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Analysis: Ireland lost momentum at crucial times in the scrum battle with Argentina

Sunday’s scrum battle was incredibly even.

FORM MEANS NOTHING to Argentina’s scrum.

It seems every time they set down, they’re ready for something new. One second, they can stampede through the opposition, and the next they’ll struggle.

At times it seems that they try to do too much, with their aggression coming back to haunt them.

Against New Zealand they had a 100 percent success rate on their own strike, but against both Georgia and Tonga, they conceded two penalties from four scrums in each game. They clearly had the better pack, but pushed the boat out a bit too much.

Against Ireland, referee Jerome Garces had his hands full with 13 scrums, many of which were very, very messy, and all in all he did a pretty good job. It was one of those days when neither side could dominate, yet both were trying to do so.

The net result was a battle with plenty of collapses, and very little pattern to the balance of power.

On the opening scrum of the day Argentina obliterated Ireland, with Marcos Ayerza staying outside the shoulder of Ross to drive him back, and Cian Healy coming in at the angle after losing the initial nudge.

First we’ll look at Ross’ side. We can see how Ayerza gets the initial nudge on him, staying square and straight, before eventually Ross whips body out to stop Argentina going forward.

1 Ross side

However, it was on Healy’s side that Garces spotted an infringement. Ramiro Herrera managed to split Healy and Rory Best, with Healy eventually just moving across Herrera and collapsing the scrum.

1 Healy side

But with Herrera sin-binned for the second scrum, Ireland established a strong base due to the one man advantage. Juan Pablo Orlandini came into the front-row, with Leonardo Senatore stepping out.

For reference points, we’ll take a look at how the scrum lines up, with Mike Ross showing perfect technique.

2 initial

Once Ross makes a slight nudge on Ayerza, the Argentinian then starts to come in at the angle like so.

2 Ayerza

It’s a scrum that Ireland were probably unlucky not to win a penalty from, with Jerome Garces giving Argentina a lot of leeway.

On several occasions as Ayerza was turning inside, Garces could be heard to shout: “Don’t move, don’t move, stay, stay!”, but as the scrum ultimately collapses, he tells Murray to “Use it!”, giving him a difficult job to cleanly get the ball out from such a messy situation.

As we can see, as Garces is instructing Murray to use the ball, not only has Ayerza turned inside completely, but his hooker Agustin Creevy has popped up. A let off for Argentina.

2 use it

Ayerza was pinged twice by referee JP Doyle for his angles in the win against Georgia earlier in the tournament, and although he didn’t get penalised here, the line of his drive actually caused the Argentinian scrum to become less stable.

With Herrera back on after his sin-bin, the next scrum saw Ireland disrupt Argentinian ball, causing a turnover.

Below we can see how Ayerza has started to drive across Mike Ross again, with the red line indicating the midpoint of where the scrum took place, which will be a reference point for what happens later.

3 Ayerza

Cian Healy nudges Ireland forward through the axis, which puts Argentina under a lot of pressure.

If a scrum moves forward by 90 degrees, to the point where “the middle line has passed beyond a position parallel to the touchline“, the scrum is reset with the team NOT in possession at the time of the reset awarded the put-in.

We can see below that Argentina are forced to scramble possession out of the scrum just before it turns 90 degrees, to avoid losing a turnover. On this case, It has moved forward on Healy’s side, but is just short of 90.

3 axis

Part of the reason the scrum rotated so much was down to the strength of Mike Ross. With Ayerza coming in at the angle to try make the scrum move sideways, Ross keeps his body straight and holds his position.

Because Ayerza is moving at such a sharp angle, the wheel is quite dramatic from Argentina, with the right arrow showing how Tomas Lavanini is completely off balance in the second row.

3 Ayerza 2

And after Argentina are forced into a knock-on by some great harrying from Conor Murray, Ireland were finally rewarded with a penalty from Ayerza’s angles, and suddenly were starting to look in control of the scrum battle.

A great overhead view shows us exactly what’s happening with the angles. We can see how Healy and Herrera, and Best and Creevy are square and straight, but both Ross and Ayerza are pointing in.

But they key to determining who is causing the angle is to examine the position of their hips.

Ayerza’s hips are parallel to his shoulders, while with Ross, it appears as if just his body is pointing inwards, with his hips in what looks like being a square position. That would hint that Ayerza is pushing inside, with Ross’ body being forced in.

4 Ayerza angle

And when we watch the gif from ground level, we can see exactly how Ayerza drives in and collapses. Touchjudge Chris Pollock calls it, and after playing advantage Ireland get another kick at goal to reduce the gap to seven, but it unfortunately hits the post.

4 penalty

By now Ireland looked to be in control of the scrum, but that momentum was lost just before half-time, when Cian Healy went down, and Argentina were awarded a penalty.

We can see below how Healy probably has his fee too close to his body, which is making an acute angle at his hips. Even another six inches further behind his body would have given him more purchase off the ground.

6 healy

And we can see that when he tries to take a step forward off his left foot, his balance is gone, and his knee drops to the ground. Keep an eye on his left foot, as he tries to take the step.

6 healy collapse

With Nathan White and Jack McGrath primed to enter early in the second half, Healy and Ross did put together one huge shove to win Ireland a penalty on 46 minutes.

As usual, we’ll look at the sides as they line up, with the red line running through the centre of the scrum.

8 initial

But once Ireland begin to push, we can see how Argentina’s Herrera isn’t bound close enough to his hooker Creevy.

By not being bound tightly, he can easily be exposed, and as we can see below, by the time Ireland’s drive has come on, there is almost twice the gap between he and his hooker’s backsides, as there is between Cian Healy and Rory Best.

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8 wheel

And he then whips the scrum around to the right, which Garces penalises him for.

8 wheel gif

It was the last action of the Irish starting props, as McGrath and White took to the pitch, but while McGrath in particular excelled in the loose, neither player could gain a foothold in the scrums.

In their first pack-down McGrath was lucky not to conceded a penalty, first for collapsing, and then for driving across Herrera’s body.

First we can see how he has his head just below his hips, with all his power pointing downwards.

9 mcgrath 1

And he then slips to his knee, but it is missed by both Garces and the touchjudge.

9 McGrath collapse

After getting back onto his feet, McGrath appears to angle his drive across the body of Herrera.

9 mcgrath

Ireland coughed up possession at the following scrum, when a knock-on from Conor Murray at the base gave Argentina a put in.

While he wouldn’t be one to make excuses, the Irish scrum didn’t give Murray particularly clean ball, with White getting caught similarly to Herrera previously, leaving too big a gap between he and his hooker.

It means that Iain Henderson’s left shoulder seems to come through the gap between Best and White, which then widens even more, isolating Nathan White.

11 White hips

And we can then see how White’s positioning means that the scrum starts sliding towards the near touchline.

And with Murray keen to get the ball out and move it in the opposite direction, it gets tangled between his hands and Jamie Heaslip’s legs.

11 scrum

On Argentina’s feed, they retain possession and gain advantage because of McGrath causing a collapse, but they didn’t even need it, with Joaquin Tuculet scrambling over in the corner to get the most crucial try of the game.

From there, the gap was 13, and Ireland’s race was run.

Overall though, 2015 was a year of huge positivity for the Irish scrum. It was the backbone of their win against England in the Six Nations, and their strategy of using the scrum as a platform for attacking rather than milking penalties was hugely effective.

In terms of depth, they’re looking very healthy. As it stands, players of the quality of Denis Buckley and James Cronin are the fifth and sixth choice for Ireland at the moment at loosehead, which is frightening quality so far down the order.

The experience Tadhg Furlong will have gained in the last few weeks can’t be understated also. While Mike Ross and Nathan White don’t have long left in the tank, they’ve undoubtedly been exceptional mentors for Furlong, and along with Marty Moore, it shows Ireland have two powerful tighthead props with long careers ahead.

But as Sunday showed, it doesn’t matter how technical or powerful or sneaky you are at the scrum, every prop will go backwards at some stage.

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About the author:

Neil Treacy

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