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Easterby and Ireland set about fixing their lineout and maul problems

Missed lineouts and missed maul chances were the story of the day at Twickenham last weekend.

Maro Itoje competes with James Ryan in the lineout.
Maro Itoje competes with James Ryan in the lineout.
Image: Ian Walton

IRELAND WERE DUE to send a player in front of the media yesterday for their virtual press conference but instead Simon Easterby opted to put himself forward for interview.

The assistant coach is in charge of Ireland’s lineout – as well as working on their defence – and so, with everyone already having discussed Ireland’s lineout, Easterby clearly felt it was worth having a chat in that area.

No one who watched the game at Twickenham last weekend will need reminding that Ireland’s lineout and maul had a damagingly poor display against England.

Repeated Irish lineout errors in the first half contributed towards Eddie Jones’ going 12-0 up, with their second try coming directly from a botched Ireland lineout 10 metres out from the English tryline. Later in the game, Easterby’s charges were unable to threaten from a series of five-metre lineouts which they would have hoped to maul over.

Given that there were lineout issues against France recently too, there has been some worry around this area among Ireland supporters.

While Easterby rejected the notion that Ireland’s confidence in their lineout is now a concern, he did admit that what happened at Twickenham wasn’t good enough.

“Should we be better in those moments? Yes, 100%. We need to take those opportunities when they arise.

“We work hard to get ourselves into those positions, close to the opposition try line, and we need to make sure that we deliver more accuracy and effectiveness in our lineout drills.”

As head coach Andy Farrell had done post-match, Easterby was keen to underline how Ireland were working with new combinations at the lineout last weekend, with 22-year-old hooker Ronan Kelleher making his second Test start and 24-year-old James Ryan relatively new to calling the lineout, with further lack of cohesion around him.

irelands-ronan-kelleher Ronan Kelleher made his second Test start last weekend. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Easterby was keen to stress that lineout errors are never solely down to the hooker, even in the instances of overthrows.

“I would say in defence of the hookers that there has to be a consistency in our movement, in our jumps, in preparation during the week and then the delivering of that at the weekend,” said Easterby.

“There was certainly an example of us not performing those drills that we did in the week and taking them into the game. What can look like an overthrow to the naked eye can actually be avoided by making sure the guys are consistent in their movement and their jumps so that the hooker has a feel that what he has done all week and puts it right on the money and it looks like it’s slightly off because someone has created that change.”

Iain Henderson had succeeded Devin Toner as Ireland’s chief lineout caller but was sidelined for the first few games of the autumn campaign and only returned on the bench last weekend, meaning Ryan took on the duties of running the set-piece.

There is little doubt that he and Ireland would make a few different calls if they could play last weekend’s game all over again but instead Easterby says they need to nail this week’s preparation ahead of the Georgia game on Sunday.

“Myself and a couple of guys in the lineout would meet and discuss the plan for the week, discuss how we want to attack and defend against an opposition, discuss the framework and, for the want of a better word, the menu that we’re putting together,” said Easterby of the process involved in selecting Ireland’s lineout plays each week.

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“Then, off the back of some really good discussions, we present that to the rest of the forward pack with a view to start digesting and investing some time into that menu for the week.”

Whether it’s Henderson or Ryan this week, Ireland have one specific lineout leader for their attack and also designate one player to run the defensive side of the lineout with a “focus on ball-winning and the calls they’ll use for that.” 

Lineout jumpers and throwers are important, of course, but the lifters and dummy jumpers are essential on each play too. Everything must come together fluidly for the lineout to work and Ireland haven’t been getting it right often enough recently.

simon-easterby Easterby is in charge of Ireland's lineout. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Even when they have won the ball in the air, their maul has been repelled from five and 10 metres out in those big games against France and England.

“I think it is difficult to score from those areas,” said Easterby. “I think in general it’s more challenging in the air

“Often that challenge in the air can just off-set a jumper landing, so it might be a challenge in the air which to the naked eye that looks like nothing but it forces the jumper to land maybe half a metre, a metre, away from the position where he thinks he’s going to land, away from the position that his guys coming into support him think he is going to land.

“That doesn’t change us getting our stuff better, and making sure that we’re on top of our things and deliver more accuracy and more effectiveness in our ball-winning and our maul attack.”

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Murray Kinsella

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