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'We're mixing it up' - Ireland steer clear of box kicks for now

Joe Schmidt’s team have been experimenting with exits from their own 22.

AFTER IRELAND’S SCRUM-halves didn’t kick a single time in the win over Italy in their first World Cup warm-up game, we did see two kicks from the halfbacks in the defeat to England last weekend.

However, even that low number is something of a lie.

Ireland still haven’t kicked a contestable box kick – previously a key weapon for Joe Schmidt’s side – in these World Cup warm-ups. 

Schmidt’s team didn’t have to exit their 22 with the boot very often against England, largely because they spent more time kicking restarts than receiving them.

They exited to touch through Conor Murray on one occasion, although that was an emergency measure after their primary plan failed, while Luke McGrath fired another clearance kick out of Ireland’s half after England landed a restart directly onto him.

With Joey Carbery having been tasked with hanging contestable kicks from out-half just outside Ireland’s 22 against Italy, we saw another new tactic from Ireland in this area against the English after Jordan Larmour’s early try.

Larmour himself received the restart and carried into Tom Curry’s tackle as Ireland got into pre-planned shape.

Exit

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Murray passes to captain Rory Best in the middle of a three-man pod to the left of the ruck, before Best turns to deliver the ‘out ball’ to Ross Byrne in behind.

Byrne, in turn, screens a pass behind the decoy-running Peter O’Mahony to fullback Rob Kearney.

With Jean Kleyn – just outside Best – and O’Mahony running obstructive lines ahead of the ball, England can’t quite get through to Kearney and he uses his left boot to find the far touchline.

It’s not an outstanding exit from Ireland, leaving England with an attacking lineout 35 metres out, but the set-up is something different from Schmidt’s team.

With Byrne having put Ireland 10-8 ahead with a penalty, we saw Ireland attempt something similar from England’s next restart, this time far less successfully.

Again, Larmour carries after receiving George Ford’s deep restart, but Ireland make one of their many errors as they look to exit in the same fashion.

Fail

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CJ Stander is tasked with being the link between Murray and Byrne this time around, but his pass goes to deck and Ireland have to scramble to recover. 

When they secure the ruck, Murray now opts to use his own boot to clear the danger.

Kick

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Ireland received the restart of the second-half from England, with McGrath going straight to touch without any ruck, and then only had one other restart reception after Bundee Aki’s try, when they passed directly to out-half Jack Carty to find touch.

Further out the pitch, Ireland also shied away from previous tactics focusing on hanging up contestable box kicks for their wings to chase and compete under.

Simply put, the box kick remains in cold storage for now, but Murray says it will be back.

“We’re mixing it up because you saw it here at the Aviva in the Six Nations against England,” says Murray. “I thought we kicked really well – nines, 10s, and people on the edge that day, but we got no access to the ball.

“The way they’re reffing it, the way the… I wouldn’t say blockers but the way they’re allowed to run back towards the receiver, sometimes it’s very hard to get access.

“I don’t think we’re going away from it, that’s been a strength of ours for a long time and when we need to use it, we definitely will. It’s just good to maybe explore other ways to get into that contest or relieve pressure.

“Like I said, I thought we kicked really well in the Six Nations but we didn’t get access and it was effectively just giving them the ball back.”

While there weren’t many encouraging signs from Ireland in this record defeat to England, it was notable to see Ireland again using grubber kicks on two occasions when their phase play attack was failing to break the English defence down in the middle third of the pitch.

Byrne

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The example above comes from out-half Byrne, while Larmour kicked in a very similar fashion only minutes before – although as second receiver rather than first receiver like Byrne above.

Both kicks rolled into touch, allowing Ireland an opportunity to compete against England’s lineout in a pressurised area, while the kicks also prevented Schmidt’s team from slogging through countless phases against an organised and oppressive English defence.

While Ireland do obviously need to pose a greater threat with ball in hand, kicks such as these can be part of a varied game plan for Schmidt’s side.

As for the box kick, we’re likely to see its return for the World Cup, of course, but experimenting with a variety of exiting and kicking options makes sense for Ireland in this preparation phase before the World Cup.

Murray remains an elite box kicker and it could well to be a weapon for Ireland again at the World Cup, but having a wider arsenal will certainly make life more difficult for the opposition.

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Murray Kinsella

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