practice makes perfect

The Joe Schmidt drill that helped Ireland to build to Sexton's drop goal

It all goes back to the 2013 defeat to the All Blacks.

JOHNNY SEXTON’S DROP goal against France began in November 2013.

Ireland gave up their winning position to the All Blacks that month, folding at the very death to let their 22-17 lead slip and suffer the pain that wasn’t erased until beating Steve Hansen’s side in Chicago in 2016.

Joe Schmidt before the game Dan Sheridan / INPHO Schmidt works hard on Ireland's ability to go through long multi-phase passages. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Joe Schmidt was determined for his side never to break in circumstances like those again. Indeed, he was convinced that Ireland could learn from their failure and become a side who did to others what the All Blacks had done to them.

With 75:49 on the clock that infamous day in 2013, Jamie Heaslip wins Sean Cronin’s throw into an Irish lineout on the halfway line.

At 77:11 Conor Murray slams a box kick deep into the All Blacks’ half, but the Kiwis counter before Ma’a Nonu knocks on.

Again, Ireland look to Murray’s boot and he sends a beautiful kick bouncing into touch near the All Blacks’ 22 before the visitors hastily set their lineout and attack at Ireland from deep.

Aaron Cruden chips the ball back to them, however, and Ireland have to just run the clock down. At 79:31, that penalty against Jack McGrath for going off his feet at the ruck.

The All Blacks quick-tap the penalty and 12 phases later, at 81:22, Ryan Crotty breaks Irish hearts and ensures Cruden can kick the winning conversion, dramatically retaken.

It’s an incredible passage of rugby, well worth looking back on, and the tempo is at an incredible level.

Although the ball does essentially go ‘out of play’ for the All Blacks’ lineout and at the point Nigel Owens gives that penalty, it’s a battle of work rate, fitness and skill level under severe pressure.

Paul O'Connell dejected James Crombie / INPHO Ireland were left gutted in 2013. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The All Blacks won out that day, and it changed how Schmidt approached training with Ireland – all culminating in his side building phases for over five minutes and 41 phases to Sexton’s remarkable drop goal more than four years later.

While very few people outside of the Ireland squad could see a way to victory as Sexton lined up his 22 drop-out to start that passage of play against France, former Ireland lock Mick McCarthy had a sense of how well prepared Schmidt’s players were.

“I remember I got 20 minutes against the All Blacks in 2013 when they scored in injury time,” says McCarthy, who tackled Julien Savea into touch to hand Ireland that original lineout at 75:49.

“Joe worked out that the ball was in play for four to four-and-a-half minutes, so a big thing, which since then Ireland have done on a Monday or a Tuesday, is this segment of four to four-and-a-half minutes where you actually work harder than you do in the game.

“So, it’s multi-phase, keeping the ball, running into bags, setting up rucks in different areas of the pitch.

“You’re really blowing harder than you would in a game and I think you’re seeing dividends of that drill they use and the key learnings from that All Blacks game.

“It’s just incredible in those conditions [in Paris] to keep the ball, everything… Joe is big on ball placement, the clearers arriving early and doing their job, strong ball carries – everyone was on the same page, everyone was believing.

“I read CJ Stander say that after seven phases of the 41 he was blowing but then he went into autopilot and you just get through your work, you believe you can do it and, fair play, they did do it.”

1450460 Sam Barnes / SPORTSFILE Sam Barnes / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

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