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'Targeting' and ending contests early - POC pushes Ireland's LQB at the ruck

The breakdown battle will be as crucial as ever at Twickenham this weekend.

Ireland forwards coach Paul O'Connell.
Ireland forwards coach Paul O'Connell.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Updated Mar 9th 2022, 8:31 AM

THE IMPRESSION THAT Andy Farrell’s Ireland have been playing at high speed in recent times is backed up by one very important statistic.

So far in the Six Nations, Ireland have had an average ruck speed of just 2.89 seconds, according to Opta.

A ruck lasting less than 3 seconds counts as ‘lightning quick ball’ [LQB] so Ireland are doing very well in this department. They’ve produced the quickest ruck ball of anyone in the Six Nations so far and are the only team with an average of under 3 seconds.

Ireland have also won 96.1% of their own rucks, so even though they had some damaging losses in this area during their defeat away to France, they have generally been excellent at this element of the game.

Only England have won more of their rucks at 96.4% but the issue for Eddie Jones’ team is that their average ruck speed is 3.78 seconds. That might not sound like a great deal more than Ireland’s figure, but the gap of nearly a full second can be the difference between scoring a try and the defence being set to stop you.

Slowing Ireland’s speed of ruck will be foremost in the English minds this Saturday at Twickenham, with Jones’ men sure to have taken some inspiration from how France went about it with their blend of counter-rucking and jackaling.

Ireland know the challenge is coming and their own thoughts are on nailing down the things they have done well at the ruck since Paul O’Connell came in to lead this area in early 2021.

“Our ruck is massive,” says Ireland second row James Ryan, always a busy and impactful player in this department.

james-ryan James Ryan is fit again for Ireland. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“I think it has come on a lot in the last 12 months. Against Italy, it was OK but against France, we probably went a little bit away from it.  

“For us, it’s not making assumptions, that’s what we’ve spoken about – not assuming that just because our ruck has been good so far that it’s just going to be good at the weekend. We’ve got to keep driving the things that we’re good at.”

So what have Ireland done well when the ruck has been at its best?

“Paulie would drive the ‘targeting’ message,” explains Ryan, who is fit again after missing the Italy game with an adductor injury, “so targeting bodies and almost ignoring the ball and targeting the threat. That’s big for us.

“Another area would be around ending the contest before the tackle is finished, so winning the race, getting in there nice and early. And if we do that, we can play on top of teams and play early to space.

“It’s the core of our attack and we’ve got to keep being aggressive, early, and accurate.”

On the other side of the ball, Ireland will be keen on ensuring that England’s ruck speed remains relatively slow. An enthralling contest awaits in this part of the game.

O’Connell’s forward pack will have a busy, demanding day. The scrum will be fascinating, particularly with two first-choice Irish front rows missing in Andrew Porter and Rónan Kelleher. The English trio of Ellis Genge,  Jamie George, and Kyle Sinckler will no doubt go on the assault. Referee Mathieu Raynal could have some big calls.

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englands-maro-itoje-wales-will-rowlands Maro Itoje is the chief destroyer for England. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The lineout is the other area that Ireland lock Ryan picks out. This is where Maro Itoje will lead the onslaught for the English.

“Set-piece is huge,” says Ryan, “how accurate we can be with our lineout in terms of our strike plays. They’ve got individuals that really like to disrupt the set-piece and we’ve got to be really accurate there.”

Ireland’s pack will need an aggressive edge to get the better of the English in Twickenham. The memory of Ryan and co. bullying the England forwards back in 2018 remains relatively fresh but Ireland have had three consecutive defeats in Twickers since.

Head coach Farrell spoke after the France game about Ireland not getting caught in the physicality “trap” the next time they played a big, powerful team, and Ryan is cognisant of how that may have been the case in the past.

“Maybe we think too much about getting stuck in and maybe we let ourselves down a bit on other parts of the game, maybe the accuracy,” says Ryan. 

“A big thing is getting the balance right between the intent and the focus. I thought we lacked a bit of focus at times against France. We were full of intent but it’s just getting that balance right this weekend.

“Irish teams going away to Twickenham, there would be an issue if you weren’t full of intent, but we’ve got to make sure we’ve got that focus piece right as well so we can be accurate.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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