Tuesday 20 November 2018

Leinster do not count tackles, they make tackles count

Connacht 3 Leinster 20

Leinster’s James Lowe escapes the tackle of Connacht’s Niyi Adeolokun. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Leinster’s James Lowe escapes the tackle of Connacht’s Niyi Adeolokun. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

What's the best way for a team to tackle a defence of its title? Ensure that tackling in defence is a priority.

Europe knows that Leinster can attack with the ball from anywhere and with anyone.

Garry Ringrose reminded us with his dancing feet just 43 seconds into the second half to score a scintillating effort after Rob Kearney had counter-attacked from deep and Sean O'Brien - on as an early replacement for the injured Rhys Ruddock - and Tadhg Furlong, had rumbled to leverage the space for the gifted centre to shimmy and sashay.

That effort prised open a lead, 13-3, which effectively settled a claustrophobic conflict because Connacht could have played until tomorrow night without threatening to cross the visitors' whitewash.

Leinster's Seán Cronin goes over to score his side's second try despite the efforts of Paul Boyle, left, and Kieran Marmion of Connacht. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Leinster's Seán Cronin goes over to score his side's second try despite the efforts of Paul Boyle, left, and Kieran Marmion of Connacht. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

An attacking moment of individual genius may have illuminated this win but it was the rather more prosaic elements of the game that generated the power surge.

"We tried a lot mate," wheezed Westerners coach Andy Friend. "We tried to go around 'em, we tried to go through 'em, we tried to sneak around rucks and go short side… they had an answer to everything."

Pointy-headed pedants might scan the stats and tut at Leinster's 18 missed tackles and wonder what all the fuss is about.

But a tackle is only as effective as its result; a missed tackle only as costly as a potential outcome. Leinster and their players - led from the front once more in the third successive week of his comeback by Josh van der Flier - apply different standards than those set by nerds with numbers.

They don't count tackles. They make tackles count.

Hugh Hogan is a name few - beyond a limited rugby cohort - will have heard of but he could yet become one of the most influential as Leinster navigate another season of significant intentions.

Sean O’Brien on his return to action. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Sean O’Brien on his return to action. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

As contact skills coach, Hogan works on the front-line; the primal battle for the ball when two forces collide; it is his job to ensure that his players are tooled up to come out on top in that contest.

Resolutely

At three various stages of this game, in three different quarters, Leinster resolutely resisted defensive sets that went beyond the 20-phase mark; on each occasion, Connacht seemed to retreat a yard with every phase.

"We are making decent tackles, which is important," averred Leo Cullen. "To be able to manage some of the contacts on our terms, that helps us build the line and make good decisions around the ruck.

"The work in contact areas is huge, ultimately it decides the game more often than not. And Hugh has helped us there in technical terms.

"And then it's also within the system with Stuart Lancaster, the work he does there, it was generally pretty good."

Connacht's Caolin Blade in action against Josh van der Flier and Sean O'Brien of Leinster. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Connacht's Caolin Blade in action against Josh van der Flier and Sean O'Brien of Leinster. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Leinster also pushed their wingers up to challenge Connacht's attempted width and, although there were a few disconnects on occasion, the blue wall was virtually impenetrable.

Connacht had neither the strength nor subtlety to pierce it and, with Bundee Aki notably cowed, each forward step was succeeded by two that sent them backwards.

St Mary's man Hogan, formerly with the A side, had been drafted into the senior coaching staff last term but it is only now that his teachings are bearing fruit.

"At the start of the season especially we were soaking tackles and giving the opposition yards but we're just trying to get more impact and a better hit in the tackle," said van der Flier.

"It sounds very simple and it doesn't always happen but it's something we've been really focusing on. The better the tackle the slower the ball is.

"You can hit them back if you have a dominant tackle, and then you can get back up and slow down the ruck and stuff."

Leinster's Josh van der Flier offloads to team-mate James Tracy as he is tackled by Sean O'Brien of Connacht. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Leinster's Josh van der Flier offloads to team-mate James Tracy as he is tackled by Sean O'Brien of Connacht. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

In contrast to the supine version of themselves which imploded here last April, this was a world apart.

The new tackling laws have aided the conversion, although it carries risk; Robin Copeland's upending by Sean Cronin and Scott Fardy brought howls of protest from some, even if the Connacht man was never driven or dropped in a violent manner; referee John Lacey averred.

Leinster's focus is to hit low and follow through, a throwback for those of us who were first taught the game as youngsters.

"In theory it is probably what you teach kids," agreed Van der Flier. "You're trying to get your shoulder in close hit them and drive them back.

"Sometimes you can get complacent, just be happy to tackle and let them fall over. But it is something Hugh has really put focus on and it was pretty good this evening and it's something we can build on this week."

Munster, for certain, will expect something quite different than the powder-puff Ulster side who waved them through for fun in Limerick when they pitch up in the Aviva on Saturday. And, with O'Brien hoovering up a mountain of work in an unscheduled 55-minute shift, Leinster, who will presumably rest Furlong, van der Flier, Johnny Sexton, Luke McGrath to name but a few, seem to be ticking along nicely.

With a nod to Munster, Cullen added, "There is a lot of emotion with the game, it always is the way when the Irish teams play against each other. But it is important we are in control amid the chaos of the game."

The defence of their realm begins with defence.

Connacht - T O'Halloran; C Kelleher, T Farrell, B Aki, N Adeolokun (K Godwin 69); J Carty (C Ronaldson 75), K Marmion (C Blade 62); D Buckley (P McCabe 66), D Heffernan (T McCartney 54), F Bealham (D Robertson-McCoy 68); U Dillane, Q Roux (J Cannon 62); S O'Brien, C Fainga'a (P Boyle 55), R Copeland (F Bealham 73)

Leinster - R Kearney; J Larmour (R O'Loughlin 66), G Ringrose, J Tomane, J Lowe; J Sexton (R Byrne 75), L McGrath (N McCarthy 71); C Healy (E Byrne (57), S Cronin (J Tracy 57), T Furlong (A Porter 57); D Toner (R Moloney 75), S Fardy; R Ruddock (S O'Brien 26), J van der Flier, J Conan.

Ref - M Mitrea (FIR)

Irish Independent

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