Brian Smith's Analysis - Ireland Step Up - Green and Gold Rugby

Brian Smith’s Analysis – Ireland Step Up

Brian Smith’s Analysis – Ireland Step Up

England’s Grand Slam decider was always going to be a dog fight in Dublin on St Patrick’s Day. The Irish seem to grow an arm and a leg when they play England in these big matches. It might have something to do with 800 years of history or it might just be that this English team’s knack of winning tight games eluded them on Saturday. Either way, it was an enthralling contest even if it was a dour spectacle on a soft pitch.

Ireland Came to Play

It was refreshing to see Joe Schmidt’s Irish team turn up for this battle with the intent to play. That was obvious by the way they set about trying to break down England’s defence.

These few clips illustrate Ireland’s intent with ball in hand. The first clip takes a look at Ireland’s attack from the edge – they were prepared for their forwards to keep the ball alive in order to create space for their outside backs.

With England having such a heavy Blitz Defence and great line speed, Ireland looked to attack the English tight 5 forwards a couple of times with 21 Pattern sequence plays from lineouts. This example shows the thinking behind the plan – Ireland would have created a clean bust on the blind side had the pass been a little more accurate.

England were Sloppy

It would have been very disappointing for this English team to finish their campaign with this performance. Due to Ireland’s pressure England struggled to win and maintain possession at crucial points in the match. It was a major factor in the result, and these clips illustrate the point well. In the first clip England fail to win clean ball at the lineout and are forced to kick the ball away. The second clip is only moments later but this time the same thing happens from a scrum. 


In this next clip England get turned over thanks to Ireland’s choke tackling. All three of these turnovers came early in the second half when England were trailing 10 v 6. They could not get any traction at this crucial point in the game and it cost them dearly.

Targeting Sexton

Eddie Jones is one of the few coaches in world rugby to indulge in mind games with the opposition. Most prefer to pump up their opponents, rather than tempt karma. It was only one season ago that Eddie Jones was questioning Johnny Sexton’s medical advice when he decided to play against England after a head knock in a match against France a week earlier.

I’ve no doubt Sexton was targeted in England’s defence game plan. It’s an obvious thing to do, pressure the opposition 10 who likes to play flat. However, England’s back rowers over stepped the mark and it cost them.

In the first clip you’ll see Maro Otoje hit Sexton late and concede a penalty that in turn gave Ireland the field position to score their first try…have a look at these two clips:


Sexton Has Revenge

To rub salt into English wounds Johnny Sexton banged over a penalty to seal the victory thanks again to a late tackle in the second half.


In Conclusion

England can be happy with their run of 18 wins. It’s rare a team can play so many tests without crossing paths with the All Blacks. It remains to be seen just how close this England team is to the reigning World Champions.

From my perspective England are a breath of fresh air. They’re prepared to declare their intent and they’re making great strides in their journey to the top. Well done England!

  • Moose

    Haven’t seen the game yet, but just seeing the result made my day!

  • Patrick

    Was a great game indeed!

  • Assistant TMO

    Well done the Irish. But what could that game have been with those backlines….

    Surprised at no comment on the obvious Irish midfield blocking tactic. Almost every Sexton loop was designed for blockers stopping the drift.

    And at the top level the refs really need to referee the hands/pilfer in the ruck better. It seems that a clear out is being ignored for creating a ruck (and thus preventing hands). This is creating undeserved turnovers/slow ball and turgid rugby especially at International where that extra split second means the backlines reset. (Refer WAR v BRU for some really clear examples of this)

    This Ire Eng game should have been a 50 pts+ games given the talent. If this is what they put up with what will be a large proportion of the Lions squad, I can’t see getting within 2 scores of NZ in all 3 tests

    • Who?

      I haven’t seen it, but on forming a ruck? Bear in mind that shoulder charging a tackler on the ground does not constitute ‘two players on their feet in contact closing around the ball.’ It should actually be a penalty against the guy entering the breakdown (not ruck) every time, given the requirement to bind that’s been strongly in law since 2010 (created by Bakkie’s injurying a Lion (Adam Jones?) in 2009).
      If the cleanout isn’t on the guy going for the pilfer (the arriving player, rather than the bloke on the ground), then there’s no issue with the attempted pilfer. Remember, it’s not that long ago that referees were (completely incorrectly, in terms of the wording of the laws) requiring pilferers to ‘survive the cleanout’ before they’d award a penalty. And beyond that. players have been holding on to ruck ball at the bottom of the ruck for years…

      • Assistant TMO

        With that thinking you sound more like a law knowledgable coach than a referee. There is a much more nuanced approach in refereeing the breakdown over recent years (In Aus the game management guidelines over the last few years are an excellent reference). The balance of penalties against defence vs. attack is keenly reviewed (particularly at the breakdown) so as to keep an incentive to attack with ball and not kick away. I dont have the stats, but wouldnt mind betting that this balance has swung too far to favour the defence (given prevalence of pilfer penalties and kicking) and that this is one area that they could re-focus attention on.

        On forming a ruck, I’m not referring to cleaning up the non-rolling tackler, whom should roll, but also as you say should not be charged on the ground, (nor flopped on top of to prevent the roll away and milk a penalty – another current “clever” tactic) I’m referencing players on their feet and if they’re in the tackle zone (which thanks to Italy’s recent tactics against Eng was also clarified as within 1m) and cleared out then that would be a ruck at the instant of contact. And therefore NO hands from then on. My point was that the attempted pilfer is generally after this point, but is often not penalised (as is two cracks at the ball – implicitly the second crack is definitely after a ruck has formed). Obviously we want a contest and the pilfer make good viewing, but this also creates horrendously slow ball and the lost opportunity of exciting open rugby.

        For my opinion, your view that we thought it was law to “survive the clearout” is incorrect. It is not law, but “surviving the clearout” is a good pragmatic guide as to confirm that the player was supporting their body weight, actually had hands on the ball and could at least attempt to lift it (all of which are required by law).

        • Who?

          I’ve got more coaching experience, but would love the opportunity to ref more (hard with a young family, and refereeing in my area requiring a willingness to travel up to 6 hours each way for a game).
          My line about charging the tackler on the ground not creating a ruck also ties back to Romain Poite’s explanation of the ruck to Hartley and Haskell the other weekend against Italy. It’s something that refs at the top level have consistently allowed to be used to create rucks. The question about pilfering, if the guy’s not bound and has his hands on the ball, then arguably he’s playing as a halfback, and shouldn’t be penalized until he’s bound. IF the ref’s not blowing it up then (and I didn’t think they’d been too bad on that at the top level recently), then sure, it should be blown up.
          I don’t think refs thought the law said you had to survive the cleanout, but certainly elite refs like Joubert weren’t paying pilfers – clear pilfers, where the bloke had the ball for a good couple of seconds before the cleanout arrived. I’d rather see them paid than see 50/50 pilfers – where the bloke’s only just beaten the formation of the ruck – paid. Surviving the cleanout’s no guarantee that you were holding your own weight before the cleanout arrived – if you’re digging for the ball, pulling up, when the cleanout arrives you’re quite likely to get knocked onto your backside. Meaning you won’t survive the cleanout. Whereas if you’re in there just before the ruck forms, you could survive the cleanout by being held up by the defenders (you go down for the ball, but they’re driving – correctly – up).
          That said, in my region, especially around the junior game, I’ve seen plenty of times where refs have allowed the opposite – players holding on for ages without ever being penalized.
          For mine, I’m generally ok with however it’s reffed, as long as it’s consistent. I like an open game. But if a team can’t secure its own ball, and earn fast ball, then perhaps it’s also up to them to ensure they look for a long place and support their ball carriers better. And get in and disrupt ball for the other team. As long as it’s the same for both sides…
          Just curious – do you require the ball carrier to move away from the ball? Most people are convinced it’s not required, but I’m sure it’s in the laws… You never see it penalized though (and there’s been times I’ve thought the tackler had no reason not to roll, and they’ve impeded – often at a counter ruck situation).
          Always fun discussing the technicalities of the laws. :-)

  • Greg

    Thanks for the write-up.

    I have only see a highlights package. The highlights showed one try and then a series of penalty kicks.

    I hope there was a lot more to it than that.

  • mikado

    Well played Ireland, the best team won on the day. England inaccurate in many aspects of their play and very much brought back to earth after the post-Scotland hype.

  • HK Red

    Can’t agree with the late hits on Sexton. He was clearly targeted, as all quality 10s are (think of Larkham) and some of them may have been a a touch high or little more than a shoulder, but they weren’t late. The ball generally left Sexton’s hand a fraction of a second before the hit, even in slow-mo it was maybe half a second. If the international 10 becomes a totally protected beast, then Rugby has some problems.

    • Twoilms

      Rubbish, Itoje had more than enough time to pull out. The second, maybe he doesn’t have time to pull out, but he certainly doesn’t use arms in the tackle. So a penalty anyway.

      • HK Red

        Totally disagree with you, watch it real-time, not in slow-mo. He may have been able to slow up slightly, but still would have barreled into Sexton.

  • adastra32

    England’s game relies on gaining at least set-piece parity, and preferably dominance. Yesterday, with no line-out and super-aggressive Irish line speed, they weren’t good enough. Unfortunately, a dull arm-wrestle to watch, but for Ireland it was winning rugby.

  • Nutta

    Listening to the crowds Fields Of Athenry roll around and around during the 2nd half made the hairs stand up, the whiskey flow faster and the cushions fly faster around the lounge-room in our little house anyway… Bloody Glorious. Just Bloody Glorious.

  • McWarren

    Fantastic game and well done to Ireland and well done to England for winning the title. That was a real game of rugby where defence was as or more important than attack. I note some comments below criticising the type of game played. Well I don’t agree, I’d much rather watch a hard hitting, tough, even brutal encounter than a 100 point tryathon in the cake tin or Ballymore. And give me that atmosphere every day of the week. That was Rugby not some hybrid League try hard.


Brian Smith is a rare breed who has both played and coached international rugby and doesn't mind telling it as he sees it. He's currently putting his Oxford degree to good use teaching Commerce and coaching rugby at the Scots College, Sydney.

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