Liam Toland: Larmour can help exploit Italy's second-half fatigue
Joe Schmidt's side need electric recycles and to suck Azzurri into cul-de-sacs
Kick the ball into touch; steal Italian lineout and transition from same to score. Or get a clean off-the-top lineout 40 metres out and score out wide. Nothing in the Six Nations is that simple but you’ll note my review of Six Nations 2016 dripping in from last Friday where Ireland’s evolution under certain circumstances continues.
The Italian lineout is the worst in the Six Nations, especially when they are asked to get across the ground and into the air when covering defensive zones. They simply don’t have the unit knowledge to either stay on the ground and nullify a maul or get into the air like Peter O’Mahony. The Italians conceded the most tries off lineouts in the last Six Nations, conceding a massive 12 of their 26 tries from lineouts.
Italy score most of their tries in the first half but concede heavily in the second so with Jordan Larmour on in the last quarter Ireland should have the foundation and adjust their style to tear them apart. Of England’s seven tries in Rome most worryingly for Italy’s defence they scored four of them directly from first phase (two lineouts and two scrums) but worse still, they required just 15 passes to score four tries.
To achieve this Ireland need electric recycles and to suck Italians in to cul-de-sacs, ultimately getting Italian outside centre Tommaso Boni in to decision-making mode like for England’s first two tries. As the pace of England’s recycle and width arrived he simply put down both feet and waited; Robbie Henshaw can steamroll this technique.
The next English flow from the subsequent restart came down Boni’s channel and once more he planted and quit. Ireland must expose this sloppy habit. The source? Watch Boni’s eyes as he becomes transfixed on the opposition breakdown. With quick rucking Ireland can totally bamboozle Boni with a variety of runners. Because his eyes are mesmerised by opposition breakdowns where he shifts his attention way too late to what’s actually happening directly in front of him –; the evolving attack. Hence he adjusts/prepares way too late.
When you take Italy out of the tries conceded in the last Six Nations then the remainder are scoring just 1.25 tries per game; however against tier one teams in 2016, New Zealand scored an average of 5.7 tries. The home nations are not scoring tries, a true reflection of the unique challenge within the championship.
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However, Ireland scored nine tries against Italy last year and require seven tomorrow but they need to reverse their open/closed approach from Paris. Jack Conan and Dan Leavy aid this enormously especially with the brilliance of Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Keith Earls and especially Rob Kearney’s breakdown play affording Ireland a broader style.
Italy have made massive personnel changes over the past two Six Nations and are simply incapable of delivering the 41 phases that Ireland’s extremely settled side can do. Ireland have corporate knowledge. Italy have none (eg lineout). That might appear harsh but alas it’s true.
Italy coach Conor O’Shea has chopped his selection around trying to find the best players but also the best combinations. To contrast that Joe Schmidt knows his style and knows the exact players that fit; hence CJ Stander and Rob Kearney’s crucial roles therein.
Schmidt also knows that necessity is not the mother of all invention. Yes, certain players need to be rested this weekend but Italy provide an ability to adjust the style of defence but especially attack where certain players are more than capable. Leavy for one can play in the trenches of Paris but fly in the Aviva and Conan has the game to add real value to the ball, not just a million carries into heavy traffic.
Why is this important? There were 66 tries scored in last year’s championship with Italy conceding 26, England 8, Ireland 7, France 6, Wales 7 and Scotland 12. Assuming all else is a given, the backrow and back three are the creative juices atop the Irish engine with Larmour potentially changing everything.
Ireland’s lineout is becoming an off-the-top source to get the ball wider. In Paris this flowing movement brought Jacob Stockdale off his left wing way out on the right tram tracks with him shifting the ball to his right winger Keith Earls, wonderful play earning Ireland a look at France out wide with the bonus of three points.
But Ireland are all too capable of switching back into the trenches. This is a wonderful trait but can become costly if Ireland remain stuck in the mud. Stander and O’Mahony excel in this environment of close quarter play as seen in the amazing 41 phases; the test for the Irish backrow will be their contribution when Ireland are up and running away from the trenches. At the centre of all is the speed of recycled Irish breakdown ball. Under three seconds and Boni et al are in trouble off phase play, turnovers and especially from outside their own 40 metres which makes Ireland’s style crucial.
With all the obvious strength in depth layered throughout Irish rugby, the last piece of the jigsaw is the back three transition. On 34 minutes Glasgow at the RDS kicked poorly down the throat of Larmour. But Larmour transitioned violently, affording Scott Fardy the final pass on the left-hand tram tracks to score; wonderful. The more often Larmour runs a poor kick back the more his 14 team mates will become conditioned into hunting for a counter. Forget Larmour’s Christian Cullen-esque return try against Munster and watch his team-mate’s reactions tomorrow when he gets on the ball from deep.
PS How far is Leinster outhalf Ross Byrne from a call up?