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Keith Earls' tap tackle was one of the moments of Ireland's Grand Slam match

The Ireland wing recovered brilliantly to take down Elliot Daly early in the second half.

43:41 ON THE clock. Phase 14 of the English onslaught.

Ireland’s spacing and numbering are not ideal on the left side of the English attacking ruck as Andy Farrell’s men strive to defend their line early in the second half.

Keith Earls shoots up in an effort to close off the space on the edge of Ireland’s defence, but he’s beaten by a brilliant Owen Farrell pass.

In the image below, we can see Earls [14] advancing up hard [red] on the second last English attacker, just after Farrell [10] has opted to back his passing power and accuracy to make a beautiful double skip pass out to Elliot Daly [11].

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Earls is attempting to close off the passing channel or perhaps get a ball-and-all tackle in on Dylan Hartley if Farrell opts to pass to that second-last attacker in the English line, but Earls’ linespeed leaves himself and Ireland suddenly exposed.

As the ball whistles past in front of him, Earls’ reactions kick into gear.

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When the ball gets to Daly, the danger for Ireland is clear.

We can see below that Ireland fullback Rob Kearney [15] is sweeping across behind the defensive line [red] but it looks like being a favourable one-on-one for Daly.

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Daly is powerful, can fend and has excellent footwork, so would probably back himself to finish against Kearney, although it should be pointed out that Ireland’s fullback made several excellent tackles on the edge in this game.

Johnny Sexton is also tracking across from inside so even in the event that Kearney is only able to partially slow Daly, the out-half might join in to hold Daly up or help knock him into touch.

Either way, opportunity beckons for England and although it looks like Earls has left himself in no man’s land, his recovery is superb.

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Though Daly is beyond him, Earls is desperate to do whatever he can to slow or stop him.

The Ireland right wing instantly recognises the possibility of a tap tackle and – as he turns with a show of his agility and balance – begins to lower himself towards Daly’s feet, with his finely-tuned instincts seeming to take over.

The brilliance of this tap tackle from Earls is in the timing. Split seconds become vital factors and his decision-making in those fleeting moments is excellent.

Earls ever-so-slightly delays his tap tackle, appearing to intuitively appreciate that if he taps Daly’s right leg when it’s planted on the ground – as below – he will have little effect.

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The tap tackle is a tricky skill, largely for this reason.

Many would-be tap tacklers strike across the ball-carrier’s foot, heel or lower leg when it’s planted on the ground, as above.

In that moment when the foot is planted, it’s obviously very difficult to get enough force to drive it across and onto the carrier’s other leg, causing them to trip. With the studs planted into the ground – even briefly – there is stability and traction for the carrier.

Earls’ success here comes because of the hint of delay that means he swipes his right hand and wrist – firm contact, rather than an actual ‘tap’ – onto Daly’s right ankle just as the England wing has raised his foot off the ground – as below.

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That means that Earls’ tapping action does drive Daly’s right leg across onto his left…

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… causing Daly to trip over himself…

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… and allowing Kearney to dive in on top of Daly and force him into touch.

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The timing of Earls’ actual contact onto Daly’s right leg is the key to his success in this instance.

It seems unlikely that Earls forms the clear thought ‘I’ll hit his right leg as soon as it comes off the ground’ as he actually moves to react here, and it may be more that his instincts drive him to do exactly that.

Still, there is an awareness of the skill in Earls’ make-up and he has practiced it before this moment – whether that is in training or actually in games, learning from previous attempts, both successful and unsuccessful.

As Earls recovered to halt Daly and help Ireland keep their tryline intact in this passage, the tap tackle guru Peter Stringer himself would surely have been proud.

Source: Six Nations Rugby/YouTube

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Murray Kinsella

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