There are certain things that are required for Ireland’s patterns to be fully effective, I like to refer to them as their success factors.

As can be seen from the prior articles in this series Ireland’s patterns are vulnerable. Most vulnerable to the Rush D being employed by a lot of teams nowadays. A team that carries on pushing through, catching the Looper/Decoy play behind the gainline has a great chance against Ireland. Why? Well, before they’ve had a chance to run the play you can stop it before it gets wide. Equally important, you can stop it before an intricate move is done to deceive the defence. This is due to Ireland playing quite flat, a view I agree with wholeheartedly. However, if enough of the defence can be sucked in by the 3 pods, and an overlap created, this can be very very effective.

Heavy 12

This is the reason a big 12 is often used by Ireland. Either Henshaw or Aki fits this description.

When the Loop play is being run around the 12 because the number 1 pod isn’t available you need a big lad. You need him to hard and check opposition defences, as well as stopping the rush defence. They need to be able to occupy the defence and be strong enough to hold the inside/outside shoulder. Not only this, they need to be able to create enough space for Ireland’s pacy runners like Gary Ringrose.

The main thing with this however, is they need someone, whether it be the 1 pod or the hard bulk 12, to hold the defence to create the space outside. The defence has to number up on the inside to hold the runner. But, in doing so, if they constrict numbers too closely for the loop play, the overlap can get on the outside of the defence. Which is why the press defence is so effective and useful against it. Defences can hold on the inside and drift on the outside, which creates the Splitter gap.


We see Sexton pass to the prop and start an unders tracking run. Simultaneously, the men outside him are deep enough to be valid receivers. Being valid receivers makes Billy Vunipola and outside players wary of them. This is essential and a key teller for the loop play out wide. The receivers will actually be in a deeper position to receive the ball off Sexton. This can be from no break or post Splitter break, but especially if they’ve cut in to close Sexton down.

Ireland Six Nations (6 Nations) success factors

The prop passes back to Sexton.

Ireland Six Nations success factors

The prop then checks Mako’s run, whilst the deep runners have kept Billy and the outside defence interested. This creates the necessary gap.

Ireland Six Nations success factors

Sexton goes through with Henshaw on his shoulder. And only from a hail mary tackle from Nowell does the try get disallowed.

Ireland Six Nations success factors

The effect of a bigger player in the role of dummy loop is obvious. It gives the 10 enhanced space with which to work with. When a 1 pod can’t be used, the use of a heavy gainline breaker is far more likely to act as a subtle blocker than a lightweight back. It should be said that this is not a go at Ireland, all good teams play borderline with the law. The All Blacks have in the past done borderline blocking. England in the series I’ve written have been shown as checking the drift defence with their second prong pod. It’s all about doing it subtly, and namely, not getting caught.

Accurate 9

Most plays in Ireland’s patterns come off 9.

This is why Conor Murray is so important. So vitally important. He has a crisp, accurate pass that the pods can run onto. A pass of this nature gives the pods every chance of getting gainline success. The ball usually only goes to 10 in the 3-3-1-Looper play if the loop play/ decoy play is about to take effect.

Add to this the fact that Ireland’s kicking game is still an important part of their armoury, you could say he is vital, along with Sexton to their game pass.

Breakdown Philosophy

Ireland must be congratulated on their amazing breakdown work. Their ball protection is amazing, with a minimum of 2 players going into the breakdown with the ball carrier. They come from the 3 pod set up, or the previous ruck, which is most likely one of the reasons the spacings are not overly long between the 3 pods.

For Schmidt, retention is everything, and their importance on securing possession at any position on the field cannot be underestimated. This is mainly true against organised defences. When the game breaks up they have a different pattern to take advantage of the looseness of the game.


I hugely admire their work at the breakdown.

A huge piece of admiration has to go to the way the players are taken to the ground, they are always falling in a position that means they can land, and present the ball cleanly. This has a lot to do with the effort and dynamic of the 3 pod and how it goes into contact. If we look at the way Ireland normally go to contact, the centre player of the 2nd pod, normally takes the ball. The player to the left of the carrier goes in with him. His job is two-fold, one, to ensure there is a leech going in as to prevent the initial jackal. Two, to assist in the rolling of the carrier so the carrier can immediately present the ball.

The 3rd man, stands a little off on the right as can be seen. He is in this position due to 2 reasons. One, he is the screen pass option should the carrier pass out the back, and being deep enough to run onto the ball attracts more defenders then taking it static. Two, if the breakdown is contested, he can build up a run, clearing out any players and supporting his prior cleaner.

Ireland Six Nations success factors

For the rest of this series see the following links; Part 1: Tenets, Part 2: 3-3-1 Looper, Part 3: Decoy & Splitter and Part 4: Twos.


Author: Conor Wilson

Recently retired from the Military, Skydiving and rare Steak Enthusiast and Player of the beautiful game of Rugby.

Joe Schmidt, Will Greenwood and Rod MacQueen are my heroes, and my proudest moment was putting Jason Robinson in for a try at a promotional Rugby day. It was truly beautiful.


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