As we all sat down to watch Ireland v England, not many of us would have predicted the way in which Joe Schmidt’s master plan would be picked apart by Eddie Jones and his squad. The Ireland side that looked so formidable against the All Blacks had seemingly disappeared. Here we will look at exactly why Ireland’s plan didn’t work, and whether Joe Schmidt can fix it.

Ireland v England | why Ireland’s rucks weren’t working

Ireland would usually be the dominant force at ruck time. So dominant in fact, we wrote a piece on how they used their perfect rucks to beat the All Blacks. However, England found some sneaky ways to turn Ireland’s ruck perfection into messy contests and vastly reduce turnovers. Here some Irish players go in for one of their choke tackles, but Itoje subtly pulls it down.

Itoje prevents a choke tackle
Itoje prevents a choke tackle

Whenever Ireland tried to use their Roman Legion skills at the ruck, England would act swiftly like this to pull players off their feet. Ireland didn’t get the turnovers they normally would, and couldn’t dominate territory and possession to the extent they normally would. This heaped pressure onto players like Jonny Sexton to get them out of trouble.

Ireland v England | why Sexton’s decision making seemed off

Johnny Sexton is the current world player of the year for good reason and usually acts as Joe Schmidt’s brains on the pitch. However, with the speed and physicality England was bringing with their defence, he couldn’t find a viable option for running the ball. Sexton would try every kick in the book then to get Ireland back in contention.

Below he gets charged down when trying a high ball, a very uncharacteristic mistake.

Sexton is charged down by the fast English defense
Sexton is charged down by the fast English defence

With that route blocked, he switches tact and tries a smaller chip through the line. However, Aki (yellow circle) is well blocked out by England defenders and the move is thwarted.

Sexton tries more options to beat England's defence
Sexton tries more options to beat England’s defence

Finally, he resorts to a speculative cross-field kick that ends up handing England field position.

Sexton's kicking was not working
Sexton’s kicking was not working

With all of these options exhausted it’s possible that Sexton’s decision making wasn’t really off, but that England’s defence was applying so much pressure that every decision was the wrong one. The mistakes compounded as the game went on. Sexton also was not given a great platform to work on, due to Ireland’s use of isolated ball carriers.

Ireland v England | why Ireland couldn’t make attacking metres

In the article below, we discuss how Ireland use pods of 3 players to set a foundation for Sexton to work his magic. It’s worth a read to see how Ireland should be attacking.

How Ireland’s Weaknesses will be Hidden from 6 Nations Opponents

In contrast, Ireland would use isolated ball carriers in this game. This was massively counterproductive against a fired up English defence. Below, Furlong makes a predictable run and finds himself the victim of a dominant tackle from Itoje and co.

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An even worse example of this happens when Bundee Aki is thrown a nightmare hospital pass and Tuilagi makes a great defensive read. Ireland’s lack of attacking structure wasn’t doing them any favours.

Aki concedes big metres after Tuilangi reads the play
Aki concedes big metres after Tuilangi reads the play

So, how can Ireland start fixing these problems?

The solutions for Joe Schmidt

First of all, Ireland needs to regain control of their rucks and prevent opposition meddling. They will need to protect any potential turnover ball by clearing out opposition players. It’s really a case of supporting players being more aware of the situation, which admittedly won’t be easy with some of these sneaky leg-pulling moves.

Secondly, Sexton needs a better platform from which to operate. Ireland needs to get back to some sort of attacking structure where players are well supported, such as their usual 1-3-3-1. This will help generate faster ball and open up Sexton’s options. It will also decrease the number of hospital passes and 1-out isolated runners England preyed upon here.

While it’s not all doom and gloom for Ireland, England and Eddie Jones fully deserved their victory. You can read about more of the smart strategies that England brought to this game below.

Ireland v England Tactics | How England Dismantled Ireland

The 1014 Rugby reviewed Ireland’s tactics in significant detail over on their YouTube channel. See the following video for more information.

Can Ireland work on these areas fast enough to beat Scotland this weekend? Let us know down below.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Consider this?
    So what Joe Schmidt is now missing. Fresh ideas! Eddie Jones was brought in by Springbok coach Jake White to help him 6 months out from winning the 2007 World Cup in France. What has Jones now done after his 6 Nations failure? He has brought in the shrewd John Mitchell former coach of New Zealand, Natal Sharks, Gauteng Lions. The key insight and Eddie masterstroke is the acceptance of a new ideas man into this English coaching team. Ask Leo Cullen who was going nowhere as player coach of Leinster when he put a call in for Stuart Lancaster!!!
    Schmidt has time, but will he have the insight to call it?

    • This is a very good point Maurice. A very good point. I had not considered the appointments of these coaches so close to World Cups or in fact Lancaster to Leinster. Down here in NZ they brought Wayne Smith back into the fold for the 2015 RWC as well. Also, in 2009 when the All Blacks were being dominated by the Boks the coaches switched their roles around and told everyone they were doing it. To get a different perspective. I appreciate these are NZ centric examples, but I am a Kiwi and remember these moments well. Thanks a lot for this comment

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