One of the most unusual parts of Ireland’s successful Australian tour was the lack of palpable maul success in the first two tests.
It’s something I’d been predicting in one form or another for two tests but to no avail until this test. My reasoning for assuming an Irish maul advantage was fairly simple – Australia were lacking offensive and defensive pushing power in a full, 8 on 8 contest when Pocock and Hooper were on the field.
The biggest slap in the face to my reasoning came in game two when Australia scored a penalty try off the back of an 8m lineout drive. Let’s have a look at how that happened;
It’s a good initial take from the Wallabies in a decent area of the line – smack in the middle. We haven’t competed in the air to prioritise the counter shove.
You can see the initial problem with the shove – Toner doesn’t get his usual clamp into the drive of the maul, and his passive body position gives Australia an angle to push into. That leads to O’Mahony getting turned out of the initial defence and gives the Wallabies good initial impetus but they’re heading towards the touchline, so it’s still not too bad.
We recovered quite well after the initial slip;
This is quite a generous stop from the second test referee, Williams. At this point, Australia aren’t on a first stop, so they’re in a great position even though they’ve been stopped and moving laterally for six seconds.
Furlong’s trip as he was coming around to hit the touchline flank (25:44) was actually a pretty critical moment here because I think if he gets into position there, the Wallabies can’t flow back towards the touchline.
Once they peel back around the corner, Ireland are in “get under them” mode but Healy’s play at 25:50 to tilt the maul down was enough reason for Williams to run under the posts and show Healy a yellow card.
The biggest issue from an Irish perspective here is that we’ll have felt that we did enough to get a first stop and a use it in the middle of this maul but we were let down by a few scrappy errors like Toner’s initial hit, O’Mahony’s peel out and Furlong’s trip.
For the rest of that game, we ended up conceding a few scrappy penalties but the refereeing of the timing of our stops will have bothered us post-game.
For me, this maul is effectively stationary (and going backwards) for 11 seconds – 73:14 to 73:25 – but Australia get a first stop call after seven seconds of non-movement. Laws 15 and 17e are the relevant ones here; in my opinion, I don’t think we got the reward for some excellent initial counter-bracing and shoving with five mauling against eight for nearly 14 seconds.
Plus the margins on the Wallaby maul losing shape and CJ being adjudged as coming in at the side are very thin.
On the resulting penalty and 5m lineout drive, we did much, much better and stuffed the Wallaby maul cold.
That’s a solid five/six on eight win for Ireland, with James Ryan getting the crucial intervention right at the start. His big arm over the top of the forming Wallaby maul prevented an easy transfer;
That allows Porter and Beirne to swing up and squeeze the life out of the eight-man Wallaby setup, with Toner and McGrath adding the pincer movement from the infield side.
Ireland still have two men spare on either side so this was a pretty big win in the second test with six minutes left.
I mention this work from the second test to show that we did have an advantage here when refereed correctly – anytime you see five holding out eight, there’s a good reason for it – but we weren’t really using it offensively.
We could have chased up on the offensive maul but we mostly used it as a feint to get after the Australian 9/10/12 on the break.
This is a good example.
Play close attention to Toner’s smooth take and swivel, Healy’s arcing line around Murray from the front and Furlong’s shunt on Coleman to create a gap in the cover across that Healy, Sexton or Earls might take advantage of.
It was a good potential tactic because Australia were looking to hide Foley (who’s the mandatory player between the touchline and the five-metre line) on all kinds of defensive plays but especially off of maul defence.
They defended full lineouts with their two halfbacks in at receiver or in the tram to keep them out of traffic so they could keep one of their opensides in the backline to look after Beale, who’s another guy they didn’t want taking too much defensive contact.
That would be important in the third test, which I’ll finally get to 773 words in.
These are always the longest articles.
Spotting the Mismatch
With Australia’s tendency to keep Foley in the tram on all but close range lineouts and one of their opensides in midfield, that gave Ireland a mauling advantage if we decided to take the Wallabies for a walk. The only question would be whether Australia would stow Foley away in the final test.
That meant that Ireland could number up on Australia initially on full lineouts and make good initial gains as long as our maul set up was good enough.
The basic principle is illustrated like this;
The only question was whether or not we could make the eight vs seven you can see here count enough times during the game to be effective.
Getting The Drive In Place
Ireland’s maul set up was really good in this game. Have a look at the moving parts of this one and pay close attention to the starting alignment before the throw comes in;
Toner’s jump is perfect – no fat on it at all – and he’s well lifted by McGrath and O’Mahony, who set the front of the maul with a nice tight brace.
Conan’s initial positioning as a potential lifter/jumper disguises his role here as a drive component. He steps back, to the left and then binds with Stander, who has stepped in from the receiver position. Ryan and Furlong complete the drive part of the maul as Scannell comes around to the tail. Toner slots the ball into the Conan/Stander pocket, and the maul is set.
Look at the numbers, too.
Ireland have all 8 forwards in the lineout, while Australia only have six. They’ve kept Paenga-Amosa and Pocock in midfield to guard against the break – and Henshaw/Aki in particular – so that gives Ireland a massive initial advantage.
This was our best maul of the series to date. Technically, we’re pretty much spot on here. Stander, Conan, Ryan, Furlong and Scannell are driving straight through on Toner, who’s got O’Mahony and McGrath forming a perfect arrowhead through the Wallaby cover.
The Wallabies body positions are under a lot of stress from the initial Irish shove. Our set up was such that even when the front compressed, our ball carrier was well out of reach of the Wallaby locks coming over the top. We had two banks of three – Toner, O’Mahony and McGrath drilling away at the front, Furlong, Ryan and Conan adding the drive, with Stander locking it in place and Scannell carrying.
The more the Australian locks would reach over, the easier our push would become and they were only hitting Stander.
Paenga-Amosa has to join sooner rather than later and you can see why Pocock is scanning the backfield. If Ireland drive on the maul, he’ll have to join to repel it and, as Australia are already compressing with every metre gained, that leaves five Wallabies defending nearly 65 metres of space.
We gave away a ropey penalty on the break – off a poor Murray decision to carry rather than pass, for my money – but you could see the gain. Ireland made 14 heavy metres with the Australian’s walking back at a fair pace.
That smelled like an advantage, and we would maul another five times in this contest to a fair degree of success, using variations of this 3-3-1-1 maul build.
Ireland go for a full man lineout – again, look at the starting alignment and remember it – and Australia leave two forwards in midfield with Phipps and Foley technically defending the lineout.
Look at Conan’s step out – it’s identical to the last throw, as is Stander’s route and Ryan and Furlong’s slot in.
You can see the mechanics of Toner’s drop and pass clearer on this GIF.
Stander takes the ball from Toner, before settling behind Conan and Ryan. This puts a lot of real estate between the ball and the Australian locks, even before Scannell arrives to complete.
We drive Australia well again on this maul.
We angled towards the touchline with this drive – again, a deliberate ploy to draw midfield numbers. Australia were down to 14 at this point, so we were looking to compress as many men as we could into that 15m channel.
By the time the maul had finished, Australia only had two men defending the space out of shot here;
A pass from Aki, rather than a carry, would have opened the space for us here but we scored a penalty from this sequence and could well have had a try but for the base of the post eluding Murray because of Kepu.
We would use the Conan step out, and the same maul build to great success all through this game.
In this one, we managed to drive Australia to the point of conceding a maul penalty with the line at our mercy. Everything from the throw to the lifters, to the target, is identical to the other two maul builds.
In the initial going, we soaked the counter-shove but ran into a bit of trouble once we got traction.
Why was that? Toner got into a suboptimal position as he was straining against the shove. His arse got above the Wallaby shoulder line.
When that happens, he takes the steam out of our shove a small bit. It happens to Toner a fair bit because of his height – it can’t really be helped.
We dealt with it well though and peeled around the Wallaby counter after their touchline defence over shoved.
In this position, they’re down three defenders and once we felt the weakness, we shoved for the break, which in this case was through Kepu, who was on his own here.
The Wallabies were forced to collapse and should have seen a man in the bin and Gauzere running under the posts based on the evidence of the second test, which I showed you above.
We’d get another shot at a 5m drive, but we’d have to show them something different this time around.
At this point, Australia are under massive pressure. They got away with a yellow card and a penalty try earlier, so this time they would have to compete in the air because if we got this down through Toner again, we’d run over pretty easily.
In this situation, we want them to counter jump. As I’ve said before, when you jump, you lose the lifter(s) and the jumper from the initial maul defence. 5m out, that’s lethal.
So how do Ireland set up?
Exactly the same as the previous lineout.
Here’s the lineout I showed you above before the throw;
Here’s the one that leads to the first try;
They are identical.
What we want to do here is use the Australian’s need to counter-jump against them by messing with their expectations. Remember the alignments I asked you to think of earlier? When we set up like this the other three times, we threw to Toner and built around him with McGrath and Murphy/O’Mahony lifting and Conan stepping out to join with Stander as Furlong and Ryan joined.
We have to make this throw look the same to trigger their front lifting pod and then attack the space they will leave behind.
It’s a lineout scheme of three parts.
First, we have to trigger Rodda and his two lifters – Samu and Tui – while disguising McGrath’s lifting route to Murphy for as long as possible.
This is the best part for me;
Look at Toner first. His step back has two purposes. The first is to sell the spot where he wants Australia to jump. The second is to disguise McGrath’s line until the last second. Rodda’s lifter sees McGrath running, sees Toner shrugging his shoulders and, at that last second, decides to trigger the counter jump on Rodda. It looks like McGrath is running to lift Toner at the front with Conan stepping out as before and that’s enough to sell the Wallabies that we’re using the same call.
Look at Murphy’s spin around Ryan at the back. Previously, Murphy had filled O’Mahony’s role to the letter on this scheme but this is the alt-variant. By swimming around Ryan, he’s now in a position to jump with Furlong and McGrath lifting him. Toner’s shrug is at the exact moment that McGrath runs past him to lift Murphy.
The trap is set.
Toner triggers the Australian counter jump. Scannell throws the perfect lob over the peak of the jump to hit Murphy perfectly.
Conan swings around to form the drive with Stander as he did before, and Ryan bulls around the corner to finish the trio behind Murphy, Furlong and McGrath.
Conan’s and Ryan’s pace on this scheme was something else and it really upped the power when we needed an emphatic finish.
Ireland are almost over the line before anyone realises what’s happened and the initial momentum is so powerful that Scannell arrives just as Stander is bulling this over. Whenever you see a maul already formed 5m out before the opposition is even in proper defensive positions…
… a try is usually on the way. This was a superb lineout scheme in its design and execution, especially in the context of everything that had come before it.
When Australia thought we were going left, we went right.