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Analysis: 80 seconds that show how good Ireland Women's attack can be

Every single player had a role in Claire Molloy’s try just before half-time against Italy.

IN A GAME that saw Italy have more than 20 minutes of possession – a very high figure – Ireland Women had to do a whole lot of tackling in their 21-7 win in Dublin last weekend.

Ireland made 213 tackles as they delivered a satisfying 91% completion rate to limit the Italians to just one try.

Returning openside flanker Claire Molloy made 31 tackles, while out-half Hannah Tyrrell made 24, lock Ciara Cooney had 23, back row Dorothy Wall completed 22, and centre Sene Naoupu hit the 18 mark.

claire-molloy-with-elisa-giordano-and-francesca-sgorbini Claire Molloy made a big impact on her return for Ireland. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

There were multiple highlights defensively for Ireland, who had to muscle up for a defensive set lasting over three minutes early in the game.

As they now prepare to welcome a powerful France team to Dublin for their final 2020 Six Nations game on Sunday – following a show of class from the French – that defensive performance should give Ireland some belief. 

Their set-piece work was a real concern, however, with a 69% success rate on the Irish throw as the absence of second row Aoife McDermott’s lineout nous was felt. That will need to be much-improved versus the French. 

Ireland had frustrations in attack too as they made errors and let opportunities slip after initially promising build-up work.

However, there was one superb team score from Ireland among their three tries, with Molloy finishing it with the clock in the red before half-time. This score involved passing skill, directness, excellent breakdown work, the use of multiple first receivers, and sheer work-rate.

The try came at the end of a remarkable passage in which the ball stayed in play for three minutes and 20 seconds following the Italian restart after a close-range score for Ireland loosehead prop Lindsay Peat.

The ball moved up and down the pitch in frenetic fashion until Italy kicked to Ireland out-half Hannah Tyrrell in the backfield to launch an 80-second onslaught of attack that concluded with Molloy dotting down.

It’s a poor kick but it dips awkwardly low and Tyrrell does well to slide in and gather it before the ball can bounce.

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Tyrrell switches into counter-attack mode as she regains her feet.

The out-half intelligently runs into midfield.

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As we can see above, there are five retreating Irish players in this area of the pitch and that kind of traffic can often open up line-breaking opportunities.

In this instance, Tyrrell is chopped down by the first defender but her run into the middle of the pitch is also smart because it immediately splits the Italy defence, which obviously has to cover both sides of the ruck.

The Italians end up narrow on Ireland’s right-hand side, as indicated in red below.

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Meanwhile, Ireland right wing Laura Sheehan [white above] has held some width after retreating downfield and suddenly there is space out on that edge.

It still requires good skills to move the ball to that space and the passing sequence from scrum-half Kathryn Dane, Peat, and number eight and captain Ciara Griffin is excellent here.

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Peat is the first receiver and her contribution on the ball is impressive.

Ireland, like every team, want to have multiple players who are comfortable stepping up at first receiver and making good decisions, with lots of promising signs there against Italy. Centre pair Sene Naoupu and Enya Breen stood up in this regard.

Here, Peat’s running line outside one Italian defender briefly interests the next before she passes, then Griffin shows real catch-pass skill under pressure to free Sheehan, whose right-footed step takes her past another defender and up to the 22. 

Ireland now play infield for Peat to carry with Cooney and Molloy arriving in support at the breakdown.

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Italy hooker Melissa Bettoni jackals over the ball and Ireland are perhaps lucky not to concede a penalty here for side entry against Cooney but their attack continues. 

While Peat is carrying, we can see out-half Tyrrell organising the next phase, communicating for the next pod of forwards to set up outside her.

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Tyrrell duly hits tighthead prop Linda Djougang in the middle of that pod of three on the next phase, with Cliodhna Moloney and Nichola Fryday resourcing the breakdown this time.

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Fryday’s entry angle is again a little questionable but her work at the back end of the breakdown proves really crucial to the next phase of the Ireland attack.

Moloney drives Italy jackal threat Giada Franco away from the ball and Fryday’s presence [white below] brings the openside flanker to ground.

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Franco falling to the ground in turn delays Italy lock Giordana Duca [yellow below] from folding across to the other side of the ruck.

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Duca is, therefore, late across to cover the inside shoulder of tighthead prop Lucia Gai, who gets beaten on her inside shoulder on the next phase.

As we see below, it’s Tyrrell who uses her footwork to get back inside the over-chasing Italian defence – right into the space that Duca might have filled.

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Having used forwards to carry on the preceding two phases, Ireland don’t have another pod coming around the corner and Tyrrell makes a good decision to carry the ball herself.

Variety is essential to any attack and though the out-half’s options are limited in this instance, her footwork and fight through contact are strong.

Ireland get another quick recycle and, with Tyrrell out of the game, we see Naoupu step up at first receiver having worked around the corner.

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With Italy’s defence struggling to recover, Naoupu makes another good decision to step off her left foot and carry powerfully for further gains.

With Italy outside centre Michela Sillari a turnover threat over the ball, Fryday arrives in to make a dominant clearout – using Sillari’s right leg as a lever to destabilise her as she drives into the contest.

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It means more lightning-quick ball for Ireland and they keep their foot firmly on Italy’s throat with another direct carry from outside centre Breen.

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Within scoring range now, Ireland shift back infield again.

Dane hits Djougang to carry on this occasion.

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As the shot below illustrates, Ireland now have nine Italian defenders condensed within the 15-metre channel just after Djougang’s carry.

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Left wing Beibinn Parsons is holding her position to offer a threat on the left-hand side of the ruck.

There are still two Italians getting off the ground, already fatigued from this defensive effort just before half-time.

Keen to exploit that situation and generate more quick ball, Ireland play off a lovely Dane pass to powerful 20-year-old back row Wall, who makes an impactful carry.

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Wall angles her carry out towards the posts, accentuating how condensed the Italian defence has become, while Cooney gets a latch onto the carry to provide more stability and power.

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As Wall is brought to ground, Cooney then cleverly continues to push forward, tangling up Italian prop Silvia Turani in the process.

Molloy arrives over the ball as the guard but Ireland want to play off their quick possession, not allowing Italy time to recover.

Tyrrell is back at first receiver on the next phase and has a ‘vertical stack’ of three players outside her this time in Peat, Griffin, and Breen.

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As we saw earlier, forwards running off 10 are usually set up laterally across the pitch, almost alongside each other. But above, we can see that Griffin is actually behind Peat, with centre Breen a couple of steps further behind. 

This set-up makes it difficult for the Italy defence to anticipate where Tyrrell is going to pass.

Peat is at the tip of the stack and she runs a hard line back against the grain [red below], which initially worries Italy out-half Veronica Madia [yellow].

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With the defenders on her inside having Peat covered, Madia [yellow below] then appears to worry about a much wider pass to Breen, who is darting diagonally out to Ireland’s right [white].

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The multiple threats mean Madia hesitates from committing into smashing Griffin, who is the recipient of Tyrrell’s pass.

As we can see below, that gives Griffin time on the ball to step inside Madia’s tackle attempt and then pop the ball off to Breen running hard on the Ireland captain’s outside shoulder.

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It does briefly look as if Breen will power over for the try but Italy lock Sara Tounesi turns in from her outside to make a strong hit and help bring the Ireland centre to ground a few metres short.

Breen is suddenly left isolated and Italy number eight Elisa Giordano is a real turnover threat over the ball.

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It takes decisive action from Tyrrell and Griffin to remove that threat.

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That breakdown work from Tyrrell and Griffin is crucial and, with Cooney arriving as the guard, the ball is left on a plate for Dane.

Ireland score on the next phase.

As Tyrrell and Griffin clear out, we can see Peat and Molloy working around the corner, Ireland still looking to beat the Italians for work-rate.

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The ball has been in play for more than three minutes at this point following that frenetic passage of play leading up to Tyrrell receiving the Italian kick near the halfway line.

Ireland’s effort across this passage is an illustration of hard S&C work during and post-lockdown, and it pays off with a score here.

As loosehead prop Peat [red below] works around the corner to carry again, the presence of fullback Lauren Delany [yellow] and Sheehan [green] is important.

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Ireland’s width means the Italian defence is worried about the ball being passed to the edge and they drift towards the touchline as a result.

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That means Peat can thunder into an initial one-on-one against Italy fullback Manuela Furlan, keeping her feet in the contact, and then skillfully getting the ball back into two hands to deliver an offload to Molloy running a positive support line.

There’s a brief juggle but Molloy is able to reel the ball in and then spin to finish a superb team try.

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It’s a wonderfully skillful final phase involving two of Ireland’s key players in stalwart prop Peat, who turns 40 next month but remains in superb condition, and openside flanker Molloy, who has just returned from a year-long sabbatical.

Though there were plenty of frustrations in attack for Ireland last weekend, this was an excellent score.

As they look to ensure their error count comes down, Ireland will be aiming for more of the above against France on Sunday.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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