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Dummy loops, decoys and manipulation: 5 of Schmidt's sharpest plays

Ireland have produced sublime set-piece scores at important times during Schmidt’s tenure.
Aug 20th 2019, 7:06 AM 25,530 10

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THERE ARE MANY attributes that make Joe Schmidt one of the best coaches in the world, but his trademark on the pitch has often tended to be intelligent and delightfully-detailed set-piece plays that tear opposition teams apart in the space of seconds.

The Ireland head coach is deservedly renowned as a clever analyst of the game, capable of picking out possible weaknesses in teams and ruthlessly exposing them with carefully-orchestrated moves from lineouts and scrums.

Ireland have repeatedly benefited from Schmidt’s quality in this area during his tenure, with many of their key tries coming directly from the 53-year-old’s playbook.

There are so many examples to choose from when examining this area – as we delve into Schmidt’s make-up in our series ‘The Team that Joe Built‘ - but we’ve limited ourselves to five set-piece scores in this instance.

Clever Joe Schmidt has a well-earned reputation for being a set-piece genius.

England 2014

Rob Kearney’s try away to England in the 2014 Six Nations came at the end of a three-phase power play that featured a classic Schmidt dummy loop close to a ruck.

This move dates back to 2012, when Leinster unveiled it against Cardiff – Kearney scored on that occasion too – and was used to devastating effect in the Heineken Cup semi-final against Clermont later that year, when Cian Healy was the man to finish.

Schmidt brought the play into the Test arena in his successful first Six Nations with Ireland, underlining to all that his set-piece genius applied to international rugby as much as it had with Leinster.

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Ireland play off the top of a six-man lineout as Rory Best hits Devin Toner in the middle, lifted by Healy and Paul O’Connell. 

With flanker Chris Henry out in midfield, Conor Murray starts at the front of lineout but drops into the receiver position [as indicated in red below] as Best throws.

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Jamie Heaslip starts as the receiver but he breaks out over the 15-metre line [white above] as Toner transfers the ball to Murray, allowing the number eight to run at England. There is dummy movement outside him from Sexton but Heaslip’s job is to carry the ball.

Henry resources the breakdown, as does Mike Ross coming from the back of the lineout before left wing Dave Kearney joins too.

Ireland have clean ball and Murray moves it away for Toner to carry coming around the corner.

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Toner makes a strong gainline carry, with O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony in close support to resource this breakdown.

England may have anticipated Ireland going around the corner again on the third phase – Ross and Healy [yellow below] attempt to sell that by working over to the right – but Ireland instead bounce back against the grain.

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Sexton [white above] and Kearney [red] get in motion sweeping back across to the left, as Murray moves the ball to Heaslip [blue].

Outside Heaslip is Henry [green] and Sexton will also work to the number eight’s outside shoulder, providing England with a lot to worry about if Heaslip does tip on a pass in that direction.

Instead, Heaslip straightens up and does wonderfully to fix England’s pillar defender, Dylan Hartley, just before Kearney arrives at speed to accept the inside pass.

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Heaslip’s handling and Kearney’s timing are obvious highlights here, but Schmidt always stresses that every player on the team has an important part to play in these moves.

Murray [yellow below] runs the dummy loop line around Heaslip to worry England about a return pass.

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Out of shot, Gordon D’Arcy, Brian O’Driscoll and Andrew Trimble are holding width on Ireland’s right, while Best is doing the same with Dave Kearney out on their left, concerning England about a possible wide attack as Ireland bounce back.

That means fullback Mike Brown is in motion [red above] towards the touchline when Heaslip instead sends Kearney through, and the Englishman cannot readjust.

O’Connell’s role in impeding Joe Launchbury [white circle above] from folding back to where Kearney makes the break is also crucial, and a fine example of the little details that can often make a huge difference.

While Ireland lost this tie in Twickenham, Kearney’s score was a clear indicator of Schmidt’s smarts with set-piece attack.

France 2014

Despite the defeat in London, Ireland did manage to get over the line for a championship success in Schmidt’s first Six Nations, beating France 22-20 in Paris in a dramatic finale.

Trimble scored two key tries and one of them came from a clever two-phase power play from a scrum in the first half.

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The scrum itself plays a key role in this score as Ireland manipulate the angle to get loosehead Healy’s side up, meaning the French pack will have even more distance to make up as they break from the scrum and attempt to work across the pitch.

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Schmidt has always placed a huge focus on the quality of Ireland’s set-piece and it almost goes without saying that none of these scores would be possible without a quality platform.

Murray passes to Sexton here, with the out-half hitting outside centre O’Driscoll on a direct line up the pitch.

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O’Driscoll expertly feigns a return pass to Sexton as the out-half runs a dummy loop line around him [white], with D’Arcy arcing outside his centre partner too [yellow].

The ‘animation’ D’Arcy and Sexton are displaying here is something Schmidt has always pushed with his players – hands out, calling for the ball, looking like a genuine threat. 

France centre Mathieu Bastareaud [red above] has to respect Sexton and D’Arcy’s runs and he sits off O’Driscoll, leaving the Ireland centre in a one-on-one with France out-half Rémi Talès – meaning a gainline-breaking carry. 

Instantly, that accentuates how slow the French pack is in breaking from the scrum.

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Openside flanker Damien Chouly folds around the corner to France’s right but there is a chasm [yellow above] between the ruck and the next French forward, number eight Louis Picamoles.

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With Sexton having hit the breakdown, scrum-half Murray is well aware of the possibility of this space opening up and he scoops the ball up to dart forward [yellow below], as right wing Trimble arrives into the same space at speed [blue].

Ahead of the ball, Henry [white circle] advances up beyond the breakdown to impede France scrum-half Maxime Machenaud as he looks to fold back underneath the ruck – as O’Connell did with Launchbury against England.

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While Machenaud does get beyond Henry, he is poorly sighted to tackle on Murray, who makes a good decision to dummy and step inside his opposite number, allowing him to then draw in Picamoles and left wing Maxime Médard before delivering the ball to Trimble for a crucial try.

This is a very simple play from Schmidt’s team but the best moves often are. The Ireland coach had a belief that his players could expose the French pack’s delay in getting up from the scrum and his prediction proved accurate, helping them towards the Six Nations title at the first time of asking under Schmidt.

New Zealand 2016

This is far from being the most intricate set-piece score Ireland have manufactured under Schmidt, but few have been as satisfying for players, coaches and supporters alike.

With New Zealand desperately searching for one final chance to overturn a 33-29 deficit in Chicago, Robbie Henshaw surged over the tryline from a five-metre scrum in the 76th minute to seal Ireland’s first-ever win against the All Blacks.

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Key to Ireland’s success in this instance is the speed at which they get the ball out of the scrum, with Sean Cronin hooking it down ‘channel one’ – straight back between the loosehead prop’s legs and emerging between the lock and the flanker. 

That speed of ball allows Heaslip to scoop the it up [red below] before the All Blacks have finished scrummaging, meaning openside flanker Sam Cane is slow off the side of the scrum.

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On top of that, Murray holds his position in the blindside channel along with wing Simon Zebo, meaning opposite number TJ Perenara [white] can’t leave early. Again, this slight delay in getting around to the openside of the scrum proves vital.

Heaslip breaks away from the scrum on a diagonal line to his right and does a fine job of eyeballing the outside shoulder [white below] of Ardie Savea – who is defending in the out-half slot just off the scrum.

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As we can see above, Cane is trying to play catch-up off the side of the scrum as Henshaw receives the ball.

The Ireland centre accentuates his advantage by taking a very pure switch line, running an arcing line back outside after cutting underneath Heaslip.

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As Henshaw accelerates up to top speed, bursting past the despairing dive of Savea, he intelligently tucks the ball into his right arm – keeping it clear of Cane and Perenara coming from his left, and allowing him to use his own left arm as a shield.

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That keeps the ball free from Cane and Perenara potentially wrapping it up, allowing Henshaw to finish resoundingly and send Irish supporters in ecstasy.

The genius of this score from Schmidt’s team is in its sheer simplicity and the accurate execution to finish off their much-deserved maiden win over the All Blacks. 

England 2018

Ireland’s third-ever Grand Slam will live long in the memory for supporters and players alike, and it was fitting that the game that sealed the Slam featured a work of art straight from Schmidt’s rugby brain.

Incredibly, this was a play Ireland had used against England three years before, during the 2015 Six Nations, when they almost made a clean linebreak.

Schmidt put the play in cold storage, made some tweaks and then unleashed it to devastating effect at Twickenham last year. Ireland had actually set-up to use this play just minutes before, only for their lineout possession to be scrappy. Once they got the platform they needed, Schmidt’s men were lethal in executing. 

Source: Guinness Six Nations/YouTube

Tadhg Furlong is the star of the show here but every Irish player has a role in this score – if not directly.

Ireland play off a four-man lineout, with Healy and Iain Henderson lifting O’Mahony to win Best’s throw, while James Ryan blocks England from getting through at scrum-half Murray as O’Mahony transfers the ball.

Murray then fires a tunnel pass between CJ Stander and Dan Leavy, as indicated in white below.

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The dummy runs from Stander and Leavy are crucial here, particularly because they draw Mako Vunipola inwards from the defensive line [as indicated in red above].

England are essentially now down one defender as Murray’s pass zips behind Stander to Sexton, who in turn makes a short pass to tighthead prop Furlong.

Sexton then sets off on a loop line [white below] to get to the outside of Furlong, while Jacob Stockdale [red] is also arcing out to the right. Importantly, Stander [green] is continuing his run upfield after being used as a decoy.

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Amidst all the movement, Bundee Aki [yellow circle above] essentially ends up being invisible to England.

Aware of how often Sexton has run loop plays in the past, England are overly focused on tracking the Ireland out-half.

As we can see below, Owen Farrell [blue] has tracked Sexton in behind Furlong.

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Furlong accentuates the issue by actually turning towards Sexton as if to give the return pass but then continues to fluidly rotate until he can instead slip a disguised short pass to Aki.

With Sam Simmonds [red above] having also read a return pass to Sexton, he is not in position to deal with Aki thundering onto the ball.

The sleight of hand from Furlong here is wonderful and sends Aki into clear space behind the English frontline defence.

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Garry Ringrose [red above] has worked up to Aki’s right shoulder, but with Anthony Watson closing in from the outside [white], the Ireland number 12 instead cleverly steps back off his right foot, fixes Jonny May and hits Stander [green], who gets reward for his work off the ball.

The powerful number eight still has plenty to do but finishes a stunning first-phase try that leaves Ireland 14-0 up and flooding with confidence, helping them towards their unforgettable Grand Slam.

Again, every Irish player has a role in this score, even Rob Kearney and Keith Earls [who has his hand in the air calling for the ball] holding width out on the right.

New Zealand 2018

Beating the All Blacks in Ireland for the first time was always going to take something special, and part of the effort last November was a sensational set-piece score for the prolific Stockdale.

As ever, Schmidt’s clever subterfuge allowed his players to showcase their skills, with the Ireland head coach’s play manipulating New Zealand to produce space for a sizzling Stockdale finish.

In a very tight game, the seven points from this try proved crucial as Ireland won 16-9 in Dublin.

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This time, Ireland play off the top of a five-man lineout, with O’Mahony lifted by Healy and Toner, just about winning the ball ahead of the competing Kieran Read – who importantly thumps down onto the ground after contesting the ball.

Scrum-half Kieran Marmion passes to Sexton and there’s a whole lot going on as the Kiwis get set to defend against what looks like being a direct carry.

Josh van der Flier and Stander [red below] are running hard lines off Sexton as if to carry the ball, while we can see Ringrose [blue circle] showing that classic Schmidt animation out the back to further sell it.

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Hooker Best [white above] is working to swiftly retreat down the left touchline, while Stockdale [green circle] is simply standing still, remaining as hidden as he possibly can.

Aki, the key mover here, is beginning to arc back underneath Sexton towards the 15-metre channel, where he will make the pass to Stockdale.

Sexton does a superb job of fooling the All Blacks, with his body language indicating a pass out to his right, rather than dropping the ball underneath to Aki. The out-half takes a thump from Dane Coles coming from the ‘tailgunner’ position behind the All Blacks’ lineout just as he releases the ball.

The final thing to note above is how eager Aaron Smith [pink] is to cover across from behind the lineout, having started defending in the five-metre channel. The scrum-half immediately vacates this space as he worries about a midfield attack from Ireland.

Aki delivers the ball accurately to Stockdale and we see the value of all the subterfuge.

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Shots from behind the All Blacks’ goal-line allow us to see how the space for Stockdale to chip into develops.

Kiwi fullback Damian McKenzie is circled in white below, in a very wide starting position – wider than other fullbacks might start. Schmidt and Ireland know this tendency, having done their homework, and Kearney and Earls hold the width to keep him there again.

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That, in turn, means Ben Smith has to work across into the middle of the pitch [red] from his right-hand starting position.

But as Aki accepts the ball from Sexton and then passes to Stockdale, Smith readjusts to his right.

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As Stockdale receives the ball, Ryan moves to impede Sam Whitelock [white below], who is also trying to scramble back to his right.

Meanwhile, Read [red] is down injured and out of play.

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That all means Smith now has to worry about Best, who is holding on the left touchline, and the All Blacks right wing advances up from the backfield to deal with him [red below].

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Smith advancing means that Stockdale now has the space to use his excellent chip kick to exploit, with McKenzie [white below] having far too much ground to make up.

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Obviously, it takes sublime skill from Stockdale to execute here, as well as a great deal of confidence – having had a chip blocked down by Read for a near-try only minutes before.

The Ulsterman backs himself to deliver and produces the goods to find the space, before adjusting to gather in a tricky bounce and finishing calmly just before McKenzie can get a hand on the ball.

Now we wait to see what Schmidt has in store for the 2019 World Cup.

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