Ireland has been playing so well recently, the argument could be made they have zero weaknesses. Many nations have tried to exploit Ireland’s weaknesses only to find that the space they were trying to expose suddenly doesn’t exist. A great example of this is the All Blacks trying to use this chip kick in behind the Irish line, only to have a try snatched out from under them by a man of the match Peter O’Mahony.

Peter O'Mahony makes sure Ireland's weaknesses are covered
Peter O’Mahony makes sure Ireland’s weaknesses are covered

These moments may seem like luck, and there was some luck involved here for sure. But yet again, there are some Joe Schmidt mind-games going on behind the scenes to protect Ireland’s weak points.

Before we get into how Ireland change the picture to hide their weaknesses, let’s look at the structure they will bring to this year’s 6 Nations.

Ireland’s 1-3-3-1 and the Sexton effect

Ireland uses their own version of the common 1-3-3-1 formation. This formation is known for the use of pods of 3 forwards to carry the ball, retain possession and provide a platform. Here we can see the first pod in action.

Ireland's two midfield pods with Sexton in behind
Ireland’s two midfield pods with Sexton in behind

The first thing to note is that Ireland prefers to play inside the 15-metre lines on the field. The two midfield pods are clearly visible in yellow (the ‘3-3’ of the 1-3-3-1), and Ireland will use the first one here to carry.

Now the first pod is committed to the ruck, world player of the year Jonny Sexton moves into position to direct play. He will now use the second pod to hold up defenders and attempt to create an overlap.

Sexton sets up the second pod
Sexton sets up the second pod

Sexton (red circle) passes to the pod of 3 forwards (yellow circles) in midfield. The yellow circle on the far side is Peter O’Mahony, playing the role of the ‘1’ in the 1-3-3-1 forward formation.

Ireland gets the ball wide to O’Mahony, but the second pod didn’t quite attract enough defenders and Argentina are able to cover.

O'Mahony doesn't quite get the space that was intended on this occasion
O’Mahony doesn’t quite find the space on this occasion

In Ireland’s model, Sexton is key for distribution, carries and wrap-around moves off the two pods. You can check out how Ireland’s perfect breakdown sets all of this up here.

How Ireland Used their Perfect Breakdown to Nullify the All Blacks

Ireland use their pods in between the 15-metre lines relentlessly until they find some sort of a mismatch. While this can be a gruelling gameplan for fans in the stand to watch, thankfully they have a few players with the stepping skills to make the much-needed line-breaks.

How Ireland’s steppers add the danger element

Without a quick and skilful backline, Ireland could find themselves stuck between the 15-metre lines with their pods for an even greater majority of the game. The first player to highlight is Garry Ringrose, who spots some slower Italian forwards and takes full advantage.

Garry Ringrose cuts through the Italian forwards
Garry Ringrose cuts through the Italian forwards

Another one worth a mention is Jordan Larmour, who in the example stands up a good chunk of the Italian defence yet again. Not a good game for the Azzurri.

Lamour wreaks havoc
Larmour wreaks havoc

When you add Stockdale to the mix as well, Ireland is developing a good base of players that can punish teams after their pods have done the hard yards. But all of these attacking tricks would be meaningless if Ireland’s rush defence was exploited by the many smart coaches of world rugby. Here is Ireland’s trick for hiding their defensive weaknesses.

How changing the picture will cover Ireland’s weaknesses  in the 6 Nations

When you implement a rush defence, one of the first problems encountered is the space behind the line. Below the acres of space in behind are evident. Argentina would be smart to kick in behind Earls (yellow circle) and find touch.

The kick is on for the Pumas
The kick is on for the Pumas

The Argentinian decision makers can see the space behind the line. However while they look down to make a pass or catch the ball, Ireland swiftly and subtly change the picture they had just seen.

Ireland change the picture by moving Earls back to cover a kick
Ireland change the picture by moving Earls back to cover a kick

Earls swiftly moves into position to take a kick. Argentina doesn’t opt to kick on this occasion, but this shows why no option seems to work against Ireland. By keeping the opposition in the dark about where their defenders are, they can effectively protect their weaknesses.

Here is an example where Argentina does decide to kick.

Ireland change the picture by moving their wingers back
Ireland change the picture by moving their wingers back

While the kicker has his head down, Ireland moves their wingers back to cover in seconds. They are now in ball-catching positions.

So let’s apply this picture changing to our first example. If we rewind the tape, we can see O’Mahony subtly changing the picture on Barrett. He is already turning to chase a kick that hasn’t even happened yet. This is how he seemingly managed to be in two places at once, and stopped the try.

O'Mahony changes the picture on Barrett
O’Mahony changes the picture on Barrett

The 1014 Rugby have previewed the 6 Nations over on their YouTube channel. See the following video for more information.

Can any of the 6 Nations sides expose Ireland’s weaknesses? Leave your thoughts below.


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