When trying to beat the All Blacks, the number of tactics that have been used is too many to count. Entire strategies have become scapegoats for heavy losses and have subsequently been thrown on the scrapheap. But there is one coach who has consistently come the closest to formulating the perfect strategy, and it all starts with a perfect breakdown. Let’s look at how Joe Schmidt has taken Ireland’s breakdowns to a new level, starting with their military grade decision making.

How Ireland’s decision making changes games

Joe Schmidt has his players programmed like machines to respond to certain stimuli with a certain response. Here we see Kieran Read become isolated for a millisecond. Watch as Stander and van der Flier instinctively know it’s time to go for the ball.

The Ireland defenders make the perfect decision at the same time
The Irish defenders make the perfect decision at the same time

Sam Whitelock is close, but the All Blacks have already given Ireland too much time. By making the real-time decision at exactly the same time, the Irish latch onto the ball in unison and win the penalty. Bear in mind this is 12 phases into an All Blacks attack. The players are still sharp enough to make these high-pressure decisions.

Ireland pull off a perfect breakdown jackal and win the penalty
Ireland pull off a perfect breakdown jackal and win the penalty

Another great example of this military grade decision making is Peter O’Mahony with his constant turnovers in this game. Here as he watches the tackle like a hawk and makes a lightning-fast decision to go for the ball.

O'Mahoney waits patiently to strike
O’Mahony waits patiently to strike

Again the All Blacks have again given Ireland too much time. O’Mahony wins the penalty after knowing exactly when to strike, and not wasting a millisecond in making that decision.

Ireland win another penalty thanks to lightning fast decision making
Ireland win another penalty thanks to lightning fast decision making

Every player under Joe Schmidt is expected to have a core set of skills to affect play all over the park. By having every player learn core breakdown skills, they can create a perfect breakdown at any point on the field at any time. This is best exemplified by the Irish backs, who bounce back to their feet immediately after tackles and either slow down the ruck or re-join the defence like loose forwards. This ferocious mentality is best compared to a Roman legion.

How the ‘Roman Legion’ mentality helps with Joe Schmidt’s perfect breakdown

Not many fans and pundits alike understand the true extent of Ireland’s efficiency. Before we can get into Ireland’s Roman Legion mentality, you can read about how their efficiency is underplayed here.

Is Ireland’s Efficiency Underplayed?

Now let’s get to real-time examples of the legion in action. Watch here as Stander combines with replacement scrum-half McGrath to pull off a choke tackle, a technique adopted from Rugby league.

All of Ireland's squad players have the core skills of the legion
All of Ireland’s squad players have the core skills of the legion

Both players make the correct decision immediately, and Stander even tells the referee what decision to make mid-tackle. Another turnover to Ireland thanks to squad-wide real-time decision making. Much like a Roman legion, every ‘soldier’ needs to be interchangeable when it comes to core skills.

Ireland’s Roman Legion on the attack

It’s not just on defence where the entire Irish squad can showcase their core skills. Ireland has arguably the most effective ball-retention methods on the planet. Like many other sides, they make use of the crocodile roll (or tin opener) method for clearing rucks. The difference is, they again often act in unison with military grade decision making. Here we see Toner and Healy acting together to pressure Kieran Read just enough, even though the All Blacks captain was in a great position.

Read gets identified and dealt with immediately by two players
Read gets identified and dealt with immediately by two players

This is yet more instantaneous decision making from multiple players at once. Ireland even uses variations of the crocodile roll in their play. We see one of these variations here where Toner can’t roll Barrett out of the ruck, so instead picks him up off the ground. He then tells the referee he Barrett is off his feet, and can’t compete.

Ireland use more skills than any other side to create their perfect breakdown
Ireland use more skills than any other side to create their perfect breakdown

These techniques are bordering on high-level wrestling moves, and they are not just limited to the forwards in the Ireland squad. The final piece of the core Irish skill-set is how they protect the ball in contact like no other international side.

Ireland’s ball retention for a perfect breakdown

Ireland players have some of the best skills for ball retention throughout their squad. Here Sexton turns to protect the ball immediately, despite losing the contact to Savea.

Sexton rolls out of a dangerous position
Sexton rolls out of a dangerous position

Just a phase later Aki has to turn his entire body after being hit well by Crotty, but because he acts immediately he is able to protect the ball.

Aki twists right away to protect the ball
Aki twists right away to protect the ball

From the moment of contact, every player moves swiftly to protect the ball. Other sides in the 6 Nations are the best in certain areas of the game. But Ireland dominates through their perfect rucks. And just like last season, this makes them hard to bet against.

The 1014 Rugby reviewed how Ireland’s Roman legion approach helped them beat the All Blacks in significant detail over on their YouTube channel. See the following video for more information.

Do you think Ireland’s perfect rucks can be matched by any other team in the 6 Nations? Let us know your thoughts.

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