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Dublin: -2°C Friday 16 April 2021

Keenan's try the pick of the bunch but Ireland's turnover attack is still flat

Attack coach Mike Catt will be pleased with Ireland’s efforts from lineout platforms.

Hugo Keenan sprints clear to score.
Hugo Keenan sprints clear to score.

IRELAND WILL DESERVEDLY be pleased with some of what they showed in attack against Italy yesterday, even while acknowledging that their opponents were poor.

Andy Farrell’s side scored six tries and definitely should have had another one through Iain Henderson, while they came close on another couple of occasions.

A 38-point winning margin exceeded the level of Ireland’s favouritism before this game and Farrell will feel his squad has regained some momentum and confidence, even if there is still important work to do in the next fortnight before facing Scotland. 

Five of Ireland’s tries came from lineouts – the sixth was from a quick-tap penalty by Craig Casey – and attack coach Mike Catt will be happy that his side were more effective in launching off set-piece on a day they made eight linebreaks, completed six offloads, and beat 25 defenders.

Hugo Keenan’s first-half try was the pick of the bunch as Ireland scored on second phase having started 45 metres out.

They use a 6+1 lineout set-up to launch their maul, which doesn’t quite go forward but does shift infield.


As scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park arrives up to the maul, we can see he is initially glancing to the Ireland backline set up on his left.


But the shift infield by the maul opens up a big shortside for Ireland, with Italy having only two defenders on that side.


Johnny Sexton makes an instant decision to swing across into the shortside along with right wing Jordan Larmour to attack the weakness in what is a good example of ‘heads up rugby’ from Ireland – identifying an opportunity and going after it.


As we see below, Gibson-Park plays off the maul, running at the inside shoulder of opposite number Callum Braley for long enough to buy Sexton time to get outside the Italy scrum-half after receiving the ball.


Sexton then draws in Italy left wing Monty Ioane and frees Larmour to burst down the right and up towards the Italy 22 before he is brought to ground.

Italy’s defence is scrambling now and Ireland will be satisfied with how they finished the job clinically on the next phase. 

As indicated below, Sexton is back on his feet and sets up behind the pod of three forwards to the left of the ruck, with Garry Ringrose deeper and dropping in behind the next pod of forwards.


Keenan is back-peddling to get into a wider position, while left wing James Lowe is doing the important job of holding width all the way out on the touchline. We can see Lowe signalling for the ball and his presence is key in Keenan being able to finish.

The scoring phase is a slick one from Ireland as James Ryan handles the ball smoothly in the middle of the three-pod, pulling the ball back to Sexton, who links it on to Ringrose bouncing out behind the next pod of forwards.


Ireland’s work off the ball here is good as their forwards are genuine carrying threats around the ball, as indicated below by the example of Iain Henderson.


Henderson is an option for Ryan, running a hard line on his left shoulder to accept a possible tip-on pass. Italy prop Andrea Lovotti has to respect Henderson’s run and that delays him from pressuring Sexton when the out-half instead receives the ball.

Italy centre Juan Ignacio Brex shoots up and in onto Ringrose as the Ireland centre receives the pass from Sexton, but Ringrose gets good communication from Keenan to offload as Brex tackles him. Tadhg Furlong’s positioning makes life more difficult for Brex, who has to get beyond Furlong and then readjust to tackle Ringrose, who can dominate the contest as a result.

Keenan’s running line into space is an excellent one as he slightly slows down to ensure Ringrose can get the ball away.

Having initially been worried about the running threat of Ringrose, Italy tighthead Marco Riccioni can’t react to get a shoulder onto Keenan as the Ireland fullback accelerates again to take himself clear.


As indicated above, Italy fullback Jacopo Trulla has already closed up onto Lowe wide on Ireland’s left, while poor backfield work from the Italians coming from their own left-hand side means Keenan doesn’t have to contend with any other defender in behind.

He outpaces Luca Sperandio, who initially fails to check Keenan’s support run in any way, to finish a sharp Ireland try.

Ireland will take Italy’s defensive frailty into account even on a score like this, of course, but it’s the kind of try that can give a team belief, founded as it is on good-decision-making, fluid interplay between forwards and backs, and a clinical finish. 

Farrell and co. will also pick out plenty of aspects they can improve on from this Italy game, which became frustratingly stop-start in the second half. 

One area where Ireland still need to make strides of progress is in their turnover attack, which has been inconsistent so far in this Six Nations.

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They did nearly score on turnover possession through Lowe yesterday but the score was chalked off when Casey’s final pass to Lowe was adjudged to have gone forward.

But Ireland still lack energy and ambition on turnovers at times, as in this first-half case when CJ Stander stripped opposite number Michele Lamaro of possession.


This excellent turnover should instantly click Ireland into counter-attack mode, with players rapidly working back into positions to receive the ball and run or kick into the obvious space. 

Instead, Ireland are lacking in energy and intent, with several players standing still when Tadhg Beirne scoops the ball up after Stander falls on it. 


Ringrose and Larmour have worked back on the right to offer an option on that side, but the opportunity beckons to a greater extent on Ireland’s left, where Keenan offers width. 

There is no one demanding the ball from Beirne, however, with halfbacks Sexton and Gibson-Park [circled in white] standing still rather than coming alive. Sexton appears to be pointing at the Ireland forwards to the left of the breakdown.

Meanwhile, left wing Lowe is deeper again having seemingly decided early that he will kick the ball. To be fair, Italy don’t initially have strong backfield cover but we can see that out-half Paolo Garbisi [circled in blue above] is dropping off.

Seemingly unsure of where to move the ball, Beirne passes over 10 metres back downfield to Lowe, whose kick is fielded on the full by Garbisi. 


Of course, kicking is a hugely important part of Test rugby, allowing teams to get the ball back in promising attacking positions or simply to pin the opposition into their own half.

Indeed, kicking immediately after turnovers can be extremely effective, but this felt like a chance for Ireland to show more on turnover possession.

Attack coach Catt and several players have spoken about their increased focus on this kind of unstructured situation in training, but we have yet to see that transfer into matches.

Ireland will be encouraged by their try-scoring from lineout platforms in Rome but they must make further progress ahead of the clash with Scotland. 

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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