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Dublin: 5°C Thursday 4 March 2021

Analysis: Stander pass sends Earls in for another Schmidt set-piece strike

The Munster back row delivered the scoring pass in what he called ‘a real team try.’

THE JOE SCHMIDT specials keep on coming.

There were a number of other times when Ireland went extremely close to cracking France with their intelligent set-piece plays yesterday but the standout example was Keith Earls’ second-half try.

“It was probably just designed around what we felt we could maybe get today,” said Schmidt post-match, confirming that this play was created to exploit possible French weaknesses that had been identified in Ireland’s pre-match analysis.

“We just felt that if we got a couple of good drives at them that they would have to commit people to the drive and if we got out and if it was on, it was on. If it wasn’t on, then CJ [Stander] could carry.”

Source: Guinness Six Nations/YouTube

Earls joined the front of the Irish lineout and remained cleverly hidden for this try, with Stander providing the deft inside pass.

The successful instance above was the second time Ireland used this set-up against the French in Dublin yesterday.

“We tried the same play with Keith in the first-half but we didn’t go through with it,” said Stander.

That first example came in the 14th minute as Ireland attacked from a right-hand-side line0ut. 

As we can see below, Earls is at the front of the lineout.


It’s a 7+1 lineout set-up for Ireland, meaning seven players in the lineout itself and one – Josh van der Flier – in the ‘receiver’ position just off the lineout.

Rory Best throws to Iain Henderson [red below], with van der Flier [yellow] moving into position to accept the transfer from Henderson as he comes to ground.


We can see that Earls [white] is doing his best not to attract attention, still facing towards the touchline even as Henderson wins the ball.

Earls wants to remain as hidden as possible here, not attracting the attention of the French defence.

But as van der Flier [yellow below] receives the ball from Henderson and splinters off to the left, as France commit to the maul defence, we can see that Earls [white] has burst around to strike on the inside of van der Flier.


Bundee Aki [blue] is arriving on van der Flier’s outside shoulder to provide an option there, which van der Flier takes in this instance.

We can see van der Flier’s pass going to Aki in the shot below but there are a number of other important factors to note.

Firstly, van der Flier’s run off the back of the forming maul has attracted Louis Picamoles [indicated in yellow below], who is France’s ‘tailgunner’ – the defender coming from the defensive ‘receiver’ position in behind the lineout.


Aki’s run, meanwhile, lures in Yoann Huget [blue], who is the first defender in France’s backline defence which starts 10 metres back from the lineout.

On the inside of van der Flier, we can see that Earls is running into clear space on Picamoles’ inside shoulder but the retreating Arthur Iturria [white] is actually blocking off the possible pass.

Had van der Flier turned the ball inside, it would probably have hit Iturra – who has jumped in the lineout and landed over on Ireland’s side – and brought about an offside penalty for Ireland. 

Either way, the space on the inside of Picamoles is clear, accentuated by the fact that tighthead prop Dorian Aldegheri [on as a blood sub for Demba Bamba] at the very back of the French lineout has committed into the maul defence [red below].


Tadhg Furlong has hooked in underneath Aldegheri’s right arm, keen to ensure the France tighthead remains locked into the maul, therefore adding to the possibility of Earls running into space on the inside of Picamoles.

Although van der Flier hit Aki on this first occasion – and Iturria blocked the inside option anyway – Ireland would have noted the space that opened up as they had felt it might.

“We realised there was a bit of space there,” said Stander. “We trained it a lot but it didn’t really work [in training] because if you do it against your own team-mates, they already know the play so it doesn’t really work!”

Before we go further, it’s worth looking at how and why Ireland realised there was a bit of space there – i.e. in behind the lineout on Picamoles’ inside shoulder.

Different teams have different defensive set-ups for lineouts in different areas of the pitch.

France tend to use hooker Guilhem Guirado [blue below] as their ‘tailgunner’ the majority of the time out the pitch, as indicated here against Ireland.


The lawbook states that the tailgunner, like the attacking receiver [Conor Murray here], must be two metres away from their team-mates in the lineout, and between the five-metre and the 15-metre lines.

With Guirado as tailgunner above, France scrum-half Antoine Dupont [white] defends in the five-metre channel, in case Ireland attack back down there.

However, close to their 22-metre line or inside the 22, France’s set-up changes, as we see below against England in round two of this Six Nations.


Guirado [blue above] has now moved into the five-metre channel to defend there, while Picamoles [yellow] is the French tailgunner.

Fascinatingly, England start with a wing, Jonny May [white below], at the front of this lineout.


England win the lineout and initially appear set to maul, luring France into piling in to defend it, with tighthead Demba Bamba [red below] committing in.


But Billy Vunipola instead passes away from the back of the forming maul to scrum-half Ben Youngs.  

Youngs surges forward diagonally and drags Picamoles with him [indicated in yellow below].


May [white] has looped around from the front of the lineout to pop up on Youngs’ outside shoulder but the sheer amount of space [indicated in green] on the inside of Picamoles is blatantly obvious in the shot above.

It’s unclear whether May was supposed to arrive to the inside of Youngs but the scale of the missed opportunity as Youngs passes to Manu Tuilagi on the outside is clear.

Ireland weren’t the only team who noted the opportunity.

Jump forward to round three of this Six Nations and we see Scotland attempting to pick the French apart on the inside of Picamoles.

As we can see below, Guirado [blue] is in the five-metre channel again, while Picamoles [yellow] has set up as the tailgunner as France defend on their 22-metre line.


This shot also shows us that wing Huget [red] is the first defender out in the backline again.

If we zoom out, we can see below that scrum-half Dupont [white] has dropped into a position 10 metres behind the lineout, covering the kind of space that a wing like Huget generally would further outfield. 


The Scots win the lineout and Josh Strauss moves into position to accept the transfer from jumper Magnus Bradbury.

As he does so, we can see hooker Stuart McInally [yellow below] looping around after his throw to take a pop pass from Strauss.


At the same time, Scotland scrum-half Greig Laidlaw [red] is darting back towards the right, the apparent intention being to draw Dupont into closing up to that side of the lineout, drawing him out of the position we’ve seen him occupying in behind the lineout.

McInally receives the ball from Strauss and as he moves infield, we can see that Picamoles is dragged with him, as indicated in yellow below.


McInally has centre Peter Horne [blue below] running a hard line to his outside, but the target here is wing Tommy Seymour [white] switching back towards Picamoles’ inside shoulder.


Unfortunately for Scotland, Seymour doesn’t take the pass and the ball bounces forward off his chest.

Even if Seymour had caught the ball, we must note that Bamba was coming across on Picamoles’ inside, as we can see below.


Click here if you cannot view the clip above

Whether or not Bamba would have stopped the fast-moving Seymour is unclear but Scotland’s bid to exploit this space on the inside of Picamoles comes to nothing.

Schmidt’s Ireland, however, were watching closely and conjuring up their own idea of how to exploit this potential weakness.

And they were only encouraged by the first-half show of space when van der Flier passed outside to Aki.

Fast forward to the 56th minute and the analysis pays off as Earls gets the pass this time and makes it count to the tune of seven points.

The initial defensive set-up is familiar to us now, with Guirado [blue below] in the five-metre channel, Picamoles [yellow] the tailgunner, Dupont [white] in behind the lineout, and Huget [red] defending in the backline.


Ireland’s set-up is the same as their earlier effort, with a 7+1 lineout.

Earls [white below] is present at the front again.


As with the first example, Henderson wins the lineout with a good lift from Peter O’Mahony at the front and James Ryan at the back.

Van der Flier is off the pitch injured at this stage, with Stander now at openside flanker and therefore filling the role van der Flier had earlier, accepting the transfer from Henderson as the lock lands.

Importantly, Ireland are a little more patient this time, just holding the ball into the dummy maul for a second longer.

As that is happening, Picamoles [yellow below] is concerned by the traffic Ireland are showing away from the lineout.


Conor Murray [green] is drifting outfield slightly, while Aki [blue] is threatening to arrive on a hard line that also occupies Huget.

We can see above that Picamoles is already leaving that familiar space on his inside shoulder.

Bamba briefly engages in towards the dummy maul [red below].


As that’s happening, Dupont [white above] is beginning to close up towards the left-hand edge of the defence, concerned about Ireland possibly bouncing back to that side. His hint of movement will be crucial in a matter of seconds.

It’s worth noting how deep Ireland make their maul here, with Furlong [green below] right up at the tip just ensuring that the late-folding Etienne Falgoux [blue] wouldn’t have any chance of getting a hand to Earls.

Furlong does briefly grab out at Bamba too, but the France tighthead frees himself. The work of O’Mahony and Jack Conan in bracing on the right side of the maul against the France counter-drive is also important.


Ireland are ready to strike after the brief dummy maul, with Stander [yellow below] splintering off infield and running at Picamoles.


Bamba [red] disengages from the maul and breaks off to arrive on Picamoles’ inside shoulder

But Earls [white] has remained completely hidden to the France tighthead and Bamba doesn’t become aware of the Ireland wing until it’s too late, Stander delivering the pass back inside after keeping his balance in breaking off the maul.


Stander has completely fixed Bamba and Picamoles and slips the pass inside for Earls to break.

“There are a few people who think I can’t pass or offload, so it was good to show them that I can pass,” said Stander.

Earls gleefully accepts the ball and accelerates into the gap, with Dupont [white below] left trying to cover back across having initially closed up towards the touchline.


“If you can put Earlsy in space like that, he’s going to slice them and he’s going to score a try,” said Stander. “It was great pace that he showed.”

The players’ delight at pulling off this pre-planned play was clear at the time and though Schmidt’s men will have frustrations at how they finished the game after this bonus-point score, it was another satisfying example of their excellence on lineout attack.

With Schmidt’s intellect ably supported by hard-working analysts Vinnie Hammond and Mervyn Murphy, as well as a group of players who relish working hard to get their detail right on these plays, they remain a major weapon for Ireland in this World Cup year.

“It’s a great feeling,” said Stander of this effort. “Scoring a try is great but when it’s a team try like that.

“Besty, big throw. A bit of mauling, the outside guys running a few decoys.

“A real team try.”

Originally published at 07.01

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Murray Kinsella

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