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Wednesday 1 February 2023 Dublin: 8°C
# Forward momentum
Analysis: How Paul O'Connell's pack mauled the Boks
Ireland were expertly prepared to meet the challenge of South Africa’s forward unit.

The full version of this article is available exclusively to members of the The42. To sign up, read the full piece and enjoy the many benefits of membership including access to the unmissable Rugby Weekly podcast with Gavan Casey, Murray Kinsella, Bernard Jackman and Eoin Toolan, click here.      

THERE’S 45:28 ON the clock as Johnny Sexton gingerly rises from the ground and limps towards his Ireland team huddled up just inside the South Africa 22. With their captain down injured after shipping another big hit, Ireland have just won a penalty to the left of the posts. It’s a guaranteed three points.

Sexton picks up the ball and as he makes eye contact with the approaching James Ryan, the out-half appears to nod towards the uprights. We don’t know what is said in the brief exchange but Sexton listens to Ryan and immediately turns towards the touchline, ready to kick the ball into the left corner. Decision made. This is the defining moment of the game.

The big call is greeted with a roar of approval and encouragement from the Irish crowd. Like Ryan and Sexton, they seem to smell blood. Maybe the supporters’ belief is partly Dutch courage, but Ryan and co. have justified confidence. Ireland have stopped the world-class South African maul dead in its tracks a few times in the game already. They sense they have an edge in this area of the game. They can recall trundling towards the New Zealand tryline for two maul tries in their most recent match.

They back themselves and it pays off to the tune of five points, but also a telling psychological blow. Giving up a maul try is a tough experience for any team, but particularly the Boks, for whom the maul is virtually always a source of comfort and confidence.

Ireland’s maul score is an excellent one. As Sexton is kicking into touch, lineout leader Ryan is making the call in a huddle with his forwards.

It was obvious throughout this game that Ireland had done extensive homework on the Springboks’ maul defence and attack, so what were they looking to exploit in this instance?
Ireland know that in this situation five metres out, the Boks are often happy to give up the front of the lineout, allowing teams to win the ball there unopposed but then blitzing them out towards the touchline in the split second they land. Watch the Boks do so against Argentina in their final Rugby Championship game at the end of September.

One important factor to note here is that Springboks loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff is the ‘+1′ defender at this lineout. 

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That means he doesn’t start as part of the lineout itself. Attacking teams often use this +1 player, the ‘receiver’ as they’re known in the law book, as a key part of their maul attack, accepting a transfer of the ball from the lineout jumper to help keep it away from prying defensive hands. And so, the defensive team is allowed to match up with a ‘receiver’ too. They’re supposed to stand two metres away from the lineout but that’s often not strictly enforced.

So in this instance, Kitshoff [spotlighted below] is the Springboks’ receiver or +1.

This is a little unusual in that many teams would have their loosehead prop in the lineout to start with as a front lifter for a possible defensive jump, with their hooker or perhaps a back row instead acting as the defensive receiver at the back of the lineout.

But just watch what Kitshoff does here in stepping forward into the lineout before the ball has been thrown by the Argentinians. 

To read this analysis in full and enjoy the many benefits of The42 membership including access to the unmissable Rugby Weekly podcast with Gavan Casey, Murray Kinsella, Bernard Jackman and Eoin Toolan, click here.  

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