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Analysis: Lowe shows quality but Ireland's attack misses too many chances

Mike Catt’s attack delivered some real smarts off set-piece but they blew some big opportunities.

James Lowe scored for Ireland late on last night.
James Lowe scored for Ireland late on last night.

THERE WERE SEVERAL passages of play from Ireland last night that will have encouraged head coach Andy Farrell and his attack specialist, Mike Catt, but frustration at missed chances will linger from the win over a poor Wales team.

Ireland should have been out of sight at half-time, rather than 16-6 ahead, but failed to convert their dominance of the opening 40 minutes into further points.

As in Paris two weekends ago, Farrell’s men struggled after the half-time break and Wales came back into the game. But for two missed penalties from Leigh Halfpenny and Andrew Conway cleverly keeping Dan Biggar’s linekick in play, the Welsh could even have been in with a genuine chance of reeling Ireland in.

As they look towards their visit to Twickenham to face England next weekend, Ireland will be acutely aware of the need to be more clinical. The reality is that they will be facing a team far stronger than the deeply disappointing Welsh one in Dublin last night.

There were positives for Ireland in their attacking performance but they simply missed too many chances.

Their very first attack in this game was a case in point as a slick set-piece play could and probably should have resulted in a sixth-minute try.

They play off a full seven-man lineout on the right-hand side on Wales’ 10-metre line, with Quinn Roux delivering the ball off the top.

1

Conway [yellow bel0w] starts inside the 15-metre line but drifts out beyond it to act as the first receive. His job is to link the ball on to centre Chris Farrell [red]. 

2

Ireland have been using their wings as first receivers very often on set-piece attack – as well as often setting up with their number nine in that role – as they look to paint different pictures for defences.

In this case, Conway hits Farrell coming on a hard, direct carrying line as Johnny Sexton and Robbie Henshaw bounce out the back of him – ensuring Wales have to worry about a pullback pass from Conway.

3

Farrell makes it over the gainline – crucial for any set-piece strike – but even before he has carried, we can see some of Ireland’s forwards working hard to set up for the next phase.

Caelan Doris [pink] is coming from the tail of the lineout, while Cian Heal [green] is alongside him after initially lifting Roux at the front.

4

Hooker Ronan Kelleher [blue above] is working really hard to get even wider around the corner after coming from his throw off the touchline.

Farrell carries over the gainline and Conway is designated to hit the breakdown along with Josh van der Flier, coming from the very back of the lineout.

5

As Jamison Gibson-Park scoops the ball for the second phase, we can see below how those three Ireland forwards have worked to put themselves into good positions.

Healy [green] and Doris [pink] are flooding around the corner as an apparent carrying threat off quick ball, while Kelleher [blue] has continued to work wider.

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The second phase is slick and fluid from Ireland.

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Wales are clearly worried about the threat of Doris on the carry and we can see how Justin Tipuric [pink below] commits in on the tackle.

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But with Healy providing a possible inside pass option, Doris instead skillfully swivels to release the ball back to Gibson-Park coming on a loop line out the back.

It’s a smart use of Doris’ skills by Ireland and we have seen something very similar from Leinster in one of their own lineout strike plays, with an example below against Lyon last season.

Leinster 1

This is also the second phase of a lineout attack and it’s obviously a very similar play, only that Doris releases the ball back to out-half Ross Byrne rather than the Leinster scrum-half, Luke McGrath.

In our example against Wales, Doris’ smooth handling gives Gibson-Park time on the ball as Kelleher now runs a hard line off the scrum-half.

2

That line from Kelleher now sits down Wales flanker Shane Lewis-Hughes  [blue above] as Sexton [white above] bounces out the back to receive the pass from Gibson-Park.

With Kelleher ‘staying big’ up ahead of the ball, he gets a nudge on Lewis-Hughes [blue below] after Sexton receives.

3

Sexton’s dummy pass sells Jonathan Davies [white above] into drifting onto Henshaw outside him and the Ireland out-half breaks.

He fends Lewis-Hughes as he goes but Ireland blow the opportunity.

2

Sexton opts for a longer pass wide to James Lowe on the touchline when Henshaw is steaming up just off his left shoulder.

2

Wales fullback Leigh Halfpenny has committed in onto Sexton as he passes and while Josh Adams is covering across in the backfield…

1

… and Taulupe Faletau is working back downfield, Henshaw would have had both Hugo Keenan and Lowe outside him for the possible finish.

The reaction from Ireland’s coaches, particularly attack coach Mike Catt, says it all.

Catt

It’s a big missed chance from Ireland, although they win their first scrum penalty at the ensuing set-piece.

That provides them with a five-metre lineout – an obvious chance to score a try – but they miss that one too.

4

Kelleher’s throw is crooked and over the reach of jumper James Ryan, meaning Ireland can’t convert this visit to the five-metre line.

Obviously, this kind of situation isn’t a guaranteed try but they would have hoped to work their way over. Ireland do win another scrum penalty straight after and kick three points but the lineout failure will likely rankle.

Ireland come up short from close-range again the 14th minte after a powerful passage of attack that sees them use the exact same lineout play as before, only from the left this time.

Mirror1

Lowe’s excellent handling under pressure from Tipuric allows Farrell to carry and then Doris comes around the corner again to return a pass to Gibson-Park.

Mirror 2

Wales get a better defensive grip this time, although Ireland might look at their decision-making and wonder if Sexton could have darted himself again or even play a long pass to Conway wide on the right – although there would be clear risk in that.

Big carries from Roux, Doris, and Porter get Ireland onto the front foot in their subsequent phase play before a clever scoot by Gibson-Park.

JGP Dart

Gibson-Park’s probing dart to the left lures Dan Biggar into turning his shoulders in, opening up space for Sexton to surge into.

1

Having this kind of intermittent running threat from scrum-half – Gibson-Park carried six times in total – was a positive for Ireland in this game, particularly as they haven’t really posed questions like the one above too often in recent times.

Ireland’s forwards take over after Sexton’s run and grind their way to within touching distance of the line, only for Tipuric to pounce for a turnover penalty following a Ryan carry.

3

Ireland are aggrieved with the circumstances of the turnover after Ryan gets isolated and the ruck behind him prevents them from getting access to the clearout but it goes down as another missed chance after promising build-up play.

Wales clear but Peter O’Mahony steals the resulting lineout in what was a strong defensive lineout performance from himself and Ireland.

1

They play one phase infield as Sexton shifts a nice pass to Henshaw under pressure and then, as they have been doing lots recently, Ireland immediately bounce back to their left.

As Gibson-Park plays the ball to Ryan, we can see the hint of an opportunity on the edge.

2

Van der Flier, O’Mahony, and Lowe [out of shot] are all outside Ryan. While Liam Williams [red below] would back himself to make a ball-and-all tackle on van der Flier, there is still space for Ireland.

Halfpenny [yellow above] is the only Welshman in the backfield and has lots of ground to make up. Realistically, it’s not a try-scoring chance for Ireland but there is an opportunity to make big gains.

Unfortunately for them, Ryan spills the ball forward. The pass from Gibson-Park isn’t perfect but the lock would still be frustrated to drop it. Ireland then compound their frustration as Ryan and Porter fail to release the ball and Wales get a penalty.

Farrell’s men do finally score their first try in the 23rd minute and it all stems from another sharp set-piece attack.

1

As highlighted above, Lowe [yellow] and Gibson-Park [white] start in the lineout as van der Flier fills the receiver position.

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As Doris rises to win the lineout, Gibson-Park begins to back out over the 15-metre line.

1

As Doris lands and Ireland set a maul, hooker Kelleher [blue below] is working around from the touchline to the right of the set-piece.

2

We can see how Lowe [11] is looking to remain hidden behind the maul having come from the front of the lineout. He will be the strike weapon as Ireland move the ball right.

Gibson-Park is the first receiver as van der Flier passes from the back of the dummy maul and the Ireland scrum-half lures up Tipuric, the second Welsh defender off the edge of the maul.

3

Meanwhile, Kelleher’s run on Gibson-Park’s inside shoulder attracts opposite number Ryan Elias [blue below], the first Welsh defender off the edge of the maul.

4

As Gibson-Park instead plays a sharp pass further back inside to Lowe appearing late from behind the maul, we can see that Roux [red below] is playing his part in impeding Alun Wyn Jones from breaking off the maul and potentially scragging Lowe.

11

It’s a clever play from Ireland that allows Lowe to show some of his qualities.

Lowe Bust

Lowe’s footwork and balance low to the ground take him past Williams before he throws up a fend at Tipuric and offloads one-handed to Sexton in support.

Ireland are in behind and Wales come offside in their scramble to recover, with Ireland opting for a five-metre scrum rather than taking the points.

Following a reset, Ireland are very nearly turned over by Lewis-Hughes but they keep the ball and power their way over thanks to an excellent Doris carry and Roux’s strong finish through Will Rowlands.

Ireland continue to dominate the first half but fail to score another try. One promising kick return attack begins with Lowe carrying strongly down the right.

1

They play two phases infield to the middle of the pitch, where replacement out-half Billy Burns carries.

4

With their main playmaker on the ground here, it would be easy for Ireland simply to carry as they wait for him to get back in the game, but encouragingly for Farrell and Catt, their players are well-organised for yet another bounce-back attack.

Shape

Ryan is in the middle of a pod of three forwards and plays a link pass out the back to fullback Keenan.

22

Ireland are keen to push all of their backs to be comfortable in the kind of position Keenan takes up here – as well as at first receiver – in their quest to be less reliant on Sexton or whoever is in the number 10 shirt.

Keenan does a fine job, receiving Ryan’s pass and posing a running threat that attracts Tipuric onto him and preserves space on the outside.

33

But again there is frustration for Ireland as O’Mahony spills the ball forward coming to ground and they don’t have a chance to build on this nice bit of shape.

Ireland did have one last visit into the Wales 22 just before half time but came up empty-handed from a 10-metre lineout.

44

We can see above that referee Mathieu Raynal is warning Gibson-Park that the maul has stopped once as Wales do a good job in defence in a game where Ireland’s maul didn’t really get firing.

As highlighted below, Adams and Elias begin to shift over to their right in defence as Gibson-Park gets set to move the ball.

5

That movement prompts Ireland right wing Conway to call for his scrum-half to come back down into the shortside.

Gibson-Park does so, drawing in opposite number Gareth Davies before hitting Conway, who will have been disappointed to get tackled into touch.

Touch

Adams does a good job defensively, of course, but it’s a frustrating place for Ireland to get tackled into touch.

Lineout pressure from Ryan does result in a scramble for a possible try – the TMO review appears to show Adams knocking on first but Porter is adjudicated to have knocked-on – but Wales get into the break trailing only 16-6 when Ireland should really be out of sight.

Ireland delivered a poor third quarter showing after the break, although they did come close to a 53rd-minute try only to be turned over by the Welsh a couple of metres out.

Their one-out, direct rugby from a five-metre scrum hadn’t been particularly successful but a clever vertical stack opened up a bit of space.

53rd

It’s a nice play from Ireland as Healy starts directly behind Ryan rather than alongside him.

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Ryan seems like the ovious carrying threat and Tipuric [yellow below] commits in on him with a low chop tackle.

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Instead, Gibson-Park pulls the pass to Healy behind Ryan and suddenly the loosehead has a sliver of space in behind him.

It’s impossible to say whether it’s deliberate or accidental, but unfortunately for Ireland, Tipuric’s left foot rises up and trips Healy just as he receives the ball.

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Tipuric is a wily costumer, of course, but there is no appeal from Ireland as Healy comes crashing to ground off Tipuric’s leg.

4

Ireland are, however, very vocal in their displeasure about where Biggar falls as he dives down onto Healy.

5

They do seem like justifiable complaints as Healy can’t place the ball back but Raynal is happy with the turnover that Alyn Wyn Jones and Wyn Jones complete.

Wales kick clear, although a darting break from Gibson-Park results in Wales giving up another penalty that Conor Murray slots off the tee.

Even in the closing minutes of the game, Ireland missed a gilt-edged chance after Gibson-Park’s excellent pass puts Conway into a two-on-one with Lowe outside him.

MISS LATE

Halfpenny does an excellent job, of course, but it’s a chance Ireland shouldn’t be missing.

Conway fails to fully commit Halfpenny before passing and the Welsh fullback does really well to turn back out and tackle Lowe.

However, Ireland do finish the game on a positive attacking note as Lowe powers over for a try on debut. Doris provides the assist after some subtle work at the back of the five-metre scrum.

He is legally bound on the ‘set’ call from Raynal, as we can see below.

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But Doris then immediately pulls back from that starting position to shift to his left, taking a little glance at Raynal as he goes.

2

Doris ends up in the position below, with his hands essentially ready to scoop up the rapidly-hooked ball even before Gibson-Park has fed it into the scrum.

3

Rugby’s law book tells us that “all players’ binding [must be] maintained for the duration of the scrum,” with a penalty sanction for any failure to do so.

Whatever one’s interpretation of what a bind involves, it’s difficult to argue that Doris is bound as he leaves his starting position, shifts to the left, and reaches into the scrum early. In truth, it’s something we see plenty of in the game as match officials understandably focus on the front row action at scrum time.

The advantage for Doris is obvious and he does an excellent job of arcing away from the scrum with a burst of acceleration, forcing Wales out-half Callum Sheedy to turn in on him.

Score

Doris slips a short pass to Lowe running into space outside Sheedy and the Ireland wing powers through Owen Watkin, Aaron Wainwright, and Williams to dot down.

It’s a pleasing finish for Ireland but they’re unlikely to be happy with their conversion rate of chances and visits to within five metres of the tryline.

They will need to find their most clinical edge before Twickenham next weekend.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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