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Analysis: How Saracens took away Tadhg Beirne's jackal threat

The Munster lock was left frustrated in Coventry on Saturday.

CJ STANDER AND Rory Scannell earned turnover penalties for Munster in the opening 15 minutes but, all in all, it was a frustrating afternoon for the southern province at the breakdown in their Heineken Champions Cup semi-final defeat to Saracens.

Tadhg Beirne, the most prolific jackaler in the competition with 12 breakdown turnovers this season, was unable to exert the kind of influence he so often does.

Tadhg Beirne dejected after the game Beirne did get one turnover late in the game. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Saracens had promised that they had a plan to deal with Beirne’s threat at the breakdown and they showed major energy and accuracy in negating his ability.

The Munster lock was also frustrated by some of the refereeing around the breakdown as he was denied the opportunity to make the kind of game-changing steals that are his calling card.

Peter O’Mahony, another danger post-tackle, had a similar afternoon to Beirne as Saracens managed to retain possession and fatigue Munster’s defence.

Here, we look at how each of Beirne’s jackal efforts – and those that didn’t even develop that far – unfolded at the Ricoh Arena.

4:25

Jackson Wray carries for Saracens and Beirne is involved in the tackle along with Dave Kilcoyne.

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Beirne is generally excellent at being involved as an assist tackler and then rapidly releasing from the tackle and reloading to pounce for a turnover.

Saracens’ early focus on him is clear here, however, as the arriving Michael Rhodes engages with Beirne even before he can help complete the tackle, as indicated below.

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As Titi Lamositele engages with Kilcoyne, Rhodes drives Beirne beyond the tackle.

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As indicated above, Beirne appeals to referee Jerome Garces that he’s been driven too deep beyond the ball and taken out of the game.

But Saracens are left with a beautifully clean recycle and launch a kick off this platform, winning the ball back in the air.

10:17

We see something similar several minutes later as Beirne is again involved in a tackle, this time going in high on Billy Vunipola as Stander tackles low.

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Again, the tackle hasn’t been even been completed and already Saracens are dealing with Beirne, hooker Jamie George the man to drive in on the Ireland international second row on this occasion.

With George making an early intervention, Beirne has no scope to shift from tackle assist into the jackal position.

11:40

After the sides exchange kicks, we get Beirne’s first genuine jackal chance of the game.

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Beirne, as is so often the case, is sweeping across from the inside of the tackle – Conor Murray grounding Alex Goode in this case.

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Beirne is particularly effective in this movement, very often succeeding with turnover attempts by beating the opposition’s support players to the breakdown when the tackle isn’t dominant.

That’s the case here, with Beirne swooping over the ball as he sets his legs wide apart in a bid for stability.

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George Kruis [yellow] and Brad Barritt [green] need to be impactful and aggressive to remove the turnover threat.

Kruis [yellow below] is the first arrival and he hammers into Beirne’s right shoulder and arm, looking to remove Beirne’s ability to grasp onto the ball.

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We can see above that Beirne’s elbow is down on the ground, so he’s not technically on his feet competing here.

But the hope is that the arriving Saracens players will drive him back up onto his feet as he grips onto the ball.

Unfortunately for Beirne, the accuracy of Saracens’ clearout means he can’t actually cling onto the ball. Kruis takes out his right arm and then, as we see below, Barritt [green] removes his left.

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As scrum-half Ben Spencer arrives in to clear the ball away, Barritt continues to grasp Beirne’s left arm, while Kruis – having gone to ground – pulls at his right leg to further destabilise him.

While Beirne doesn’t successfully win a turnover here, he does slow the Saracens possession and Munster are able to bring aggressive linespeed on the next phase.

12:16

Saracens kick to compete once again and Liam Williams bats the ball back on their side, where Kruis gathers it and is wrestled to the ground by John Ryan and Beirne.

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Beirne is left standing over Kruis on the ground, posing a clear threat to the ball.

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Clearly, Beirne is to the side of the tackle, however.

He needs to sweep himself in behind Kruis [as indicated in white above] if he is to make a legal turnover.

But before Beirne can even begin to shift himself into that position, Williams acts.

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Williams gets up off the ground and drives into Beirne from the side, clearing him away from Kruis and deep beyond the tackle.

Again, Beirne appeals to Garces by calling, “Sir!” but play continues.

Munster’s O’Mahony, completely off his feet, handles the ball on the ground [yellow below], as Saracens hooker George engages from the side of the ruck with a slightly swinging arm into O’Mahony’s torso [blue below].

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A beautiful image of the modern breakdown.

20:15

Beirne’s next sniff at the ball arrives in the 21st minute. Again, he is left frustrated and hurt.

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Stander is the tackler on Itoje, dropping in low around his legs, with Beirne arriving late in the tackle to help the Saracens lock to ground.

Just as Beirne looks to release and get his hands onto the ball, Mako Vunipola arrives in at pace, dipping low and colliding with Beirne’s head as he flops off his feet.

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Vunipola’s intervention proves effective, though, with Garces content to allow play to continue.

Beirne is left on the ground holding his head.

 31:39

Having discarded his scrum cap, Beirne’s next poaching attempt is more than 10 minutes later but again Saracens nip it in the bud.

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Kilcoyne and Jean Kleyn tackle Williams as he returns a kick, with Beirne sensing an opportunity.

However, Kruis [yellow below] arrives in low to take out Beirne’s right arm – already impeded from getting at the ball by tackler Kleyn.

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Before George [green below] drives in to take away Beirne’s left arm and complete the job.

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Beirne pulls himself clear and rejoins the defensive line.

32:10

Several phases later in this same passage of Saracens possession, Beirne has another thought of jackaling.

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Billy Vunopola’s footwork has allowed him to step to the inside of Beirne before Kleyn tackles the Saracens number eight.

Again, Beirne has some involvement in the later stages of the tackle but he intends to immediately bounce back up onto his feet and look for a turnover.

However, as we can see below, Maro Itoje drops straight down onto Beirne to pin him into position on the ground.

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There’s no scope for Beirne to work back to his feet and Saracens continue to run at Munster.

38:44

Beirne has two final jackal attempts in the closing passage of the first half, first looking to get over the ball from Saracens’ lineout attack.

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Beirne’s approach is from the side of the tackle in this instance and the presence of Williams on the ground just in front of him – having rolled tackler Tyler Bleyendaal away – means he can’t get into a stronger position.

Mako Vunipola dips in low from Beirne’s left, wrapping onto his left arm and left leg, and shunts him clear of the ball.

38:50

Beirne has another sniff very soon after but, as we can see below, the arriving Kruis dips in underneath the Munster lock’s shoulders to deny him.

3850

Beirne can’t get a grip onto the ball as the tackled Billy Vunipola stretches it back to Saracens’ side and Beirne backs away.

41:01

Saracens scored with their very first possession of the second half, a huge blow to Munster’s hopes of winning this semi-final.

It was an impressive 22-phase passage of attack that saw Mark McCall’s men dealing with Beirne’s two bids to slow or steal their ball.

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Beirne’s first effort is again stamped out before it takes flame.

Nick Tompkins [yellow below] drives in on Beirne’s left side, wrapping up his arm, while Itoje comes from Beirne’s right, engaging onto his arm and leg [green].

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Again, Beirne has no stability and is driven away from the ball.

It’s worth noting ball-carrier Billy Vunipola’s finishing position here.

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Vunipola has his body up over the ball, having squeezed it back between his legs.

This serves to deny Beirne even the briefest glimpse of direct access to the ball before Tompkins and Itoje arrive.

All Beirne needs is a split second to latch on, but Vunipola’s work on the ground ensures there is no opening.

41:53

Beirne gets into an extremely promising position on the 15th phase of Saracens’ attack, staying up on his feet as Kleyn tackles the hard-running Kruis.

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Beirne will have been frustrated not to get rewarded in this instance.

He’s over the ball with a clear view of it in the moment below.

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Jackson Wray [yellow] is coming from the side of the breakdown and is key in denying Beirne the turnover or a penalty.

Alex Lozowski is on the other side of the breakdown and makes an attempt to get to Beirne but trips over Kleyn as he rolls away.

Beirne gets his hands onto the ball but Kruis firmly tucks his left arm over it, failing to release.

Wray, having entered from the side, has one shot at removing Beirne and does so with a dynamic ‘croc roll’.

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Garces is content with the clearout and Saracens continue to attack, scoring seven phases later as Munster’s heavy fatigue shows.

50:05

Beirne is frustrated once again in the 51st minute as he questions Saracens’ entry to no avail.

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It is debatable whether Itoje comes ‘through the gate’ in this example, although we should remember that referees tend to give the rucking players some leeway when a tackler is on the ground directly in front of the tackled player.

That is the case here as Munster tighthead Ryan ends up in that position. Itoje’s clearout on Beirne – again hooking his leg to destabilise him – is extremely dynamic.

We can see Beirne appealing to referee Garces but play continues.

64:42

With Munster finally enjoying some possession, Beirne’s next effort in this department comes with the game heading into the final 15 minutes.

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We can see Saracens’ urgency and alertness once again in this example, as Itoje picks up Beirne’s presence and beats him into the breakdown.

A split second of a delay from Itoje in engaging here and Beirne would likely have been onto the ball and locked into a strong position. 

64:49

Perhaps the most frustrating breakdown incident of Beirne’s day comes on the very next phase as he makes what he feels is a clean and legal turnover.

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Referee Garces, however, immediately whistles for a Saracens penalty.

He indicates the offence and then follows up to say, “Entry, then hands.”

Essentially, Garces feels Beirne has entered the breakdown from the side before handling the ball in a ruck.

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With Goode’s carry taking him over the gainline, Beirne [yellow] is retreating to get to the breakdown but he’s making an effort to finish in a position where his feet are behind the tackle.

It’s a movement that all good jackals use – generally leaving them in a position that ‘paints a good picture’ to the referee. 

Saracens hooker George [white] is coming from a more front-on position towards the breakdown and it’s arguable that Beirne’s more side-on approach allows him to win the race to the ball and strip it clear of Goode.

There is justification for Garces penalising Beirne for his entry here, certainly, but the frustration for Munster will have been that the referee did not penalise similar or worse entries from the attacking side.

68:57

Just after Saracens have earned a counter-ruck turnover, Beirne has a shot at the ball only to be blasted clear of it.

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Itoje – who had a superb game – does well to win ‘the shoulder battle’ again by dipping in underneath Beirne and then using his impressive upper body strength to lift the Munster lock up away from the ball.

Will Skelton then arrives in with aggression to combine with Itoje in driving Beirne to ground and allow their team to recycle.

75:13

With the closing minutes ticking away and the game already lost, Beirne continued in his bid to pilfer Saracens possession.

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As is his habit when looking for a steal, Beirne allows his fellow tackler – Stephen Archer in this case – to complete the bulk of the work in the tackle as he assists in bringing ball-carrier Joe Gray to ground.

As Beirne then looks to shift his focus onto the ball, Richard Barrington, Williams and Tompkins arrive to clear the ruck.

Williams wraps his right arm around Beirne’s neck as he clears him out but play continues again.

75:54

It’s actually Beirne’s very last jackal effort of the afternoon that finally sees him got some reward, as foul play from Saracens sees Munster handed a penalty and Vincent Koch getting a yellow card.

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An incredibly quick release and reload after Billy Vunipola carries leaves Beirne on the ball and he wins a clean turnover as Koch and Itoje pick him off the ground and turn him beyond the horizontal.

Garces and his TMO Philippe Bonhoure review the incident, speaking in French, although Garces says in English that Beirne “lands on the top of the shoulder.” 

Beirne is left in a very dangerous position after being lifted by Itoje and Koch, with Garces initially feeling he should yellow-card Itoje. 

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Bonhoure suggests another look and Garces can see Koch’s involvement.

While Bonhoure doesn’t directly say that both Saracens players should be carded, he does press Garces to continue watching replays but the referee tells him, “C’est bon” and bins Koch.

With the game already well over, the turnover and yellow card for Sarries are of little consolation to Beirne after a frustrating day at the office.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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