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Analysis: Room to improve for Ireland at World U20 Championship

Nigel Carolan’s talented squad were close to a strong performance in testing conditions in Italy.
Jun 5th 2015, 10:50 AM 6,507 6

A WINNING START to the World Rugby U20 Championship was of course welcome for Ireland, but Nigel Carolan’s men will look for improvements across various elements of their game before meeting Scotland on Saturday.

Billy Dardis tackled by Ignacio Calles Billy Dardis is hit hard after sending through a kick against Argentina. Source: Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO

Conditions during the victory against Argentina on Tuesday were hugely demanding, as the temperature in Parma almost hit 30°C.

‘Sure that’s ideal for running rugby’ might be the reaction in some quarters, although most likely not from anyone who has played in that kind of heat. Sweaty palms, a sense of lethargy and dehydration are all a hindrance, especially for those experiencing such conditions for the first time.

That said, the forecast for this weekend in Calvisano, where Ireland play Scotland, suggests it could be as hot as 34°C. Ireland will at least know what’s coming as they deal with a second 3.30pm kick-off [Irish time] in a row.

Their main focus will be on improving their own performance as much as possible, as they look for revenge against a Scotland team that beat them 17-10 on the last day of this year’s Six Nations.

Lineout

One of the major frustrations for Ireland in the first half of the win over Argentina was a misfiring lineout, and this is set to be an absolutely pivotal area against the Scots.

Lineout Fail 23M

Ireland gave up promising field position on a number of occasions against the Pumitas, the type of territory which teams rely on to build points either through tries or earning penalties by pressurising the defence.

It’s always easy to heap the criticism in this area onto the hooker’s shoulders, but the instance above demonstrates that Ireland’s shortcomings were often a shared responsibility.

Missed calls, forgotten movement on the deck pre-throw, bad lifts, as well as the timing and power of the throw itself, all combine for lineout failings but Ireland will have worked hard on this area.

Lineout specialist Colin McEntee will have been driving his pack in this area through their organisational walk-through sessions and video analysis work and will expect improvements against the Scots.

Lineout Compete

More positively, Ireland competed wonderfully on the Argentinian throw in Parma, repeatedly putting pressure on and forcing both direct steals and errors from the Pumitas in the air.

Given that Ireland conceded three maul tries to Scotland in the Six Nations, it will be highly surprising if they don’t compete ferociously in the air this weekend, looking to cut out those mauling opportunities at source.

Lorcan Dow, Alex Thompson, David O’Connor, Josh Murphy and Jack Dwan are all more than capable of making good reads in the defensive lineout, while Ireland’s intelligent props can adapt and make swift lifts to accommodate those reads.

Limiting Scotland’s chances to fire up the maul will be crucial. Ireland also had worrying issues with the scrum early on in Tuesday’s win, but it was heartening to see those problems eradicated in the second half.

Breakdown

Ireland made an excellent start to the breakdown battle against Argentina with a first-minute turnover by Ulster second row Thompson.

Thompson Turnover 1M

The Queen’s University Belfast man is an auxiliary back row at times, though the likes of Dow, Murphy and openside flanker Rory Moloney are all more than capable of holding their own over the ball.

Scotland captain and number eight Magnus Bradbury is a formidable ball carrier while Glasgow Warriors prop Zander Fagerson is another who will help out in that area, but Ireland can limit their impact by competing on the ground as aggressively as ever.

Thompson Steal 12

Thompson shows the away again in the incident above, winning a clean steal before the ball is unfortunately knocked-on back on the Ireland side.

While Ireland obviously don’t want to waste bodies chasing lost causes in the rucks, there is certainly scope for attacking the ball post-tackle against the Scots. It would be surprising to see Sean Lineen’s men repeatedly go to wide channels, meaning there may be scope for Ireland to commit an extra defender to competing and slowing.

In the defeat in Galashiels back in March, Carolan’s side might have felt they allowed Scotland too much freedom to shift the ball away at the breakdown and they’ll look for more big efforts like Thompson’s this time around.

Thrilling counter

The profile of this Ireland U20 squad very much speaks of a group of players who thrive in the more broken-up aspects of rugby. They have certainly adapted well to Carolan’s attacking structures, but they remain a potent counter-attacking force.

We get an example in the clip above, one that very much underlines the need for Ireland to be as competitive as possible at the breakdown. They thrive on turnover ball and possess a range of players who are comfortable handling and running in space.

On this occasion, centre Garry Ringrose wins the ball after a Pumitas knock-on, with scrum-half and captain Nick McCarthy instantly recognising the opportunity to counter.

There’s no need for audible communication between Carolan’s players here; they’re all on the same page within a split second. Hooker Kyle McCall does a superb job of drawing Argentina wing Eugenio Achilli in before releasing his pass to Jacob Stockdale.

Counter Attack 8.1

Ulsterman Stockdale is then afforded the chance to show his pace and power as he politely asks Pumitas scrum-half Lautaro Bazan Velez to sit down. A couple of phases later, Ireland launch a cross-field kick that we’ll look at later in this piece, almost scoring.

Carolan and Ireland possess a hugely gifted set of backs this year, highlighted by the fact that Stockdale was not even set to be in the starting XV until Connacht man Ciarán Gaffney sustained an ankle injury.

Every single one of these Ireland backs is excellent in space, and the likes of McCarthy and out-halves Joey Carbery and Tomás Quinlan must continue to scan for opportunities to free them.

Short Side

While the incident above isn’t on a direct counter from turnover possession, it demonstrates again how threatening Ireland can be even in limited space.

McCarthy picks out the attacking chance intelligently and sends fullback Billy Dardis into space before making himself available for a return pass. Unfortunately, Dardis opts instead to grubber the ball ahead and Argentina gather.

Though the chase from Dardis is strong, this might go down as a missed opportunity to stress the Pumitas even further. Even if McCarthy had been halted, as seemed likely, Ireland would have been right in behind a completely breached defence, the ideal opportunity for another of their backs to strike on the next phase.

Indeed, Ireland were guilty of a handful of attacking kicks that didn’t pay off on Tuesday.

We see it above again as sublime handling from Dow, Carbery and then Ringrose allows Dardis to show his searing pace. On another day, his chip ahead might land ideally for Stockdale but here is gives Argentina a chance to relieve the pressure

There’s absolutely no sense that they should keep everything in hand against the Scots – that would be insanity in the conditions – but there certainly is scope for reducing the number of these shorter attacking kicks and instead backing themselves to beat defenders.

Clinical with chances

Creating try-scoring chances has never really been an issue for this group of skillful players, but taking them has been a problem that’s cropped up on a handful of occasions.

Anyone who remembers the defeat at home to England in the Six Nations will be able to point a handful of strong examples. Carolan will be keen for his men to show that they are clinical finishers against the Scots on Saturday and then New Zealand next week.

Stockdale Chance

Above we get an example of the openings that Ireland are more than capable of manufacturing, as centre Sam Arnold throws a lovely left-handed pass to put Dardis into a space on the outside break.

The fullback might look back and feel he could have done more to attract the last defender, Emiliano Boffelli, before he sends his pass out to Stockdale wide on the right.

Stockdale Chance.1

Boffelli does superbly to just about sit off and keep his body open towards the touchline, allowing him to then cover across when the pass does go, all the while trusting Achilli inside him to get to Dardis.

The combination of a slight mistiming and that defensive effort leaves Stockdale in a one-on-one situation that he still would have backed himself to take, given his power through the tackle.

Stockdale Chance.2

As we see above, Stockdale carries the ball in his left arm, the one closest to Boffelli. That simply means he can’t activate that big fend of his and reduce the effectiveness of Boffelli’s tackle attempt.

Credit goes again to Boffelli for completing his hit, but even the slightest of hand-offs from Stockdale here could have been the difference.

It’s the tiniest details that let Ireland down after they create the chance, meaning Dardis, Stockdale and their teammates will be looking to nail those elements on Saturday.

Visit 22 in 24M

Ireland weren’t clinical enough with their visits to the 22 against Argentina in general, as we see in the instance above. The timing of the mini-play is just off and Ireland then go backwards, ending up outside the 22.

Below there’s a simple knock-on close to the tryline to offer the Pumitas relief in the second half.

Tryline

Every error is a lesson under Carolan, meaning Ireland will be keen to get back on the pitch against Scotland and show greater composure in potential scoring positions.

Mixing it up

While the individual talent of this Ireland group in the outside backs suggests they should be flinging the ball wide at every possible opportunity, Carolan has wisely looked for a mixture in their approach to attack.

The balance was ideal against Argentina, even if the execution was slightly off at times in the demanding conditions. Ireland looked to mix strong, direct carrying on the early phases from set-piece with more ambitious ideas after they achieved gainline success.

It’s a simple formula and one that Ireland will look to against the Scots.

Arnold Direct

Inside centre Arnold is a particularly strong ball carrier thanks to his freakish athletic ability and habit of picking out soft shoulders. Above, we see Ireland go to the Ulsterman off a lineout platform and the ball he provides is utterly clean and well beyond the gainline.

Arnold was replaced late in the game on Tuesday, but Carolan will hope to name him in the team to face Scotland is possible, such is his talent for generating go-forward possession.

It’s not all brawn with the Exiles product, however, as he shows in the example below.

Arnold Skill

Arnold is a fine passer of the ball and, as we see above, can offload out of contact superbly too. Ireland simply need to get him running onto the ball as regularly as possible in the coming games and there’s no need to be overly intricate about it.

Starter players are always attractive, but this Irish team can’t be afraid of simplifying their approach at times.

Whether or not Arnold is fit to face the Scots, number eight Lorcan Dow will be similarly important to Ireland’s chances of getting over the gainline in the early phases.

Dow Carry

Another former Exile who is now in the Ulster ranks, the back row demonstrated his power against the Pumitas every time he touched the ball. Again, finding Dow in phase play and allowing him to use his grunt to get beyond the first tackle is vital.

Ireland can take confidence from the fact that they have potential game breakers across the park as they prepare for Scotland.

Out-half Joey Carbery shows his darting threat in the clip below, a lovely pirouette taking him through tighthead prop Cristian Bartolini before his offload to Stephen Fitzgerald is ruled as having gone forward.

No Try But Carbery Break

Ireland can’t simply expect to run the ball constantly against in the heat in Calvisano on Saturday, however, and we saw some intelligent kicking from them in the game against Argentina.

Carolan’s men will naturally have to look to the boot again this weekend as they get that ideal mix of attacking in wide channels, being direct and forcing the Scotland frontline to turn and cover back.

As well as the deeper kicks, it will be interesting to note whether Ireland pursue the contestable kicking tactic that featured against Argentina.

Contestable Kick 8

Left wing Stephen Fitzgerald has played most of his rugby at fullback and, as such, is strong in the air. We see that above, as the former Ardscoil Rís man claims a brilliant Carbery cross-field kick, haring away down the left before his offload inside to Josh Murphy goes to deck with the tryline begging.

On the right wing, Stockdale is another big man with fullback experience, although a return for Gaffney would not reduce Ireland’s potential in this area either. It’s certainly one source of potential scores against the Scots.

Solid line

Argentina are something of force at this level of rugby, and they certainly asked big questions of the Ireland defence when they kept the ball in hand.

The pace, footwork and offloading of Nicolas Fernandez Lobbe’s men was a demanding test for the defensive capability of Carolan’s side, but they largely came through well. The conceded try was a disappointment of course, and one Ireland will feel they could have prevented.

With Argentina running through phases from right to left, Ireland look to be relatively comfortable until scrum-half Bazan Velez switches direction and bounces back to the right of the ruck.

Suddenly, Ireland are numbers down with the superb captain and inside centre Ezcurra eyeing the space in front of him.

Defensive Org .1

The main issue for Ireland is that they have over-folded, with too many defenders on the right side of the ruck. As we can see above, there are five Irish players on their feet over in that short channel on the far side against three Argentina attackers, plus the scrum-half.

Defensive Org .2

When Argentina switch to the right, they have a clear numbers-up situation as Ireland prop Andrew Porter and back row Murphy are left to defend the entire midfield.

Ezcurra identifies the prop in front of him and turns on the footwork and pace to beat him. It’s the type of exposed defensive scenario that front rows have nightmares about, and Ireland will need to ensure they number up more ideally on either side of the ruck against the Scots.

Clearly, the heat can lead to massive fatigue, but Carolan will ask for more awareness and greater effort from his men in the higher phases. After the initial break, Ireland actually do well to recover before Santiago Portillo beats Carbery in the right corner. Another work-on there.

Ireland like to turn on the linespeed whenever possible, but the Pumitas managed to exploit that on a handful of occasions in a manner that will have caught the Scots’ eye.

Defensive Fractures

They weren’t major issues, but once or twice Ireland defenders got up slightly too far ahead of their teammates and left dog-legs for Argentina to run into. Sending up shooters aggressively is part of the system of course, but Ireland have to be wiser in deciding when to burst up.

Ball-and-all hits are the ideal, but fractures and disjoints in the defensive line with no tackle behind the gainline are definitely best avoided.

Bench impact

Ireland and Argentina both used their entire benches in their Parma meeting and the same is quite likely to be true of the clash with Scotland, given those forecasted roasting hot weather conditions.

In that sense, Carolan will have been greatly heartened by the impact of his replacements against Italy. Injuries to Jeremy Loughman and Rory Moloney could have set the team back, but Porter and Nick Timoney made an impact after entering the fray.

Sean McNulty was strong off the bench at hooker, Connacht’s talented prop Conan O’Donnell showed his skill levels, Dwan was excellent at the set-piece, scrum-half Charlie Rock was lively and Fergal Cleary had some lovely touches.

Most impressive of all was the impact of match winner Tomás Quinlan.

Sent on with seven minutes left, the Cork Con man was harshly judged to be offside and conceded the penalty that allowed Argentina to go 16-15 ahead on the 77-minute mark, apparently handing them the win.

But Quinlan recovered his composure and set about making amends, first hitting an accurate restart and then sparking the attack with a handful of excellent passes.

Winning Pen

Indeed, it was Munster academy player Quinlan whose gorgeous left-handed pass that sent Stockdale into space up the right with time running out, drawing Argentina into giving up the fateful final penalty.

There was absolutely no hesitation on Quinlan’s part, even with time still remaining on the match clock to kick into the corner; he was immediately picking up the ball and pointing at the posts.

Quinlan Balls

With regular captain McCarthy having been replaced, back row Murphy and fullback Dardis barely even had to think before backing Quinlan to get the job done.

Few Cork Con or Ulster Bank League fans will have been surprised by the outcome as Quinlan cooly slotted the three points to clinch victory.

Nailed It Brah

Even with possible changes to the starting XV and bench, Carolan will be hoping that his back-up players can have a similarly positive impact against Scotland. The outcome is likely to depend on them just as much as anyone wearing numbers one to 15.

Ireland take on Scotland on Saturday at 3.30pm Irish time. The match will be screened live on TG4.

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