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27th Aug 2019

Here’s what went wrong with Ireland’s line-out against England

Jack O'Toole

Ireland won just 9 of 15 line-outs during the 57-15 thrashing to England on Saturday.

The Irish line-out was a disaster with missed throws, stolen balls and fumbled takes leaving Joe Schmidt’s side with a lot of issues to address at the set-piece ahead of this weekend’s trip to Cardiff to play Grand Slam winners Wales.

Ireland’s line-out has struggled before, most memorably during this year’s Six Nations against Italy where they won just 75% of their own ball and against Scotland last year where it also came under pressure. Still, both weren’t as bad as the 60% win rate on Saturday.

Ireland captain Rory Best felt that a combination of a couple of throws not being right, a couple of misjudged calls and a couple of the movements being a bit slow were the main factors in Ireland’s downfall.

“I think it’s incredibly frustrating when your set-piece doesn’t go the way you planned,” said Ireland captain Best during the post-match press conference.

“There’s a big difference between training, when you try to put as much pressure on as you can, and then coming up against a lineout defence that’s one of the best in the world.

“We won the first one and it went well, but then they competed on the second and I think we just sort of got within ourselves a little bit and everyone got a little bit nervous and they kept coming after us there. There’s no doubt that it affected our game.

“We’ve got to look at why it affected our game, how we can be better. I think we can increase the pace we come in at – they gave us a lesson in whenever a team is not ready to just hit the line and go. Whereas we were a bit laboured coming in and gave them a few pictures to look at and move around and read.

“A combination of a couple of throws not right, a couple of calls, a couple of the movements being a bit slow. I thought we were in a good place but it was a big lesson for us today.

“There’s not a lot else you can do but hold your hands up and say that we weren’t good enough there.”

Former Ireland flanker Alan Quinlan noted multiple times on commentary that Ireland’s line-out was too slow, and it certainly was at times, but we’ll start with the first botched Irish throw and we can see here straight away that Maro Itoje is disrupting what Ireland want to do.

Iain Henderson gets in front of Itoje and it’s hard to tell from this angle if the England lock gets a hand on the ball here, or if it’s Henderson just dropping it, but a later replay shows him getting his forearm on Henderson’s arm which disrupts the take. Itoje is a menace in both attack and defence but he really put on a clinic on Saturday at the line-out, particularly on Ireland’s throw.

One of the other points to look out for in the clip above is how England close the gap at the back. The hosts were warned later in the half for closing the gap by referee Nigel Owens but most teams in rugby will try this until the referee calls them for it.

The next throw Ireland win their throw but only because of Tadhg Furlong’s quick reactions and good hands at the back of the line-out. Jean Kleyn impressed mightily for Munster last season, and fared well in his international debut against Italy earlier this month, but he struggles to get up here despite the ball clearing all three jumpers on both sides.

Best noted how on certain throws Ireland were too slow on their movements and Quinlan certainly picked up on this one of the Irish throws just after the half hour mark.

“That’s sloppy from Ireland,” said Quinlan on commentary.

“They lost another line-out there. Itoje gets up but they’re just a little slow at getting the ball in. I think for England they’re getting two up with [George] Kruis and Itoje with the backrow they’ve picked. Itoje is hovering around the back so you just don’t want to throw it around the back to that pod that he’s in.

“I think for Ireland they want to try and get the ball and it was a great attacking position but take it at the front, take it in the middle somewhere and get it off the top.”

Ireland are slow in getting the jumper up but once again, not only do England get Kruis up at the front, but Itoje is also there and knocks the ball down for an English turnover.

The Saracens lock was immense for England but just three minutes later Ireland are again painfully slow to get up and they make it all too easy for Kruis to pinch one inside their own 22, which England score from through Manu Tuilagi just two minutes later.

With Itoje terrorising the Irish line-out, Ireland try to avoid him but the English pod of Tom Curry, Joe Marler and Kruis are quick to react to the fake and they easily pick off the throw.

“It’s where Iain Henderson is calling the ball,” added Quinlan.

“They need to speed it up. It’s just too bloody slow. George Kruis deserves credit. Curry lifted him in front but it’s just slow into the line-out. You’ve got to win those quick; get in, get out.

“They need to fix this themselves.”

Ireland’s line-out never recovered. In the second-half they dropped balls, even the line-outs they did win weren’t always clean, on occasion the ball just happened to bounce on the right side.

The introduction of Devin Toner and Sean Cronin didn’t really improve things. Ireland started going to the front more and enjoyed some initial success at first but the line-out near the end that directly led to a Luke Cowan-Dickie try was just an abomination.

O’Mahony, arguably Ireland’s second best jumper behind Toner, gets in front of Itoje but they can’t complete the throw as the Munster flanker falls through the front of his lift with the England second-row pushing in behind.

Ireland’s line-out success rate for the year is at 88% so there’s no need to panic just yet that the set-piece is completely lost, but the struggles were concerning and hopefully just a sign of a team that is just getting back together again, that is, of course, until we see how it plays out next week.

34 missed tackles in defence is much harder to explain.

Itoje proved that one jumper can completely disrupt Ireland’s throw but the forwards did themselves no favours as they consistently telegraphed were the ball was going which made it much easier for England to pick off their line-out.

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