Rugby Statistics: Strong lineout figures not the whole story

Aggressive French defence ensured Ireland didn’t profit much from possession gained

Sport’s analysis is about perspective and often a choice of whether to zoom in or zoom out. Ireland’s lineout is an integral component in attacking terms in providing a platform to launch strike moves from first phase possession, the effectiveness of which has been the cornerstone of several celebrated victories during head coach Joe Schmidt’s tenure.

Ireland won 13 of 14 lineouts at the Stade de France last weekend against an athletic French pack that put serious pressure on Rory Best's throw.

In the absence of Devin Toner, Iain Henderson took responsibility for the calling process, delineated in the following manner with the ball being thrown to Peter O'Mahony on six occasions, Henderson three, James Ryan two, CJ Stander two and Dan Leavy once.

In acknowledging the bigger picture, a 93 per cent success-rate on the Irish throw is an excellent performance against that backdrop of competition, supplemented by nicking one (Henderson) from France. The home side did respond in kind when James Ryan could only get fingertips to a slight overthrow that ended up in the hands of French captain Guilhem Guirado.


O’Mahony, peerless in the aerial duels, explained: “We were quite happy with the outcome, a couple of balls were a bit scrappy. We had one or two that we weren’t happy with but as a whole I thought our set piece functioned very well.”

It's a perfectly reasonable summation as an overview but, having examined the tape and taken the findings to the training paddock, forwards' coach Simon Easterby will seek to tweak and fine-tune ahead of Saturday's game against Italy.

Conor O’Shea and the Italian coaching team will have noted how France stymied Ireland at times out of touch, forcing them to throw the lion’s share of ball to the front, albeit highlighting that some were shortened lineouts.

Off the top, quick ball, taken at the tail of a lineout is a premium platform to get over the gain-line for a variety of reasons, an assertion that was highlighted in all three matches on the opening weekend of the Six Nations.

Ireland offered a classic illustration in the first minute of the game in Paris. French flanker Yacouba Camara was bundled into touch, four metres inside the French half. Rory Best hit Henderson at the tail, Robbie Henshaw looped around to put Bundee Aki through a gap, his pass allowed Jacob Stockdale to elude one tackler before finding Keith Earls, the latter cut back sharply against the grain before being tackled on the French 22.

It was a huge territorial gain and also yielded three points as France were penalised at the breakdown. Aki crashed up ball from Ireland’s second lineout, again off the top, providing front foot ball, the visitors lost the third and from the fourth, they discovered that France’s maul defence was well co-ordinated and powerful. They splintered one or two more before the game was over.

Significant progress

The next time Ireland managed significant progress from a lineout set piece was their sixth but the game was eventually stopped by referee Nigel Owens in recognition of injuries sustained in a collision between Aki and Matthieu Jalibert. Cian Healy and CJ Stander were stripped in contact in the sequence of play following the seventh and eighth lineouts.

From the ninth, seconds after the restart, Henshaw crashes it up but 10 phases later O’Mahony’s flick pass goes forward and Ireland have lost a net three metres from where the original lineout.

The French counter Ryan’s take at the 10th with great maul defence only to concede a penalty seconds later while the 11th was an example of Ireland getting momentum but, after 15 phases, Tadhg Furlong is stripped of the ball seven metres from the French line.

Fast-forwarding to the 13th and the French sack the maul legally after just two metres but three strong carries later, Guirado is penalised for not rolling away at a ruck, the only time in the match that Jonathan Sexton failed to capitalise upon the resulting penalty opportunity with his right boot.

Toner a second-half replacement, explained why the French posed so many problems.

“A lot of it is to do with personnel. You have [Yacouba] Camara in there, he’s a really good lineout option, he’s kind of like our Peter O’Mahony.

“They did a good job of getting in the air and disrupting but I think our ball winning was good. We tried four [mauls] and we didn’t get a good return out of many. Someone like [Sebastien] Vahaamahina is really good at disrupting. They use him to lift [on their own ball] and he breaks the seams of the [Irish] lifters; he’s really good at reaching over the top [of mauls].

“It is one of the things that we pride ourselves on and that in the past we have a really good [attacking] foundation [from]”

It’ll be interesting to see how Ireland recalibrate on Saturday afternoon.