Wednesday 23 October 2019

Farrell's robust defensive system stifles world's best attack again

Tactics talk: All Blacks butcher chances under huge Irish pressure

Devin Toner, Garry Ringrose and Keith Earls shoot off the line to shut down Barrett (yellow). If the out-half had gotten his head up earlier, he could have moved the ball wide for Damian McKenzie and Rieko Ioane (red) on his outside. Instead he kicks, which Toner (green) blocks
Devin Toner, Garry Ringrose and Keith Earls shoot off the line to shut down Barrett (yellow). If the out-half had gotten his head up earlier, he could have moved the ball wide for Damian McKenzie and Rieko Ioane (red) on his outside. Instead he kicks, which Toner (green) blocks
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Shortly before kick-off last Saturday, there was a meeting of minds on the sideline between Steve Hansen and Andy Farrell.

We are not privy to what was said, but it was clear that the New Zealand boss and Ireland's defence guru were having a good chinwag.

The All Blacks departed Dublin for Rome on Sunday afternoon and Hansen will be glad to have seen the back of Farrell and his robust defensive system until at least a potential meeting at the knockout stages of next year's World Cup.

Farrell has caused untold damage to the All Blacks since he masterminded England's win over them at Twickenham in 2012, with Saturday's victory becoming his fourth in six years.

That Ireland managed to keep the All Blacks not only try-less but also to single-digit figures is a massive indication of the work that the 43-year-old has done in two and half years.

Context

Just before the hour mark (image 2), a stunning strike move off a lineout should have resulted in a try for the visitors. Ioane (yellow) makes a searing line-break but cannot get the offload away to Aaron Smith or Dane Coles (red) on his right or left. Keith Earls and Kieran Marmion (green) do brilliantly to snuff out what looked like a certain try
Just before the hour mark (image 2), a stunning strike move off a lineout should have resulted in a try for the visitors. Ioane (yellow) makes a searing line-break but cannot get the offload away to Aaron Smith or Dane Coles (red) on his right or left. Keith Earls and Kieran Marmion (green) do brilliantly to snuff out what looked like a certain try

To put that feat into context, it is worth highlighting some stats around it; for just the sixth time this century, the All Blacks were held try-less.

Furthermore, Ireland became the first northern hemisphere national team to keep New Zealand try-less since France in 1995.

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That means that after the Lions also kept the All Blacks try count at zero in last year's second Test, Farrell has stifled the most formidable attack in the world twice in 17 months.

And it's not as if Hansen's side had not been in scintillating form before their northern hemisphere tour, because the All Blacks had scored four tries or more in 12 consecutive games.

Later in the second half (image 3), Barrett (yellow) was again guilty of butchering an overlap by kicking in behind. The All Blacks have a three-on-two overlap (red) and if Barrett puts the ball through the hands, Ben Smith scores in the corner. Instead, Peter O’Mahony (green) gets back to miraculously snatch the ball from Smith’s grasp
Later in the second half (image 3), Barrett (yellow) was again guilty of butchering an overlap by kicking in behind. The All Blacks have a three-on-two overlap (red) and if Barrett puts the ball through the hands, Ben Smith scores in the corner. Instead, Peter O’Mahony (green) gets back to miraculously snatch the ball from Smith’s grasp

It's not often that the All Blacks butcher one gilt-edged opportunity, never mind several in the same game.

The sharpness was taken out of their play by Ireland's relentless defensive 80-minute effort that forced them to make uncharacteristic errors.

Farrell has been touted as a potential successor to Joe Schmidt and while he may make a good head coach, the IRFU should be eager to keep him in his current role for as long as they can because right now the Englishman is the best in the business.

So what is it that makes Farrell's defensive system so widely revered?

Two minutes later (image 4), New Zealand again target Ireland out wide and this time Richie Mo’unga (yellow) decides to pass to Ben Smith, who is behind Kieran Read, rather than the skipper catching the ball and releasing Smith, who in turn could have fed the gesturing Jack Goodhue (wide red) to score
Two minutes later (image 4), New Zealand again target Ireland out wide and this time Richie Mo’unga (yellow) decides to pass to Ben Smith, who is behind Kieran Read, rather than the skipper catching the ball and releasing Smith, who in turn could have fed the gesturing Jack Goodhue (wide red) to score

His rugby league background certainly helps, as does his hard-edged, no-nonsense approach.

Central to his philosophy is line-speed; getting off the line quickly and doing so often.

"You get up, you form a line and you get off it to make tackles, it's not rocket science," Schmidt said after Saturday's epic win.

Discipline is also key. Ireland conceded five penalties to the Kiwis' 11 and at Solider Field in 2016 it was four to their 12 on Saturday.

Most importantly, the Ireland players relish playing for Farrell. It might be a brutal slog for 80 minutes, but they know it will be worth it.

"He makes us enjoy it," Devin Toner said. "We have a lot of confidence in everyone around us, that's one of the biggest things - you know you've confidence in the lad either side of you."

However, there have been times in Farrell's tenure that Ireland have been caught too narrow in the wider channels and that was something the All Blacks attempted to exploit.

When they sat down for their video-review session however, it will have made for unpleasant viewing.

Some of the errors that they made were bewildering for a team with such a lethal attacking threat and while Hansen was slow to give all the credit to Ireland for nullifying them, he did point to Farrell's influence.

"Andy is a great defence coach," the All Blacks boss admitted.

"He is good at organising his team and filling up the space on the park."

Ireland came off the defensive line so hard that it forced New Zealand into making some really poor decisions, which ultimately cost them.

Even Beauden Barrett, who is usually coolness personified, felt rushed into pulling the trigger.

We see a good example of that in image (1). Devin Toner, Garry Ringrose and Keith Earls shoot off the line to shut down Barrett (yellow).

If the out-half had gotten his head up earlier, he could have moved the ball wide for Damian McKenzie and Rieko Ioane (red) on his outside. Instead he kicks, which Toner (green) blocks.

Just before the hour mark (image 2), a stunning strike move off a lineout should have resulted in a try for the visitors.

Ioane (yellow) makes a searing line-break but cannot get the offload away to Aaron Smith or Dane Coles (red) on his right or left. Keith Earls and Kieran Marmion (green) do brilliantly to snuff out what looked like a certain try.

Later in the second half (image 3), Barrett (yellow) was again guilty of butchering an overlap by kicking in behind.

The All Blacks have a three-on-two overlap (red) and if Barrett puts the ball through the hands, Ben Smith scores in the corner. Instead, Peter O'Mahony (green) gets back to miraculously snatch the ball from Smith's grasp.

Two minutes later (image 4), New Zealand again target Ireland out wide and this time Richie Mo'unga (yellow) decides to pass to Ben Smith, who is behind Kieran Read, rather than the skipper catching the ball and releasing Smith, who in turn could have fed the gesturing Jack Goodhue (wide red) to score.

"The way they bring the line-speed to challenge, especially on the inside, they pressure team's skill-sets," Smith said.

Each of the above examples were indicative of New Zealand's sloppy play that was invariably brought about by Ireland's desire to suffocate them.

As Schmidt alluded to, Farrell hasn't reinvented the wheel, but he has created an Irish defensive system that even the best attack in the world are struggling to break down.

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