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FEATURE Hitting joints and closing doors: How South Africa rumbled Ireland's lineout

Hitting joints and closing doors: How South Africa rumbled Ireland's lineout
1 week ago

Knowing what we now know, Dan Sheehan playing on for 13 minutes – and coming up with a sublime offload just before Jamie Osborne’s try – is staggering.

The Irish hooker damaged his anterior cruciate ligament while halting an Eben Etzebeth carry, on 27 minutes. Sheehan knew he was in trouble but limped and shuffled on, after getting the knee heavily strapped.

Sheehan’s tour is over now. He is unlikely to play again in 2024, with the aim likely to be some late January run-outs, ahead of next year’s Six Nations. That is coming down on the optimistic side of it.

“That came from a terrible bit of play,” notes former Leinster and Ireland hooker, James Tracy. “Tadhg Beirne misses Robbie Henshaw with a pass, it goes back into the 22 and Jack Crowley kicks out on the full. Ireland had so many opportunities to keep the Springboks at arm’s length, then didn’t. Unforced errors led to those two injuries (Sheehan and scrum-half Craig Casey).”

Ronan Kelleher
Rónan Kelleher is set to take over at hooker from the injured Dan Sheehan (behind) for the second Test (Photo Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Ronán Kelleher is now set to start his first Ireland Test since the World Cup encounter against South Africa, last September. During that game, Kelleher and the Irish lineout struggled against a Bok unit that caused considerable carnage. Ireland lost six lineouts that night in Paris and had a few other dirty wins – the ball came back on their side but far from clean. Their 13-8 win, in that pool match, came with hardly any attacking platform off lineouts.

In Pretoria, last weekend, Ireland had 14 lineouts. They lost four, while four more were severely disrupted. Sheehan was pinged for not throwing straight, Pieter-Steph du Toit had a steal inside his 22, forced a loose Caelan Doris pass and RG Snyman got a paw in, preventing Ryan Baird from a clean pop. There were shades of the Stade de France hit-job on the Irish lineout, but Tracy feels Ireland’s set-piece was decent.

South Africa might shape to give you the front, then change it up at the last minute. They show you a picture, then close the door when you think it is open

“Most of the targets were hit, and throws went where they were intended. The only glaringly obvious one was the four-man lineout that Joe McCarthy dropped. He compounded that with some other errors, before he was replaced after 50 minutes. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was dropped after that, with James Ryan coming in and Tadhg Beirne calling.”

The Six Nations-clinching win over Scotland, back in March, had looked as if it would be a fitting farewell for Peter O’Mahony. Given how crucial he is as a lineout beacon, and as a leader, Andy Farrell clearly cannot do without him. Not yet. “Pete is 100% one of the best lineout options in the world,” he said. “You then have Irish second rows that are not giants of men, 6ft 5in and 6ft 6in. Caelan is proficient and Josh van der Flier is your typical seven – not usually an option. Pete is the reliable option in attack and the biggest threat in defence. That is his big thing. He brings balance to the back row.

Peter O'Mahony
Peter O’Mahony remains Ireland’s best source of lineout ball despite nearing the end of his Test career (Photo Phill Magakoe/ AFP via Getty Images)

“You are then going up against the Springbok lineout defence, with four exceptional jumpers in there. Two are top-class and the other two are not far off. Guys that are 6ft 8in, 6ft 9in. They are so well drilled, too. Other sides may show you the front and try and hurt you when you make the take. South Africa might shape to give you the front, then change it up at the last minute. They show you a picture, then close the door when you think it is open.”

Tracy, who played seven Tests for Ireland, illustrates that point by focusing on the lineout that preceded the tour-ending injury to Casey. Into the final quarter of a bruising encounter, the Munster scrum-half won his side an attacking lineout after a 50:22 kick. South Africa loaded the back of their line, leaving Doris to take a catch near the front. As soon as Doris landed, Du Toit and Gerhard Steenekamp came charging through the joint, barreling Ryan Baird, and forcing Doris to squirt back a ball that bounced in front of Casey. The Boks had forward momentum, Ireland were forced back from the 22 and, two phases later, Snyman planted the scrum-half, with the subsequent impact on the turf causing concussion.

Chasing Dan has not got the best out of Ronán. Being told he’s the main man, and he has to get into it right from the start, that is where he thrives.

“Good players know their roles, even when they are not contesting in the air. South Africa want to get into those joints. They are clear in how they disrupt. It’s a common theme. It is so hard to get into your flow as they are so good at that disruption. They fly in as hard as they can, and cause a shit-fight.”

Connacht hooker Dave Heffernan and Ulster scrum-half Nathan Doak have been drafted in as injury cover, but Kelleher and Conor Murray are due to start at Kings Park, this Saturday. South Africa effectively scruffing the Irish lineout strategy puts Ulster’s Rob Herring firmly into the conversation to start in the two jersey, but Tracy feels the call is not even close.

James Ryan
South Africa did a job on Ireland’s lineout early in their RWC 23 meeting before the Irish recovered (Photo Harry Murphy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

“Only one of Kelleher’s throws in that World Cup game (against South Africa) was bad. A lot of the other issues were down to poor calls or good South African reactions. There is no comparison between Kelleher and Herring, in terms of the calibre of player you’re picking. With Herring, you get that stability of his throwing, his energy and his organisation in the scrum. If you are talking top trumps, and the capabilities of a player, they are not even in the same stratosphere. With game-time in the saddle, from the start, Ronán will grow into it. Chasing Dan has not got the best out of him. Being told he’s the main man, and he has to get into it right from the start, that is where he thrives.”

Longer term, with O’Mahony playing out his final Tests in the green jersey, Munster team-mate Tom Ahern is “in with a shout” for the blindside role. Baird looks next in line but, Tracy feels, the 24-year-old needs to bridge the gap from O’Mahony by showing he can deliver consistent, high levels of performance.

I think Ireland will win, in Durban, with a 9/10 or 10/10 performance. Sounds a lot, but we know they are capable.

In the shorter term, to split the series, Ireland must deliver their best performance of the season since they held out a late Springbok surge to win that World Cup clash. Kelleher and Murray should slot in, with Tracy suggesting Ciarán Frawley as a better rounded full-back option than Osborne.

“Ireland initially struggled with that depth and width South Africa went to, early, in the first Test,” says Tracy. “You could see them getting to grips with it, though. Until you’ve been ripped apart by a new style of playing, you can’t learn from it. Their ability to cling in there, though, is why they are one of the top sides.

“I think they’ll win, in Durban, with a 9/10 or 10/10 performance. Sounds a lot, but we know they are capable. Ireland’s first half, last week, if they could rate it, they’d give themselves 3/10. They know that’s not going to cut it.”

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Comments

20 Comments
T
Turkish 12 days ago

Sheehan took the reins when Kelleher got injured and he certainly hung on so hopefully Kelleher can use this time to get back on track. Wasn’t too long ago he was flinging all blacks around like rag dolls in Dublin. We need a bit of a brawler with Furlong still running on fumes sine the lions 2017.

J
Jacque 12 days ago

I was a massive Kelleher fan before Sheehan came on the scene. He had some irjuries along the way which also didn’t help his cause to be number 1.

IMO - (when @Sheehan is fit) they should start Kelleher and bring Sheehan on as an impact player like Boks do with BIG Malcolm Marx.

S
Shaylen 12 days ago

Suggesting Ireland will win with a 9/10 or 10/10 performance is quite optimistic at the end of a long season in which their players have been stretched. Not only that but they are without several injured stars. Putting that first half down as a 3/10 is also laughable. Alot of what happened was forced onto them. South Africa are a class side and Ireland dont play badly in isolation. The Boks will pitch up and disrupt them in some way or another again. I reckon it will be another tight game, if the Boks can execute they will win. Ireland can pull it off but for me it looks like a bridge too far given injuries and the toll the season has taken.

F
Flankly 12 days ago

If Karl Dixon is tough on rucks SA will win easily. If he does the Luke Pearce blind eye thing then it will be another frustrating (and boring) game.

Karl: Please review what the Laws say about binding at rucks, and blow the rules as strictly as you can (for both sides).

J
John 13 days ago

No JGP, no Sheehan, no Keenan…no point

B
Bull Shark 13 days ago

Teams that Ireland/Leinster have lost to in recent memory:

New Zealand (WCQF)
England
Ulster
The Lions
The Stormers
The Bulls
Toulouse
South AfricaSouth Africa Again. Probably

This win ratio thing is fun.

P
Patrick 13 days ago

Hello all. I went into this story very skeptical about the Ireland lineouts, and what was to come against this class Boks unit. James Tracy tried to calm be down. Then got a text from another former Test hooker, who said Kelleher is in for ‘a very tough’ day in Durban. I’m siding that way, again.

Would be interested to get your thoughts on how that set-piece will go 👍

f
finn 13 days ago

““I think they’ll win, in Durban, with a 9/10 or 10/10 performance. Sounds a lot, but we know they are capable. Ireland’s first half, last week, if they could rate it, they’d give themselves 3/10. They know that’s not going to cut it.””

this is a fair assessment, or at least it would be if we weren’t factoring in injuries.

Ireland don’t have great depth compared to the other top 5 teams, so could struggle to perform as they should this weekend.

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