Sam Larner looks at the pointers we can take from the Italy victory into the championship finale
Six Nations Analysis: How Ireland can disrupt France
After almost eight months, the fourth round of the 2020 Six Nations has been completed. It was a 26th consecutive loss for Italy. Ireland have now scored 50 or more points against Italy in four of the last five Six Nations matches.
The stats make it sound like a routine victory for Ireland, and it was, but there was more to it as they tried to change up their game plan ahead of Saturday’s match against France.
Here are three areas where Ireland won the match…
Italy once again led the possession stakes. They have done that in every game of this Six Nations, apart from against Scotland when they finished on 49%.
They have had a combined 5mins 12secs more attacking ball than their opposition during this tournament. That sounds promising, but what have they done with that possession and time?
Scored five tries, two of which were scored beyond 80 minutes when the game was done, and conceded 20. Both totals are tournament worsts.
For 17 phases Italy camped in the Irish 22 but the end result was an Irish try. This from a turnover for Caelan Doris, one of 11 for Ireland and two for Doris.
The defensive game plan for Ireland was simple: let Italy give you the ball. Ireland didn’t need to over commit to the breakdown, instead they would wait for the opportunity to arise then steal the ball. Ireland had plenty of these opportunities, largely caused by Italy’s insistence on playing with Mariana Trench levels of depth.
When you are caught behind the gain-line as an attack, your support players need to run backwards before they can come through the gate. The defenders simply run through the gate.
Italy lost the gain-line battle 49% of the time, which is woeful, and it’s not surprising they were turned over 11 times by Ireland, more than any other team in the tournament.
Ireland not only need to beat France in Paris on Saturday night, they will likely need to do it with a bonus point to win the Six Nations. To do that they need turnovers.
As they showed at the weekend, that doesn’t mean piling bodies into rucks and hoping you win the ball. Instead it means line speed, catching France behind the gain-line, then swooping on their undefended ruck.
If you look just at Italy’s lineout success at this tournament you will see that they are around the 89% mark. Right around average or perhaps a little below, not terrible but not as deep in the mire as some other aspects of their play. But that doesn’t tell the whole picture – the percentage of clean ball they get is less than 80%.
What was particularly impressive for Ireland was how consistently strong they were when they had lineouts inside the Italian 22. Winning, with a bonus point, against this French side is a very hard task. It is made easier if any penalties near the French half have the potential to be turned into a maul try.
Watch the above clip, look at how hard it is to defend this Irish lineout. Italy don’t go up, which allows Ireland to go to the back of the lineout. It should be that if you don’t challenge at the lineout you have the advantage of getting your drive in first. But because Ireland go to the back of the lineout they are able to just roll around and negate almost every Italian defender.
This poses problems for France. Will they go up and try to force Ireland to go to the front of the lineout? Or will they stay down and try to drive? Whatever they do, you can guarantee that this will be a key weapon in Ireland’s arsenal.
In the first three games of the Six Nations, Ireland offloaded a combined total of 14 times. Against Italy they did it 12 times. That included two offloads in the build-up to this try…
And this beauty from Peter O’Mahony…
During the 2019 World Cup, the way Ireland played could be described as dull. It was an arm wrestle with plenty of one-out, static runners. What Ireland showed against Italy wasn’t that – and the offloads were a big part of it.
Offloads are effective because they remove one, or in O’Mahony’s case two, defenders without stopping the ball. Against France they will be crucial.
France showed against Wales on Saturday evening that they will feast on ponderous, static ball. Ireland won’t win an arm wrestle, but they might have the edge if they can move France around.
The stage is set for an exciting finale to this elongated tournament.
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