For all the talk of Italian pragmatism, of Gonzalo Quesada harnessing their attacking flair into a coherent, competitive game plan, a look at the most fundamental statistics from Ireland’s thumping win on Sunday renders Italian talk of game plans obsolete.
Michael Owen once offered a soccer punditry gem of when a team doesn’t score, they don’t win. The rugby equivalent, would be something along the lines of: when a team doesn’t have possession (just 37 per cent for Italy), no territory (39 per cent) and is forced to make double the number of tackles of their opponent (209 vs 91) while offering no attacking threat, they ain’t coming close.
Of the top individual tacklers on the day, every single player in the top-10 was Italian. The one saving grace was that Italy made more turnovers than Ireland, (four vs two). The problem is they also coughed up possession on 15 occasions.
Seventy-one per cent of Ireland’s rucks lasted fewer than three seconds. A world-beating South African, Jacques Nienaber-led defence hasn’t a hope of containing an attack with that speed of ball.
As a result, Ireland made close to 450 metres after contact, almost 3½ times the Italian equivalent. Ireland made 12 line breaks to one from Italy.
If so inclined, you can point to Italy’s lower pass to kick ratio, a kick for every four passes (Ireland were 1:9) and say they are indeed becoming more pragmatic and kicking more, albeit without any benefit to their territory.
“Today, it’s tough to answer that question because we didn’t have any phase attack,” said Quesada when asked on the balance of introducing more kicking to a traditional running team.
“What the players feel is improving and are happy about is they can exit a bit better . . . I’m convinced, the players too, of what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to play.”
Italy should hold fast. Playing this Ireland team when trying to introduce a new style is a fool’s errand. That is Quesada’s challenge, since their obliteration at the basics will leave Italy feeling altogether foolhardy.
Bizarre offside rule exposed in Scotland’s defeat
Amidst all the furore surrounding Irish TMO Brian MacNiece’s decision not to award Scotland a game-winning try, one stark fact snuck under the radar.
France won despite kicking for fewer metres, one of the semi-rare occasions, roughly 20 per cent of the time, where a team on the wrong end of that statistic comes out on the right side of the result.
Between Scotland’s 1,575 metres and France’s 1,377 metres kicked – two staggeringly high numbers in and of themselves – criticism came both of the volume of kicking and the flaw in rugby’s laws the tactic exposed.
Kicking is an inherently fundamental part of rugby and is here to stay – anyone who complains about its utility should instantly be removed from your conversation. The issue that was exposed at Murrayfield was the bizarre offside rule, known as Dupont’s law, which now has to change.
Under the rules, an offside player chasing a kick can immediately be onside once the player catching the ball has passed it on or ran for five metres; irrespective of if a team-mate plays them onside. Antoine Dupont was the first high-profile player to lurk in offside positions and become onside once he saw a player run five metres with the ball, hence the nomenclature.
This led to the bizarre spectacle of Finn Russell, fully aware of the laws to his credit, standing still when catching the ball to take a 10-second rest given no French chasers were chasing. This meant the forward in front of him was offside and could not touch him given he was standing still.
The law won’t change in the middle of the Six Nations, but given the backlash against the effect it had on the spectacle, it won’t last long.
1987 – the last time Ireland kept a clean sheet in a Six/Five nations match.
“For me that was a try.” – Safe to say Finn Russell and Scotland weren’t best pleased with the TMO decision which cost them victory over France.
UL Bohs remain top as women’s AIL returns
The women’s AIL returned to action after a lengthy break with a series of results that leave the league table largely unchanged.
UL Bohs remain top and are six points clear after a bonus point, 5-58 victory away over Galwegians. Wing Aoibhe O’Flynn led the way with a brace of tries.
Elsewhere, Railway and Old Belvedere continue to lead the chasing pack after their victories over Cooke and Old Belvedere respectively. Blackrock, on a bye this week, are back in fourth and now 11 points behind Old Belvedere in third now with a game in hand.
The one change in the table that did take place was Ballincolig leapfrogging Suttonians into fifth after their 0-22 victory away over the north Dublin side.
In the men’s top division, Clontarf remain top after a bonus-point win over Ballynahinch at Castle Avenue, hooker Dylan Donnellan, renowned for his stint as emergency cover for Leinster earlier this season, crossed twice.
Cork Con and Lansdowne, two points behind Clontarf, also secured wins over Trinity and Shannon respectively.
UCD, for whom Leinster prop Michael Milne crossed the whitewash vs City of Armagh, and Terenure were the division’s other winners over the weekend.