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Paul O'Connell's influence continues to grow as Ireland's pack dominates

The former Munster and Ireland lock has made a big impact since joining in January.

Paul O'Connell embraces Caelan Doris.
Paul O'Connell embraces Caelan Doris.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Updated Nov 24th 2021, 9:00 AM

WORD FROM WITHIN Ireland camp is that Paul O’Connell has had a big influence behind the scenes as Andy Farrell’s side have made obvious progress.

O’Connell joined as forwards coach at the start of this year and his impact is becoming clearer out on the pitch with every Ireland game.

The former Munster and Ireland lock’s history meant he had instant respect off the pitch from players but he has impressed the squad with his consistent levels of detail, clarity, concise communication, honesty, and desire for the players to take real accountability.

As well as driving Ireland’s lineout, maul and restarts, O’Connell has helped to develop the team’s breakdown work, which has been superb over the course of the past three weekends.

70% of Ireland’s breakdown recycles this month took less than three seconds – which is termed as lightning-quick ball. That was a very pleasing return indeed.

Sunday’s win over Argentina was a particularly happy outing for O’Connell’s pack as they bullied the Pumas forwards, continuing their excellent maul form, enjoying a 100% return on their lineout throw, making a lineout steal, and delivering precise breakdown work.

A week after being wasteful inside the New Zealand 22, Ireland were ultra-clinical against Argentina.

They went from a return of 1.33 points per 22 entry against the All Blacks to 5.00 points per entry against the Pumas – a huge leap.

The maul was an important factor, with Ireland scoring two of their seven tries directly from that source, including their first.

Ireland run a 5+1 lineout five metres out from the Argentina tryline – so five forwards in the lineout itself and Josh van der Flier as the ‘+1′ in the receiver position [blue below].

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Caelan Doris is not involved as he instead lines up in midfield [yellow above] to offer a ball-carrying threat off the set-piece.

As we can see below, Ireland’s movement in the lineout is straightforward as Tadhg Beirne starts at the front, takes three steps backwards, makes a dummy plant as if he’s about to jump, then shifts back another couple of steps.

TB

Front lifter Andrew Porter and back lifter Peter O’Mahony have exactly the same pattern on the ground.

Argentina get a good read on Beirne’s movement and though many teams in this position so close to the tryline would stay on the ground and ready themselves to make a big impact in the maul, the Pumas decide to compete in the air.

The athletic Guido Petti gets up with a good lift and is a real danger but Ireland’s excellent lineout drill sees them win the set-piece.

TB

The image above is a beautiful one for O’Connell and co. Note the full extension of lifters Porter and O’Mahony ensuring that Beirne is launched high enough to claim Rónan Kelleher’s accurate throw.

Beirne wins the ball ‘double tops’ – with both hands up overhead at full extension and maximum height – and it’s essential here because a slightly lower throw from Kelleher probably would have seen Petti get a hand in onto the ball.

TB1

The whole process from Ireland is sharp, concise, and dynamic, getting Beirne up and down swiftly as the Irish maul takes shape around him.

As Beirne wins the ball, van der Flier moves towards him to accept a transfer when the second row gets back to ground.

Meanwhile, James Ryan [red below] comes from the tail of the lineout to slot in on van der Flier’s left-hand side, while Tadhg Furlong [white] moves into position on van der Flier’s right.

Shape

With Petti in the air and two Pumas lifters obviously occupied, Ireland are already sensing their opportunity here. 

Irish lifters Porter [blue below] and O’Mahony [red] do a superb job of ‘bracing’ at the front of the maul after completing their first task.

Porter

Porter and O’Mahony snap down into position on either side of Beirne, providing the Irish maul with a solid, tight front edge – ensuring that Argentina won’t be able to crack through any seams and target the ball.

Also note above how Ireland have won the race to get into mauling shape. Argentina still don’t have a single player engaged into a counter-drive and Ireland are ready to surge forward.

While the Pumas do react, Ireland rapidly and ruthlessly expose the opening as they shift their drive right.

Shift

This shift to the right exposes the positioning of Argentina’s defenders, who now end up accentuating Ireland’s move infield as they finally drop into mauling positions.

Arg

Kelleher has arrived from the touchline and usually van der Flier would transfer the ball back to his hooker but Ireland are already hammering their way towards the tryline and van der Flier has excellent protection from Porter and Ryan on his left side.

We can see below that Petti is reaching over the top of Ryan in a bid to get his hands on the ball, but it’s already beyond him as O’Mahony and Beirne [red] rotate and help the Irish maul to make the final couple of metres.

POM

The sheer dynamism and dominance of Ireland’s maul means van der Flier can deliver a very clear finish.

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Ireland scored another maul try later in the game, with replacement hooker Dan Sheehan finishing smartly after more accurate work by his team-mates.

It’s a 6+1 lineout this time but the maul set-up is almost identical.

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Again, the lineout drill is sharp as Doris is lifted by Cian Healy and O’Mahony, who does a strong job of bracing at the front of the maul.

Tom O’Toole [18] brings plenty of power as Ireland get their right edge up again, with Nick Timoney transferring to hooker Sheehan, who snipes off to the right when replacement scrum-half Gonzalo Bertranou is left exposed by the Pumas forwards having to commit into the maul.

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When Ireland’s maul couldn’t make up the final few metres, Ireland were still clinical close to the Pumas tryline.

This was an issue against New Zealand, who deserve plenty of credit for the manner in which they defended their tryline two weekends ago.

Nonetheless, O’Connell and his pack clearly spent plenty of last week’s preparation focusing on the important details that helped them over the line against the Pumas.

Porter’s first-half try is one example. On the phase just before the score, watch how van der Flier adds a hint of variety to the usual pick-and-jam tactics in this area.

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It initially appears van der Flier will carry the ball himself here, with Porter loaded to be his inside latch.

As van der Flier picks the ball, he engages Pumas prop Thomas Gallo [red below].

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VDF

As Gallo launches himself into a tackle on van der Flier, the Ireland flanker passes to Ryan on his right.

With Gallo committed, Ryan angles his run back inside Pablo Matera and launches himself over the gainline.

Kelleher’s work after Ryan goes to ground is important here, as he takes a step deep past the breakdown.

RK

Kelleher holds his ground beyond the breakdown, meaning Petti can’t fold over to the other side and defend there on the next phase. It’s subtle stuff from Kelleher but he’s not directly grabbing at Petti so doesn’t attract attention from the refereeing team.

Petti’s inability to fold means Tomás Lavanini is left isolated, as we see below.

TL

Ireland create a major overload against Lavanini to seal the score.

Referees have been asked to clamp down on pre-latching by more than one player and Ireland are careful in this instance. 

Doris is set up as the inside latch [blue blow] for Porter, while there is also an option of another pass off the base to O’Mahony and Beirne [red].

O

But Porter fancies his chances against the isolated Lavanini and he picks before dipping low into the contact, getting his shoulder underneath Lavanini’s.

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As Doris provides extra impetus from inside and Beirne leans into the contest from outside, watch how O’Mahony ‘tackles the tackler’ by driving through Lavanini.

It’s something we see from players all the time in possibly choke tackle scenarios as they look to ensure defenders can’t complete a turnover. In this instance, it helps to depower Lavanini and allow Porter to drive his way over the line to finish.

We saw a similar finish for Healy’s second-half try, with Timoney latching from inside as O’Toole and Baird do the same from outside.

CH

It’s smart from Healy here not to completely launch himself at the tryline with full force, instead looking to ride the initial contact from Argentina, knowing that his latchers and his leg drive can get him over the line.

This is all stuff that Ireland spend time working on and discussing during training weeks. While it might not be as glamorous as some of their other scores this autumn, it will have been highly satisfying for O’Connell and his forwards.

As well as their technical qualities, Ireland brought huge physical dynamism and aggression to the party over the past three weekends – typified so often by van der Flier.

VDF Finish

For this finish, van der Flier cleverly picks out Argentina left wing Lucio Cinti Luna in the defensive line and demands the ball from Craig Casey.

It certainly helps O’Connell when his forwards are playing with a menacing attitude like van der Flier shows here.

The Irish pack will face some big challenges next year, particularly in travelling to play England, France and New Zealand in a three-Test series where revenge will very much be on the Kiwis’ minds.

But Ireland’s forwards are in good hands with O’Connell guiding the way.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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