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Samoa’s breakdown ability is a danger for Ireland

Joe Schmidt’s men will need to be focused and effective at ruck time when they have possession.

Image: ©INPHO/Photosport/Andrew Cornega

SAMOA ARE A very aggressive side and that aspect of their make-up extends beyond the powerful ball carrying that makes them such a threat going forward.

Defensively, the Samoans are well known for their ability to hit hard in the tackle and that is something they pride themselves on. While head coach Stephen Betham has succeeded in making their defence more structured in the last year, there is still scope for those spectacular hits and Ireland will need to be prepared for a physically tough game.

Another area of defence where the Samoans display their aggression is through fierce work at the breakdown and ruck. Given a sniff of a turnover, the likes of Taiasina Tuifua, Ofisa Treviranus and even several of the backs will pile in to counter ruck. It’s not simply a mindset thing on these turnovers for Samoa; they have clearly worked hard on stealing possession on the deck.

Still, effective work at the breakdown and in rucks is equally about attitude as it is about technique. Betham has clearly recognised the power of his squad and built the frame of mind that turnovers are always on. The Samoans’ best results in the last year have featured strong work at ruck time.

YouTube credit: Murray Kinsella

The victory over Wales just under a year ago at the Millennium Stadium featured some vital steals on the deck (as shown in the video above), with the Welsh failing to deal with Samoa’s aggression in that area. Wins over Scotland and Italy during the summer also saw Betham’s men dominate the breakdown, although South Africa’s excellent clear-out work reduced their effectiveness.

That fixture back in June is Samoa’s most recent game, but it is almost certain that the breakdown featured strongly during the squad’s three-day camp at the Surrey Sports Park in England last week. It is likely that Samoa will be keen on slowing down and disrupting Ireland’s possession, fully aware of the style of play that Joe Schmidt favours.

A key addition in that Quadrangular tournament held in South Africa was openside flanker Jack Lam, who made his debut in the Scotland game. The Hurricanes man was superb in repeatedly stealing possession over the course of the matches against Italy (as highlighted in the video below) and Scotland. Carrying an injury in the final game against the hosts, his impact was greatly reduced.

Lam is New Zealand-born to Samoan parents, but played for Australia at U19 level. The 25-year-old lined out in the centre in his formative years and that gives a hint to his dynamism and speed. Now an openside flanker, Lam’s real strength is making turnovers when play breaks down. Technically excellent, he is lightning fast at getting into the jackal position and stealing the ball.

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YouTube credit: Murray Kinsella

Ireland will need to have a particular focus on dealing with the threat of Lam, as with any openside. Samoa perform well at the ruck area as a team but Ireland certainly have the back row options to nullify the threat. If Samoa do manage to make the rucks a real competition then it will be extremely difficult for Ireland to play the high-tempo style Schmidt wants.

Sean O’Brien has been one of the leading breakdown technicians in Europe so far this season, so the Samoans will have worries of their own in this area. Chris Henry, Jamie Heaslip, Paul O’Connell, Brian O’Driscoll and Rory Best are all excellent on the floor too, meaning there is great scope for Ireland to attack the Samoans’ possession.

That Samoan habit of flooding the ruck when they get even a hint of a turnover can leave them vulnerable if they fail to make the steal. Committing numbers to the breakdown obviously leaves space elsewhere, so if Ireland can be clinical and solid with their clear-outs they will be well set to make inroads into the Samoan defence.

Schmidt’s success at Leinster was underpinned by excellent breakdown work, allowing his talented players to attack on front foot ball. He will stress the same skills to his men this week, and if the message gets through, Ireland are perfectly equipped to negate Samoa’s breakdown threat. However, the Irish set-up will be fully aware of what their opponents will bring on Saturday and nothing should be taken for granted.

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Murray Kinsella

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