In the aftermath of Ireland’s heavyweight win over the All Blacks, head coach Joe Schmidt revealed that he gets inspiration for his play designs from watching other games, saying he ‘steals them’.
“I mostly steal them from other people,” he said.
“I’m always keeping my eye out. I watch Mitre 10 Cup, they’ve always got a couple of good ones.
“There was one the Highlanders played recently, I showed it to the coaches saying we could maybe do this. It’s hard to get patents on moves.”
An autopsy over Ireland’s game plan will show that Schmidt borrowed concepts from both England and even the All Blacks themselves in plotting the win over the world’s number one side.
England’s first try to Chris Ashton last week was a well-worked ‘fake’ 31 pattern, a starter play that uses three phases in one direction before switching one phase back with a planned strike.
With Owen Farrell feigning the switch and luring a couple of All Blacks back over, Ben Youngs scampers from the base of the ruck out to the blind side and fires a long ball to Ashton on a depleted short side.
Ireland’s first foray into All Blacks’ territory in the 8th minute borrowed the exact same 31 concept, faking the switch back, before attacking the exact same edge out towards Rieko Ioane.
After a receiving a penalty around halfway, Johnny Sexton kicks for touch for an attacking lineout just outside the All Blacks 22.
Ireland’s first phase is a midfield crash with Bundee Aki, before they play three more straight phases with forward runners around the corner the same way.
On the third phase, we see Garry Ringrose (13) lurking in behind the carry with Jonathan Sexton (10).
After three carries, Ireland has worked to the edge and is showing an open side setup back to the left, with one three-man pod and Ringrose attached on the side.
Just like England, they fake the open side switch and run a nice blind side pet play, with Ringrose breaking off and dropping under the halfback Kieran Marmion.
Goodhue has been caught folding, out of his position in the line, creating an opportunity for Ringrose to play the overlap. He draws Codie Taylor (2), leaving Josh van der Flier (7) and Keith Earls (14) with an opportunity.
Last week Rieko Ioane (11) was criticised for jamming in and giving Ashton an open look at the try line. This week, he played the overlap well, shadowing Earls and jockeying backward to allow time for Crotty to help on the inside.
This forced the play back inside, and although Ireland worked their way down to the five, the All Blacks prevented Ireland from scoring in the same fashion that England did on the planned play.
The Stockdale strike
With the game in the balance and either side struggling to gain ascendency, Ireland used a switch play that the All Blacks used only a few weeks ago.
Jacob Stockdale’s try was derived from the play the All Blacks used against the Wallabies in Yokohama, only with differences in personnel.
Aki plays the role Barrett played against the Wallabies, while two of Ireland’s loose forwards play the outside dummy lines.
This play also demonstrates how the smallest of margins can decide a high-stakes test.
From the high shot, Damian McKenzie’s setup is outside the last man, which costs him extra time in the need to track back. Ben Smith (14) in cover defence is tracking across in sweep coverage as Sexton receives the ball.
Smith reacts immediately to the switch pass to Aki, turning back whilst McKenzie’s reaction is to take three more steps forward and come to a complete stop.
With Smith rushing up to take the last man Rory Best, McKenzie’s delayed response creates vulnerability in the defence.
He doesn’t start his sprint back until a full two seconds after the switch occurs and after Smith identifies it. Stockdale already has the ball by the time McKenzie breaks into full stride.
The decision by Stockdale to chip over the line into the vacant space is a brilliantly calculated risk.
The bounce of the ball might not fall his way, but he backs his speed and isn’t afraid of trying the chip again, moments after being charged down by Kieran Read on a kick return.
McKenzie does his best but can’t stop Stockdale reaching out and scoring. The slightest hesitation in coverage by Damian McKenzie bought Stockdale an extra couple of seconds to regather the bounce and gave him an open look in the backfield.
It doesn’t mean that this try is McKenzie’s fault as he may have scored regardless. However, it shows the speed at which this game is played means the smallest of windows could open up an opportunity, which is what happened.
Even though he was on the opposite side of the field, McKenzie gave Ireland a small window, which Stockdale took full advantage of. The All Blacks failed to take their own windows of opportunities, of which Schmidt identified three key ones in the post-match as pivotal moments where last-ditch Irish defence held.
In a heavyweight battle between the two best sides in the world, in the end, a borrowed play by Ireland from the All Blacks proved to be the difference.
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