You can go over them, around them or through them. Or try all three.
This was the approach taken by Ireland against Scotland as they tried to do everything possible to get a four-try bonus point win over Scotland, putting enormous pressure on England to do the same later that evening.
Their intent was clear when they turned down their first kickable penalty to kick for the corner – Ireland was going all in.
“We also do try to keep a lot of variety in our game. You got to be able to keep that balance because a team like Scotland is very hard to break down. You can’t just have one means, you got to be quite broad with how you attack,” head coach Joe Schmidt explained post-match.
For all of Scotland’s flair in unstructured situations, their set-piece attack became fairly one dimensional – feed Stuart Hogg early ball. Hogg is a world-class player, but you can’t expect him to pull a rabbit out of a hat every time.
In contrast, Ireland’s attacking game was multi-faceted and used multiple players as key figures. They varied their attack using the kicking game of Sexton and Murray, the forward pack, a range of different playmakers, wraps and screen passes and a host of innovative misdirection plays as a changeup.
Multi-phase Switch plays
Ireland utilised a range of misdirection concepts in the game plan against the Scottish, designed to exploit and even coerce the opposition into over committing one side of the field before striking on the other. These were used infrequently enough to keep Scotland guessing, and found success on Stockdale’s second try.
Two-phase and sometimes three-phase plays were used off set-piece from the edges. A crash-play to the middle sets up the ploy.
As Ringrose goes into contact, we can see Scotland’s short side has two spatial zones developing on either side of the remaining scrum.
Conor Murray switches play rapidly on a pet play with blindside winger Earls (14) on the burst attacking the vacant ‘B’ defender channel. Earls makes a half-break across the gain line but the Scottish defence is able to close in just in time to avoid getting knifed on the switch play.
They use a similar concept on Stockdale’s second try, this time deceiving Scotland with personnel and quick reloading for a three-phase strike.
Off the scrum, Ireland uses an 8-9 to the open side. Murray hits Ringrose again to set up a midfield ruck and the defence starts to gravitate that way.
The first Ireland players to the ruck are Dan Leavy (7) and Bundee Aki (12) who clean. These players will be crucial later on in the play. Conor Murray (9) is marshaling troops around the corner for one more phase before the reload switch.
After the next carry, all three players involved in the previous ruck – Ringrose (13), Aki (12) and Levy (7), reload as quickly as possible. Conor Murray’s eyes are already scanning the short side to assess the option of switch play. He sees multiple defenders trying to get around the corner.
The lure of Sexton (10), the regular first receiver, setting up to the right lulls Scotland into thinking Ireland will continue that way. Ringrose is rarely a first receiver in Ireland’s structure, with Sexton and Aki the usual options. This plays a part in the deception of this play.
Murray decides the reload switch is on and fires back left to centre Ringrose. Up to five Scottish defenders are caught in close space around the ruck leaving them vulnerable on the edges.
Levy offers a decoy line and Ringrose receives the ball behind him. Ringrose and Aki perform the ‘Sexton wrap around’ giving Ireland an opportunity on the edge.
Ringrose gives early ball to Jack Stockdale, who has a one-on-one against a sliding defender. He steps back with ease and goes over for a crucial try right on halftime.
Set-piece misdirection plays
They also used similar concepts directly off the scrum, enticing Scotland one way and switching back the other. This play, in particular, was executed to perfection resulting in a Ringrose linebreak.
Ireland load the short side with four players, one directly behind the scrum. Scotland is forced to bring an extra defender across leaving acres of space on the open side.
Murray breaks left drawing Scotland’s defence that way. Aki underneath turns back towards the right while Ringrose remains stationary.
Murray drops the ball under to Aki, while Scotland has taken the bait and overcommitted to the short side. The loose forwards have broken off that way, Peter Horne (12) is halfway over, leaving Huw Jones (13) to cover an enormous open side.
Aki passes back to Ringrose and he rips off a huge gain for Ireland.
These misdirection plays add unpredictability to Ireland’s play, changing the points of attack and keeps the defence on their toes. As infrequent as they are, they tend to work when run and diversify Ireland’s attack.
They can pick you apart in many different ways and that is the sign of a great team. As Schmidt alluded too, you have to be broad in the ways you attack – something that England has probably failed to develop.
With the Six Nations in the bag, Ireland now has the freedom to throw the kitchen sink at England at Twickenham in pursuit of the Grand Slam.
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