Wednesday 1 February 2023 Dublin: 8°C
'I think it's fixable' - Ireland's lineout crumbles under English pressure
Ireland captain Rory Best had a tough day out of touch at Twickenham.

Murray Kinsella reports from Twickenham

IRELAND AT THEIR best in the Joe Schmidt era have tended to have a smooth-running lineout, with so many of their tries coming from that vital possession source.

Today at Twickenham, we saw just how damaging it can be when that set-piece crumbles, as Ireland’s did under pressure from an English pack hungry to leave a mark on Schmidt’s side.

Lineout stats can sometimes be misleading but there is no confusion in Ireland’s numbers from London – nine wins on their 15 throws left them with a 60% return.

rory-best-watches-from-the-sidelines Dan Sheridan / INPHO Rory Best and Ireland were left with plenty to ponder at the lineout. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Not only did those six losses of possession deny Ireland a chance to attack England, they actively invited Eddie Jones’ side on.

Manu Tuilagi’s damaging try just before the half-time break stemmed from an Irish lineout shortcoming, this one just 10 metres out from their tryline. Iain Henderson jumped at the tail but George Kruis was able to pick off Rory Best’s throw all too easily.

Peter O’Mahony did nearly win a breakdown turnover back for Ireland but knocked-on in the process and England scored through some feeble defence off the resulting scrum.

The costly lineout failings continued when Best’s poor throw escaped the hands of Henderson at the tail of an Irish lineout just outside their own 22 soon after half-time.

14 seconds later, Maro Itoje dotted down to power England into a 29-10 lead. Any idea of an Irish comeback was essentially over.

The theme continued even after changes in the pack, as Sean Cronin’s went right over the top of O’Mahony at the front of a five-metre lineout, landing in the arms of Luke Cowan-Dickie, who could scarcely believe how handy a finish he had been given.

It was a lineout performance of shambolic proportions from Ireland, only four weeks before they open their World Cup against Scotland, leaving it chief among the worries for Schmidt.

owen-farrell-has-words-with-rory-best-of-ireland-after-george-kruis-scored-a-try James Crombie / INPHO Owen Farrell stands over Rory Best after George Kruis' try. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“I think it’s really frustrating when your set-piece doesn’t go the way you planned,” said Ireland captain Best when asked what had gone wrong.

“There’s a big difference between training, when you try to put as much pressure on as you can, and then coming up against a lineout defence that’s one of the best in the world.

“We won the first one and it went well, but then they competed on the second and I think we just got within ourselves a little bit and everyone got a little bit nervous and they kept coming after us there. There’s no doubt that it affected our game.

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“We’ve got to look at why it affected our game, how we can be better. I think we can increase the pace we come in at – they gave us a lesson in whenever a team is not ready to just hit the line and go. Whereas we were a bit laboured coming in and gave them a few pictures to look at and move around and read.

“A combination of a couple of throws not right, a couple of calls, a couple of the movements being a bit slow. I thought we were in a good place but it was a big lesson for us today.

“There’s not a lot else you can do but hold your hands up and say that we weren’t good enough there.”

Best stressed that Ireland can make things right at lineout time, even before the visit to Wales next weekend, when they’re sure to come under more intense pressure on their own throw.

rory-best-and-conor-murray-dejected-on-the-sidelines Dan Sheridan / INPHO Best and Conor Murray watch on as Ireland lose heavily. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“I think it’s fixable,” said Best. “When you look at our set-piece over the last while, it’s been a strength for us, something we launch off. Obviously, that horrific day in Cardiff [during this year's Six Nations], it malfunctioned a little bit and that was disappointing.

“It was disappointing today and we’re big enough to wear that. We’ve had a few iffy days before and come back again the next week against some of the best teams and performed really well. I think we have a good process there.

“Nothing’s quite like the pressure when you get into a game. It will either confirm that, yes, you’re in a really good spot or else you go, ‘Oh shit, we’re not quite where we want to be.’ Today proved that we’re not quite where we want to be. 

“It wasn’t good enough but I know we can be a lot better than that.”

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