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Dublin: 6 °C Friday 19 April, 2019

Analysis: Peter O'Mahony's unseen work and all the Ireland rucks against France

The Munster captain was hugely effective for Ireland at ruck time.

Updated at 21.45

IRELAND BACK ROW Peter O’Mahony appears to have come in for some flak for his performance against France in the opening round of the Six Nations, but it’s likely Joe Schmidt was quietly pleased with the Munster man’s showing.

There were errors from O’Mahony, such as his forward tip-on pass and a maul penalty, but Schmidt will have looked closer than most critics and seen a performance full of influence.

Peter O’Mahony celebrates O'Mahony was a busy man on Saturday. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

O’Mahony’s ball-carrying was important in the final passage of the game, while his lineout work was as excellent as ever and he had a couple of nice link passes out the back to Johnny Sexton.

Schmidt is a coach who focuses intently on the rucks too, and O’Mahony’s performance there was superb.

Anyone watching last weekend’s game will have noticed that Ireland got turned over on the ground on a number of occasions, but this is not always down to rucking alone.

We will examine the work of Ireland’s ball carriers on the ground – a key factor in retaining possession when a team is going as hard at the ball as France were - elsewhere this week but it’s worth underlining that much of Ireland’s rucking was excellent.

They had a huge share of the possession and, though turnovers stand out so clearly in our memories after games, repeated viewing of Ireland’s win highlights some excellent work at the rucks.

Indeed, to be able to go through the long spells of possession Ireland went through requires strong work at ruck time and, as always, Schmidt’s men delivered plenty of that.

Iain Henderson had the most ruck contributions of any Irish player with 50, but it was O’Mahony’s sheer effectiveness that stood out most.

Equally, it was fascinating to see the impact Schmidt’s bench had during the endgame, when eyebrows had been raised at the possible lack of ‘impact’ offered by the likes of Devin Toner, Fergus McFadden and Jack McGrath.

Every single one of Schmidt’s replacements made an important impact as Ireland stole the victory through Sexton’s drop goal.

A note on our ruck analyses

For those who haven’t read a ruck analysis on The42 before, it’s worthwhile clicking here and reading the section marked ‘What we’ve looked at’ at the bottom of the article to get an understanding of our system.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt places a huge emphasis on the rucks. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

There is one slight change to the system to note, with the ‘present’ marking having been replaced by ‘spare’.

The intention here is to better indicate occasions where a player decides to join a ruck in which they are really not required. As such, they are ‘spare,’ and have no impact on the ruck, when they would have been better off getting into the Irish attacking line instead.

‘Ruck inspector’ seemed a little harsh, so we’ve gone with ‘spare’. The rest of our system is unchanged.

O’Mahony’s mountain of work

The Munster captain had 45 total involvements in the rucks in this game, but what is more impressive is how effective O’Mahony was at removing French threats from the ball.

With 18 first arrivals to the ruck, O’Mahony led the way for Ireland and 14 of those actions were effective. He was busy as a second arrival too, adding one dominant hit and a further six effective clearouts, as well as his guard actions.

This was a rucking performance of the highest quality from O’Mahony, with his work in this area perhaps underlining why some felt he was not a big presence on the pitch.

O’Mahony’s role with Ireland has morphed. He is a lineout leader, of course, and was unlucky when his steal of the French throw was ruled out by a refereeing error. O’Mahony won clean ball for Ireland under severe pressure at other times, allowing Schmidt’s team to launch the set-piece attacks that are so crucial to them.

The Cork man is not a commanding ball carrier but rarely shirks the task, making 13 metres on his 11 dogged carries in this game. However, we are increasingly seeing O’Mahony used as a link passer by Ireland and he had eight passes in this game.

In a way, O’Mahony has become the new Jamie Heaslip of this Ireland team, often doing the ‘unseen’ work that is not widely appreciated.

His excellence around ruck time in this game is a perfect example of how a player can contribute influentially without smashing people in the tackle or breaking the defensive line with ball in hand.

The work rate of Stander and Henderson

The closing passage of the game summed up how hard Iain Henderson and CJ Stander worked for Ireland on Saturday.

Iain Henderson Henderson was the senior lock for Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Stander, for example, made one pass, five carries, five important ruck hits, one decoy run, and a host of guard actions over the ball in the five-minute spell of Ireland possession, while Henderson was equally busy and made perhaps the most important carry of all two phases before Sexton’s kick.

The Ulsterman was a tireless presence for Ireland, assuming the role of senior lock alongside 21-year-old James Ryan.

With his 50 ruck contributions, Henderson led the way. There were two ineffective actions and three spare involvements among his workload but, on the whole, Henderson was a rucking force for Ireland.

Stander had a couple of vital clearouts during the final passage, backing up his work rate over the course of the entire game, meaning he finished with 43 total ruck markings, including one dominant hit and 10 effective contributions.

Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong and Cian Healy were typically busy too, with contributions of 40, 39 and 26 respectively although the captain will have been disappointed to notch three ineffective and five spare markings in an uncharacteristically inconsistent rucking display.

Six Nations debutant James Ryan missed three of his shots as first arrival to the tackle, but some errors should be expected on such a big occasion and he quickly put those slips behind him to deliver some outstanding ruck work in a display that saw him make 29 contributions.

Aki’s physicality

With Robbie Henshaw shifting to outside centre, Schmidt has been able to accommodate the commanding physical presence of Bundee Aki in Ireland’s 12 jersey.

The Connacht man’s ball carrying was vital for Ireland – Aki had 16 in total, second only to Stander’s 24 – and he did a superb job of getting Schmidt’s side over the gainline on the first phase of set-piece attacks in particular.

Bundee Aki celebrates after the game Aki was a powerful presence. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

On top of that, the heavy traffic in narrower channels on Saturday meant Aki was called on to hit plenty of rucks and his impressive 25 contributions were full of quality, with 13 effective hits among them.

Schmidt may highlight some of Aki’s draw-and-pass skills during backline attacks for improvement in the coming weeks, but there is little doubt that the former Chiefs centre has made a big physical impact.

Every player on the field in Schmidt’s teams must contribute towards the rucking performance, whatever their position, and it’s also worth highlighting fullback Rob Kearney’s effectiveness in this area of the game.

Kearney only had nine rucking actions, but they were full of quality, including one dominant clearout and five effective hits on French players over the tackle. The Leinster man’s quality in this area is one of several reasons Schmidt is a fan.

Impact off the bench

Schmidt’s bench players made their impact in the closing five-minute passage, with Jack McGrath, Devin Toner and John Ryan particularly busy as Ireland built towards that winning drop goal.

McGrath managed 17 ruck contributions, with Toner and Ryan not far behind on 15 each.

It was eye-opening to see the quality of Ireland’s rucking actually lift in those final minutes, even as France aggressively attacked the ball looking for the game-clinching turnover.

Every single Irish player on the pitch both carried the ball and hit at least one ruck in those closing minutes, with the likes of Fergus McFadden delivering a dominant hit and Sean Cronin being effective four times.

Jonathan Sexton celebrates kicking a drop goal to win the game with Devin Toner Devin Toner, impact sub? Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Replacement openside flanker Dan Leavy was a big presence, with his ball carrying being crucial to Ireland too, although he had had plenty of time to get into the game after coming on for Josh van der Flier in the first half.

As well as the carries, a sharp offload and some excellent tackling, Leavy delivered 22 ruck contributions that included 14 largely effective first arrivals.

There are many ways replacements can make an impact on a game and Schmidt will have been pleased to see his players hammering rucks until the very death.

Collective work-ons 

While there was lots of good stuff from Ireland in the rucks, there were shortcomings too.

The overall 30 ineffective actions indicate that France did have some success in attacking Ireland’s possession on the deck, while 16 spare markings show that there remains decision-making progress to make.

One interesting aspect of the performance and something we will discuss in our analysis of Ireland’s defensive performance elsewhere was the fact that Ireland had only two turnovers of French possession – Henderson and Stander the men to make the steals.

There were just 23 defensive rucking actions from Ireland in this game – an extremely low total for a side renowned for attacking the ball after the tackle. In other games we’ve analysed, Ireland have been over the 40 mark in this area.

It will be intriguing to learn whether this was a specific game plan for this fixture against a French team Ireland knew little about in a collective sense, or whether Schmidt’s men continue to be so selective in attempting to win turnovers.

Total ruck contributions

Ireland’s Iain Henderson is tackled by France’s Kevin Gourdon Cedate Gomes Sa and Sébastien Vahaamahina Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

50 Iain Henderson (18 first, 8 second, 12 third, 10 fourth, 2 defensive)

45 Peter O’Mahony (18 first, 15 second, 11 third, 1 defensive)

43 CJ Stander (8 first, 25 second, 4 third, 3 fourth, 3 defensive)

40 Rory Best (12 first, 13 second, 12 third, 2 fourth, 1 defensive)

39 Tadhg Furlong (11 first, 20 second, 5 third, 3 fourth)

29 James Ryan (15 first, 9 second, 5 third)

26 Cian Healy (12 first, 6 second, 4 third, 2 fourth, 2 defensive)

25 Bundee Aki (11 first, 8 second, 4 third, 1 fourth, 1 defensive)

22 Dan Leavy (14 first, 1 second, 4 third, 1 fourth, 2 defensive)

19 Josh van der Flier (6 first, 6 second, 6 third, 1 defensive)

18 Robbie Henshaw (9 first, 5 second, 2 third, 2 defensive)

17 Jack McGrath (4 first, 10 second, 2 third, 1 fourth)

15 John Ryan (8 first, 2 second, 5 third)

15 Devin Toner (7 first, 5 second, 2 third, 1 fourth)

10 Keith Earls (4 first, 1 second, 1 third, 4 defensive)

Johnny Sexton (4 first, 3 second, 1 third, 1 defensive)

Rob Kearney (3 first, 3 second, 3 third)

9 Sean Cronin (3 first, 3 second, 3 third)

9 Jacob Stockdale (2 first, 3 second, 4 third)

Fergus McFadden (1 first, 2 second, 2 third)

Conor Murray (1 first, 2 defensive)

 First arrival

Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

18 Peter O’Mahony (14 effective, 4 guard)

17 Iain Henderson (9 effective, 7 guard, 2 ineffective)

15 James Ryan (7 effective, 5 guard, 3 ineffective)

14 Dan Leavy (10 effective, 1 guard, 1 ineffective)

12 Cian Healy (8 effective, 4 guard)

12 Rory Best (7 effective, 3 guard, 2 ineffective)

11 Bundee Aki (7 effective, 2 guard, 2 ineffective)

11 Tadhg Furlong (6 effective, 5 guard)

Robbie Henshaw (8 effective, 1 guard)

CJ Stander (3 effective, 3 guard, 2 ineffective)

John Ryan (4 effective, 4 guard)

Devin Toner (5 effective, 1 guard, 1 ineffective)

6 Josh van der Flier (3 effective, 3 ineffective)

Johnny Sexton (1 dominant, 2 effective, 1 ineffective)

Jack McGrath (1 dominant, 3 effective)

4 Keith Earls (2 effective, 2 ineffective)

Rob Kearney (2 effective, 1 guard)

Sean Cronin (3 effective)

Jacob Stockdale (2 effective)

Fergus McFadden (1 dominant)

Conor Murray (1 dominant)

Second arrival

Ireland’s CJ Stander Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

25 CJ Stander (1 dominant, 7 effective, 16 guard, 1 ineffective)

20 Tadhg Furlong (11 effective, 7 guard, 2 ineffective)

15 Peter O’Mahony (1 dominant, 6 effective, 8 guard)

13 Rory Best (4 effective, 8 guard, 1 spare)

10 Jack McGrath (4 effective, 6 guard)

James Ryan (7 effective, 5 guard, 3 ineffective)

8 Bundee Aki (6 effective, 2 guard)

Iain Henderson (2 effective, 7 guard)

6 Cian Healy (2 effective, 3 guard, 1 ineffective)

6 Josh van der Flier (2 effective, 3 guard, 1 ineffective)

5 Devin Toner (4 effective, 1 guard)

Robbie Henshaw (5 guard)

Rob Kearney (1 dominant, 2 effective)

3 Johnny Sexton (1 effective, 2 guard)

Sean Cronin (1 effective, 2 guard)

3 Jacob Stockdale (3 guard)

2 Fergus McFadden (2 effective)

John Ryan (1 effective, 1 guard)

Keith Earls (1 effective)

Dan Leavy (1 guard)

Third arrival

Ireland’s Rory Best Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

12 Iain Henderson (2 effective, 7 guard, 3 spare)

12 Rory Best (2 effective, 5 guard, 4 spare, 1 ineffective)

11 Peter O’Mahony (1 effective, 8 guard, 2 spare)

6 Josh van der Flier (1 effective, 5 ineffective)

James Ryan (1 effective, 4 guard)

5 Tadhg Furlong (1 effective, 2 guard, 2 spare)

John Ryan (5 guard)

4 Bundee Aki (4 guard)

Jacob Stockdale (4 guard)

4 Cian Healy (3 guard, 1 spare)

4 Dan Leavy (3 guard, 1 spare)

4 CJ Stander (3 guard, 1 spare)

Rob Kearney (1 effective, 2 guard)

Sean Cronin (3 guard)

2 Jack McGrath (2 guard)

2 Fergus McFadden (1 guard)

2 Devin Toner (1 effective, 1 spare)

Robbie Henshaw (1 guard, 1 ineffective)

Keith Earls (1 guard)

Defensive actions

Keith Earls Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Keith Earls (1 slowing, three present)

CJ Stander (1 turnover, 2 present)

2 Iain Henderson (1 turnover, 1 present)

Dan Leavy (1 slowing, 1 present)

Cian Healy (2 present)

Robbie Henshaw (2 present)

Conor Murray (2 present)

Rory Best (1 slowing)

Tadhg Furlong (1 slowing)

Josh van der Flier (1 present)

Johnny Sexton (1 present)

Peter O’Mahony (1 present)

Bundee Aki (1 present)

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