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Ireland's malfunctioning lineout deeply damaging in Twickenham defeat

The Irish lineout and maul struggled against Maro Itoje and the English pack.

THE RAW STATS say that Ireland lost four of their 17 throws into the lineout yesterday, but don’t underline just quite how damaging this area of the game was for Andy Farrell’s side in Twickenham.

The review will be a grim affair for Simon Easterby and the Irish forwards as they look to learn from the harsh lessons against England. That there were also notable lineout issues in the recent defeat to France make it all the more concerning.

Not only did the malfunctioning Irish lineout and maul deny them opportunities to land attacking blows in London, it even provided the platform for one of England’s tries in the opening half.

Having just conceded Johnny May’s first score, Ireland’s kicking game gets some success – drawing a blocking penalty from Kyle Sinckler – and they find themselves throwing into a lineout just 10 metres out, obviously a prime position from which to threaten.

Instead, the lineout goes astray.

LO1

This is Ireland’s third lineout of the game but already their second overthrow.

On just his second Test start, 22-year-old hooker Ronan Kelleher was asked to make several demanding throws to the tail throughout this game by 24-year-old lineout caller James Ryan, who is relatively new into that role.

The lineout above is a complicated one featuring dummy movements from Ryan and Caelan Doris before Kelleher looks to find Peter O’Mahony in the lift of Cian Healy and Quinn Roux.

Kelleher’s throw is just too high for O’Mahony, who is just coming to the peak of his jump, and it skids through his right hand and over the back. 

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Referee Pascal Gaüzère indicates the knock-on advantage for England as the ball bounces and then Ireland out-half Ross Byrne is unable to gather in the ‘scraps’ behind the lineout.

RB

It’s a difficult ball to deal with and Sam Underhill is sweeping forward to apply pressure, meaning Byrne can’t kill it.

The outstanding Maro Itoje gathers in Byrne’s knock-on and shifts the ball into Ollie Lawrence’s hands, with the England centre passing to midfield partner Henry Slade as Ireland now scramble to recover.

Slade’s pass is a beauty, inviting May to threaten Chris Farrell’s outside shoulder before he pulls off a stunning bit of footwork to bamboozle Ireland’s number 13.

JM

It’s obviously a sensational solo score but Ireland will naturally be disappointed with their defensive work, Farrell sitting onto his heels briefly when May jinks initially to his inside and then being unable to recover when May jinks back out.

With May tucking the ball into one hand for his carry, Farrell might have expected Keith Earls to bite in here too after he misses his tackle.

May

While there is scope for May to make a one-handed pass or offload to Elliot Daly outside him, there is cover behind in the form of fullback Hugo Keenan.

Meanwhile, over on the other side of the pitch, Ireland will likely have been disappointed with James Lowe’s off-the-ball effort on this score.

JL

As this stage, the left wing really needs to recognise the danger and get sprinting back downfield rather than jogging. 

By the time May has chipped ahead – well infield rather than straight down the left – Lowe has been overtaken by two Irish forwards in Peter O’Mahony and Cian Healy. 

Of course, it’s wonderful play from May to dink the ball ahead at pace and have the sprint endurance to win the race to the ball ahead of Jamison Gibson-Park before delicately nudging it ahead with his left foot to tee up his finish.

JM2

But Ireland will be disappointed to have given up the opportunity from a position where they should have been stressing the English defence. 

Damagingly for Farrell’s side, the lineout pain was nowhere near over. 

In the 26th minute, Ireland get a chance from five metres out after Owen Farrell comes in the side of a ruck. But this time, Itoje rises to spoil their plans.

ItojeM

England’s defensive set-up here actually offers Ireland what would likely be a straightforward win at the front of the lineout.

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As we can see below, Billy Vunipola is positioned towards the front of the English lineout.

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Vunipola is not a defensive lineout jumping option, meaning Ireland might have been tempted to simply win the ball clean at the front here – particularly given their previous issues.

Instead, the call is onto Ryan himself further back in the lineout and Itoje makes an important intervention, accurately getting his hand through in the air from behind Ryan to knock the ball away from him. The ball does seem to go forward off Itoje but Ireland’s don’t get the call in regard. 

England are able to exit and, less than a minute later, Ireland see another lineout picked off.

Steal

England offer Ireland the front of the lineout even more clearly here.

Eddie Jones’ men set up two defensive jumping pods with locks Itoje in the middle and  Joe Launchbury at the tail of the lineout.

LO

But Ireland have made a call to go to the tail and reject the brief opportunity to override that and look to win the ball at the front – which is obviously the worst place to play off for set-piece attack, given that the defence can get a little further up into attacking faces.

After an O’Mahony dummy jump, Kelleher’s throw is intended to hit Ryan at the tail but Launchbury gets a hand on this time. 

Gaüzère awards an Ireland scrum for the knock-on but it’s another lineout failing for Ireland and the sense of pressure created by a key area of the game going this poorly cannot be overstated. These moments are major psychological blows.

Ireland put themselves in a horrible position just before half-time from a lineout, albeit winning the ball cleanly initially, only to run a bizarre play that leaves Gibson-Park under intense pressure.

JGP

O’Mahony’s win is solid at the front but it’s unclear what Ireland hoped to do off the back of it, with tighthead prop Andrew Porter passing almost 10 metres vertically back downfield. Fortunately for Ireland, the TMO review confirmed that Sam Underhill had illegally stripped the ball from Gibson-Park before grounding it.

Ireland steadied the ship out of touch in the third quarter of the game but they suffered more disappointment in this area in the final quarter.

On four occasions, Ireland had five-metre lineouts but couldn’t convert any of them as their maul efforts were comprehensively rejected by the English pack.

ENGM

Itoje gets up to compete with Iain Henderson for replacement hooker Rob Herring’s throw but can’t get a hand to the ball, meaning Ireland have a chance to surge through against a lineout defence that has opted to get into the air.

But Ireland are a little sluggish in getting into their mauling slots for a cohesive shunt and instead, Launchbury and co. make a big impact on their counter-drive to shove Ireland backwards.

After another couple of five-metre failures under intense pressure from Itoje, Ireland’s efforts in this game rather fittingly conclude with another England steal at the tail as Jonny Hill gets his hand to Herring’s throw.

JH

Any team in the world is going to struggle with their set-piece having as bad a day as Ireland’s lineout had in Twickenham.

There were inexperienced combinations throughout Ireland’s starting XV, including in the lineout, and head coach Farrell stated his certainty that this will have been a good learning experience.

“It’s a completely new lineout,” said Farrell. “Devin Toner has dominated our lineout and done an unbelievable job over the years with Rory Best.

“Iain Henderson has been the next cab on the rank there in terms of dominating our lineout and being a leader but he’s not been available to us.

“So it’s invaluable stuff for James Ryan. Iain and James have been working closely together and we’ll get there, you know? We’ll fix it because that’s the type of people that we are.

“And then Ronan starts here for the first time, he’s played one game coming back from injury. Again, it’s priceless experience for him.

“I thought Rob did pretty well when he came on, so it’s a new lineout team, so to speak, so we’ll work from this experience to get better.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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