwis to have Taylor showing late on Papalii’s inside and we can see that it causes real stress for Furlong.

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Hooker Kelleher [white above] has already started working out off the lineout to defend against the backline attack, while Furlong appears to be calling on Andrew Porter [yellow] to fold across and cover on his inside.

We don’t know how Ireland have assigned roles here – Kelleher may simply have shot off too early or perhaps Porter is required to react earlier – but Furlong is left with a two-on-one and ends up dealing with neither attacker.

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It should be stressed that it’s a slick play from the All Blacks – watch above how Iain Henderson is drawn into the dummy maul and Kelleher out onto the multiple options in the backline – but Ireland will have been frustrated to concede on first phase.

However, the defensive effort continued to be vital in the second half.

Ireland enjoyed more dominance following the break – this time bagging tries through Kelleher and Doris – then backed that up with some turnover defence.

Below, we see James Ryan delivering an impactful chop tackle.

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Joe Moody gets over the gainline here but it’s a great defensive decision from Ryan to drop to his knees in order to take out the All Blacks prop’s legs…

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… which allows van der Flier and Gibson-Park to jackal over the ball.

Jackal

While they don’t win a turnover, the Irish duo draw four Kiwi players into the breakdown as they slow down the recycle.

On the next phase, Doris attacks the ball at the breakdown, dragging in two cleaners.

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As they fight ferociously at close quarters, Ireland are giving themselves time to get well set in the rest of the defensive line and when New Zealand then play to their right, Ireland can bring great linespeed.

Ringrose rushes on tighthead prop Nepo Laulala, forcing him to look up before he has caught TJ Perenara’s inaccurate pass, and the ball goes loose.

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Ringrose picks it off for another Irish turnover and then Gibson-Park adds to the All Blacks’ pain by launching a sublime 50:22 kick down into the right corner, with the subsequent pressure eventually leading to three points for a 20-10 Irish lead.

Still, Ireland had to scramble to produce some massive defensive moments.

Just after Ireland moved 10 points ahead, the All Blacks nearly produced something out of nothing again.

Gibson-Park has just box-kicked out of the Ireland 22 and Jordie Barrett fields the ball before Kelleher jackals [circled below], with the home side believing he has done enough to earn a penalty.

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As Ireland appeal for the penalty, Kiwi left wing Sevu Reece [red above] is reloading into the shortside and that suddenly leaves Ireland exposed as Ioane clears Kelleher away.

Porter and Furlong are late reacting to fold across…

PropLife

… and Perenara has identified the chance, picking and scooting to his left.

The running threat means that Gibson-Park [white below] has had to close up from the backfield.

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Perenara cleverly picks out the space and rolls a well-balanced grubber kick in behind for Reece to chase.

But Gibson-Park does superbly to turn swiftly and then shows superb acceleration to keep himself in front of Reece, who is very fast.

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There are many scrum-halves who would get beaten in this race but Gibson-Park is quick and it is crucial here as he fights to get to the ball, just doing enough to force Reece into a knock-on as he stretches out close to the tryline.

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It’s a brilliant bit of defending from Gibson-Park, who is more renowned for his attacking game, and Ireland hold their 20-10 lead.

The choke tackle featured again soon after, with Sexton, Doris, and Aki combining on replacement centre David Havili.

Again, the New Zealanders appealed that the ball-carrier had got a knee to ground but it comes after the maul has been formed.

Choker

Ireland come away with the ball as Aki and Sexton target it, Doris holding Havili up from behind, and Pearce is happy that they have made a legal strip while on their feet.

But just when Ireland might have been tempted to think that things were going swimmingly heading into the final quarter, the All Blacks struck clinically again.

It’s a wonderful try for the All Blacks but Ireland might wonder if they could have had a little more width in their defence for the initial opportunity. 

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A slightly earlier fold around the corner just before the phase above might have helped Ireland get more width in their defence.

As it is, Ringrose [white below] is attracted in onto Havili at the same time as Aki [yellow] is working out onto the Kiwi centre.

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Ringrose sitting down on Havili sees Lowe [red above], in turn, sitting down on Ioane – while also being concerned with the threat of Jordie Barrett out the back – and Havili instead fires a skip pass wide to Jordan.

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Nonetheless, this try is really about the All Blacks’ sublime skill as Jordan chips ahead with the perfect degree of power as fullback Keenan closes up.

Ioane

Ioane beats Ringrose on the inside chase line and gets to the ball first, drawing in Conway as he swings across from the far side of the backfield and popping a pass inside for Jordan to finish.

It’s a stunning reminder of just how lethal the All Blacks can be when they get a sniff and though Ireland soon add another three points after Tyrel Lomax’s off-the-ball tackle on Tadhg Beirne, the Kiwis continue to press.

Gibson-Park comes up with another excellent save to help keep Ireland in front in the 68th minute.

New Zealand are playing penalty advantage when Richie Mo’unga dinks a delightful chip kick behind Ireland for Jordan to regather.

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This actually goes down as a missed tackle from Gibson-Park on the official stats sheet but it’s a brilliant, crucial missed tackle.

The Ireland scrum-half makes an excellent read on Mo’unga, turning to dart into the backfield even before the Kiwi out-half has struck the ball.

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It’s outstanding anticipation from Gibson-Park and his presence means Jordan can’t simply accelerate forward to finish after catching.

Instead, he has to step back inside Gibson-Park, allowing Finlay Bealham and Joey Carbery to shackle him as they work back. 

Ireland survive and though it looks like the Kiwis have scored a couple of phases later with a new advantage playing, referee Pearce and TMO Tom Foley decide that Rieko Ioane’s pass to his brother Akira has gone marginally forward.

Margins

It’s marginal but Gibson-Park’s scramble has given Ireland the chance to even bring those fine margins into play.

Intriguingly, the All Blacks opted for the three points to bring the scoreline to 23-20 when Pearce came back to the penalty advantage here.

It felt like the Kiwis had Ireland on the ropes to a degree at this point and the expectation might have been that they would have looked to strike for the lead from a five-metre scrum.

Ireland’s lead was intact but they required more big defensive plays to seal the deal.

The remarkably powerful Ardie Savea breaks Conor Murray and Peter O’Mahony’s tackle off a scrum to spark the opportunity here in the 72nd minute.

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Murray goes back at Savea as Conan also tackles him from behind, but the All Blacks number eight offloads to Havili, who shows lovely footwork and balance.

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Havili beats Carbery and Ringrose, with Keith Earls turning in on him as a result, but Havili pops a basketball pass over Earls’ head to Rieko Ioane.

With the ball in the air, Lowe makes a proactive decision to go and shut the ball down on Ioane.

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It’s a major try-scoring chance for New Zealand here with Jordie Barrett and Jordan lying in wait out to the right.

If Lowe can’t stop the ball on Ioane, the All Blacks almost certainly score.

His tackle is excellent though, as he wraps Ioane up.

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Lowe understands the need to prevent any offload here and he ends up using his head to pin the ball against Ioane’s body as he hauls him to ground.

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In the meantime, O’Mahony has been sprinting back downfield eager for a chance to make up for the earlier tackle miss on Savea.

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O’Mahony wins the race to the breakdown, jackaling over the ball to win a massive turnover penalty for Ireland.

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O’Mahony beats All Blacks skipper Sam Whitelock to the ball and his initial arriving position is a good one, painting a good picture for Pearce.

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O’Mahony does then appear not to be totally in control of his body weight but Whitelock is attempting to ‘croc roll’ him off the ball, meaning it’s very difficult to stay upright.

Whitelock can’t break O’Mahony’s grip on the ball as Lowe rolls away – getting cleared out by Retallick as he goes – and Pearce whistles the penalty in Ireland’s favour.

It’s a huge moment and allows Carbery to fire over an impressive 50-metre penalty for a 26-20 lead.

Still, Ireland must defend. In the 75th minute, we see Earls’ calm influence [red below] as he sits off the All Blacks on a kick return attack, allowing him to connect with Conway out on the edge, the right wing showing trust in his experienced team-mate by drifting with him rather than biting in on the ball.

Earls

Note also the work-rate of loosehead prop Porter [blue above] in the 75th minute, just before he makes way for Cian Healy. Porter sprints cross-field in behind the defence to provide cover in case the All Blacks break but Earls forces a loose offload from Reece.

A minute later, Keenan comes up with a strong defensive play to field a Havili kick and spark an Irish counter-attack.

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Even as he reads Havili’s kick, Keenan is communicating on the move – a real trait in his game.

We can see below that the Ireland fullback is beckoning for Conway to work across from the right side of the backfield as he swings up to field the ball.

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Ioane manages to get back and haul Keenan down after he intercepts Havili’s kick and his offload inside is knocked-on by Conan when it appeared Ireland might seal the deal with another try.

But they have their finishing touch in the 79th minute as jackal supreme Beirne helps to deliver the breakdown penalty, very soon after he came close to a steal only to be adjudged to have knock the ball on.

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This time, Beirne swings in behind Bealham and Ryan’s tackle on Jordan, getting his hands on the ball as Retallick enters from the side in desperation.

As Carbery lines up the final penalty for 29-20, Ireland can celebrate.

Win

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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