In the second feature in this new series, Sam Larner breaks down the skill of finishing off opportunities
Six Nations Analysis: Finishing
In the 2019 Six Nations, there was no match won by a team who scored fewer tries than the opposition. In 2017 and 2018, the tournament had just one of these games each and there have been none so far in 2020.
That is just two matches out of 51 where the winning team have scored fewer tries than the opposition – or 4%. It is vital to score tries but, because it is so important, it is also incredibly hard.
Gaining a metre anywhere on the pitch is relatively straightforward. Going from one metre from the line to over it is significantly more complicated. As Scotland are showing in this tournament, just because you get into the opposition 22 it does not mean that you can score a try.
Outside of the 22, the opposition will have at least two players dropped out of their defensive line and maybe as many as four if they are very far from their line. That provides space to attack.
On their own line teams do not need to drop anybody back. There is very little space to attack, so the defence comes out of the blocks and pressures the attack. How does the attack overcome this to finish off tries? They use one of these three methods…
As an attacker, when facing 15 defenders, you need to beat an opposition defender to get over the line. The simplest way to do this is through individual skill.
Jordan Larmour showed the importance of individual skills against Wales. Ireland have tied the Welsh defenders into one area and then shift the ball wide to exploit that.
Wales are now operating in a scramble defence. This means that they do not have a set defence and instead need to sprint across the pitch to stop the try. When Larmour receives the ball he looks to pass to the winger, Andrew Conway.
As you can see, Conway is well marshalled by both Leigh Halfpenny and Josh Adams. By keeping the ball in two hands Larmour keeps the threat of the pass alive. That pulls Nick Tompkins across and leaves Aaron Wainwright suddenly in a key defensive position.
When Larmour steps back, Wainwright is too far away to influence the full-back. Larmour finishes strongly to score the first try of the match.
By tying the defence into the middle of the pitch, Ireland force the defenders to sprint to the sidelines. With their minds focused on getting to the side they are susceptible to a simple step back, as Larmour showed.
When the attack is close to the opposition line you will see a lot of pick-and-goes or one-out carries. The idea is that the carrier receives the ball, or picks it up from the ruck, and drives low into the defender. If you stay lower than the defender it is almost impossible to prevent you getting over the gain-line. Add a couple more bodies behind you and it gets harder again to stop.
Tadhg Furlong’s try, Ireland’s second, is a perfect example of this. He receives the pass from Conor Murray and his only job is to get lower than Dillon Lewis.
A key element is the Murray pass. It looks simple but if this pass is too high, or behind Furlong, it makes it much harder for the prop to get his body position low.
When Furlong hits Lewis he is shunted through by Peter O’Mahony and Rob Herring. Lewis is joined by Hadleigh Parkes and Jake Ball, who end up tackling O’Mahony and Herring. By that point, Furlong is over the top of Lewis and in for the try.
Rather than sidestep a defender, as we saw in the first example, in this case you beat a defender by going straight through them.
Related: Six Nations Analysis – The Last Pass
Whenever a team passes up a kick at goal in favour of kicking to the corner, they need to come away with a try to make the decision worthwhile.
Most teams will choose to maul from their lineout in the opposition 22. The problem is that defences will typically not contest the lineout and instead drive the maul backwards as soon as the catcher reaches the ground. Attackers therefore need to try something different.
Ireland did this by removing the lift from the lineout. They threw directly to James Ryan. This put Wales on the back foot because they could not get there quick enough to drive Ireland back.
If you watch you can see that Wales have kept Dillon Lewis, Ken Owens, and Justin Tipuric out of the maul to defend against Ireland peeling off and attacking the back of the line. Wales never get a chance to use any of them as the ball is already over the line before any of that trio can join the maul.
You can see how Wales achieve something similar at 5.57 in this clip. Adam Beard receives the ball but immediately flips it to Ross Moriarty at the back of the lineout.
Ireland have defended the front but by moving the point of attack Wales are able to push through a much weaker defensive effort and score a consolation try.
Scoring tries in rugby is hard but it is especially difficult to finish off an opportunity when you get into the opposition 22.
Of course, you could just avoid the issue and score from your own half, as Baptiste Serin did for France.
During the second round of matches we have seen the ingenious ways that teams gain the most important metre on the pitch. In the third round look to see how teams change their attack when they get into the opposition 22.
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