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Rugby Healy, Furlong, Van der Flier and O’Mahony could prove secret weapon with ball in hand if Schmidt’s side are to reproduce performance of 11 months ago
Eleven months is a long time in professional sport; faces and tactics change, form fluctuates and memories fade.
With that in mind, I took a brief walk down memory lane this week in an attempt to understand, and remind myself, how Ireland beat the All Blacks last year.
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When we think back to that special November night at Lansdowne Road many will remember Jacob Stockdale’s perfectly-executed chip and chase, Peter O’Mahony scrambling to collect Beauden Barrett’s grubber to deny Ben Smith a certain try, or Kieran Read fumbling in midfield when the Irish line had lit up like the Las Vegas Strip
But where was it really won? What actually made the difference that night?
Reviewing the footage and statistics from 11 months ago, a number of things became apparent, particularly up front, where my attention naturally drifts.
The forward-heavy statistics were at the high end: 4/4 for mauls, 7/7 for scrums and 11/13 (84.6 per cent) in the lineout. The good news is that, albeit against two sides operating at a considerably lower level than New Zealand, in Ireland’s four World Cup games to date their maul is operating at 86 per cent, lineout at 93 per cent and scrum at 94 per cent – so those basic elements are generally hitting the mark.
One of the most glaring differences between that November night and the time since has been the drop-off in carrying success by our props and flankers, as outlined in the images.
Iain Henderson starts today in place of Devin Toner, and the other seven in the pack featured from the off the last time these two sides met, a night when Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong, Peter O’Mahony and Josh van der Flier made valuable metres with ball in hand.
The effect of it was two-fold: the first and obvious one being that it generated momentum and earned Ireland valuable territory but, secondly, it took the pressure off the principal ball carriers around the fringes, CJ Stander and James Ryan, bringing a sense of unpredictability to Irish play, putting doubt in New Zealand minds when the ball was at the base of a ruck.
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