eye of the tadhg-er

Analysis: Ireland's scrum dominance bodes well for trip to Rome

Saturday’s battle between Andrea Lovotti and Tadhg Furlong has the potential to be messy.

ON MONDAY, ROBBIE Henshaw spoke about how painful the video review sessions had been in the wake of Ireland’s defeat to Scotland.

However, one video session will have been relatively pain-free, and that’s the review of Ireland’s scrummaging performance at Murrayfield.

The only thing that will have annoyed the coaches about the scrums on Saturday will be how few of them there actually were. The forwards packed down on just six occasions in the match, with all but one of them coming in the opening 23 minutes of the game, a bizarrely low number for Test rugby.

Of that six though, Ireland claimed penalties on three of them, and it was Tadhg Furlong’s destruction of Allan Dell in the opening half that will have been most pleasing.

It’s hard to believe that it’s just one year on since a very raw Furlong was given a lesson by Eddy Ben Arous in Paris, but the development of his game, particularly in the scrum, in the last year has been enormous.

On Saturday, he turned Allan Dell inside-out on the first two drives of the day, with the rookie Edinburgh loosehead probably relieved that the number of scrums died off so much after the first quarter of the game.

One thing Furlong was able to exploit in the opening scrum was the space he was given to attack.

If we look at the still shot from above the scrum, we can see the way that hooker Fraser Brown is bound to his props, in comparison to Rory Best.

Brown is binding quite far back on his props’ bodies, which opens up his shoulders and creates space for Furlong to separate him from Dell. Best on the other hand, has his bind much higher up on Furlong and McGrath, which sucks the pair much tighter into him.

1 hookers binds

As soon as the packs engage, Furlong immediately sets about targeting that gap, and as we can see below before the ball is even in the scrum, Dell is in trouble. Furlong has got inside him and is attacking the space.

1 engage

From here, all of Dell’s movement is now reactionary. He’s already under pressure, and to counter it, he begins to pop his backside out and widen his stance in order to absorb the hit.

His left foot in particular steps out quite far, to the point that it’s almost outside his flanker. Compare it to the positioning of Furlong’s feet, barely shoulder-width apart.

1 feet

And with so many adjustments to be made, the inevitable happens and Dell slips. From there, Brown loses his bind to Dell, and Furlong pounces on the space. It’s an easy decision for Romain Poite to give a penalty.

1 Dell slip

Barely two minutes later it’s another scrum, and another penalty for Ireland. Again, the focus is on Furlong and Dell.

This time though we’ll look at Dell’s bind on Furlong and how it contributes to him getting turned inside so easily.

Below we can see how short his bind is. His arm is cocked, with his elbow pointing down towards the ground, creating the V shape we can see below. By allowing his bind to be so short, it has the knock-on effect of causing his left shoulder to drop.

That sends all the momentum back into the scrum, whereas if he gets a longer bind on Furlong (on the X), it will lift his left shoulder back up, and allow him to keep Furlong from getting inside to the hooker.

2 initial

If we watch it through in full, we can see once again how Dell’s backside pops out, and rather than go backwards he starts to turn in the hope of convincing Poite the scrum needs to be reset.

2 full

Later in the half we can see how Dell corrects that bind slightly, and starts to keep Furlong at bay.

While his bind is still quite short, his left elbow stays much higher, which lifts his shoulder up and gives Furlong less space to attack.

5 bind

However, even with a much improved technique, he’s still not able to trouble the Leinster man, whose own body position is perfect, with a flat back, and perfect 90 and 120 degree bends at the hips and knees.

5 furlong body

When you watch it through, you can see just how hard Dell is pushing, but Furlong doesn’t budge.

5 full

In the game’s final scrum early in the second half, Dell actually gets a slight nudge on Furlong, but Ireland get the ball in and out quickly, and a few phases later it results in Iain Henderson touching down.

Hooker Fraser Brown has brought his bind on his props much higher up towards their shoulders, and we can see this time how it almost mirrors that of Rory Best.

6 hookers binds

Dell also gets himself into a better position this time. Just like the previous scrum, he keeps his elbow up in his bind, and it allows him to stay on Furlong’s outside shoulder, rather than turning inside.

As we can see, by attacking the outside shoulder more, Dell gets some pressure onto the Irish scrum, but Ireland still retain possession.

6 dell better

This weekend, the danger man for Ireland to deal with looks like being Andrea Lovotti, Italy’s loosehead.

Against Wales, he had Samson Lee under some real pressure in the first half, and his angled drives are something that Furlong will have to be wary of.

On the first scrum against Wales, Lovotti won a penalty off Lee. We can see below how Lovotti attacks the inside, trying to step off his left foot back into the body of Lee.

1 lovotti

However, while Lovotti can cause problems for Ireland, Lorenzo Cittadini at tighthead can be exposed by Jack McGrath.

Cittadini has a habit of locking out his legs, which really limits his power, and on that same scrum he was sent backwards by Nicky Smith.

We can see below just how far back from his body his feet are.

1 cittadini body

As a result, once Smith puts on the pressure, it forces Cittadini backwards. It appears that referee JP Doyle got a signal from his touch judge for an infringement on the far side, and had it not been for that, Italy could well have conceded the penalty.

1 Cittadini

On the next scrum, once again, Cittadini’s legs are way too far back from his body, as outlined by the red line. The yellow lines are an indication of how his body shape should look.

By locking his body out so much, he isn’t able to use his legs to generate power, and when he does try to step, his legs are too far back from his body, causing him to slip. This time, he does give away the penalty.

2 cittadini

If Italy are to trouble Ireland in the scrum on Saturday, Lovotti will be the one to watch though. Later in the half, Italy steal a scrum against the head, and the counter-attack almost leads to a try.

Rhys Webb and Ken Owens fail to connect on the feed, and with the ball sitting in the channel, Italy attack it.

5 hook

From the camera angle behind the goal, we can get a good sight of how Lovotti drives in on Lee.

5 lovotti angle

And by the time the ball is free, we can see how Lovotti’s head is burrowed in under the chest of Lee.

5 lovotti finish

Soon after there’s another scrum, and another penalty earned from Lovotti, as he attacks the angle on Lee again.

If we watch it in full, we can see how the whole Italian pack pushes towards the posts.

6 full

If you look closely, you can see that by the time the scrum splits, Lovotti has cut across Lee by so much, he’s actually in between Lee and hooker Ken Owens, having started outside Lee’s right shoulder.

6 lovotti finish

This has the potential to make the scrums very messy on Saturday, especially because of the way Ireland drive.

Against Scotland, they tried to move the drive forward to the left, so that each player would step in unison off their right foot at once.

As we can see below, they all start straight, outlined in yellow. In the game video, one player in the pack acts as the signal, calling “Ready! Ready! Ready!” until the ball is fed, before they all step up and to the left, following the red line.

3 drive left

We can see how it works below, with the steps of the second and back row players almost synchronised.

3a step left

It’s tactic Australia mastered in the 2015 World Cup, and with England’s Joe Marler often attacking the angle, the two combined for an evening of very, very messy scrums when they met in the pool stages.

Given the way Lovotti scrummaged against Wales on Sunday, this weekend’s game in Rome could be equally difficult to referee for Glen Jackson.

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