Saturday 19 October 2019

Analysis: The tactical power play that has served Joe Schmidt and Ireland so well

Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Joe Schmidt has treated Leinster and Ireland supporters to some memorable set-piece tries over the years, but one particular move stands out more than others.

The 'power play' in question is one that dates back to Schmidt's early days in Leinster and while it has been tweaked and developed, the fundamentals around the move have remained the same.

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It essentially involves winning clean ball off a lineout, hitting up a couple of phases and then bouncing back against the grain to exploit the opposition on the inside.

The first standout memory of the strike play was used in the 2012 Heineken Cup semi-final when Leinster carved open the Clermont Auvergne defence for Cian Healy to score.

Schmidt had also used it before that on lesser occasions and it is a favourite of his that he has carried with him through to his time with Ireland.

Other teams have attempted to replicate it and when it is done right, it is a joy to behold.

The latest example of Ireland executing it to perfection was in their win over Russia last week and just as he was seven years ago, Kearney was heavily involved once again.

Schmidt has a back catalogue of plays that he has used since his time coaching in New Zealand and France, but when he finishes up with Ireland soon, this is the one he will be most remembered for.

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That Johnny Sexton called the play inside two minutes even caught Schmidt off guard as he explained:

"To be honest I was surprised Johnny called it so early in the game, virtually the first play, because you want guys to be a little bit fatigued mentally so that they don't see it coming because we do know that teams may anticipate that we use that play.

"A lot of it is down to the execution of it and just the timing was spot on. We haven’t used it for a while so maybe you bring it out of the locker every so often. That was my take on it anyway."

Isa Nacewa is working as a television commentator for New Zealand television and apparently he has been calling Schmidt's famed moves before they even unfold.

Talk about two rugby brains cut from the same cloth.

Here we take a look at the working parts of the famed Schmidt power play.

1 – Niall Scannell finds Tadhg Beirne, who wins clean ball off the top off the lineout and Luke McGrath sets the move in motion by firing a bullet pass to Johnny Sexton.


2 – Sexton has Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose running off him and the out-half opts to pass to Aki who has hammered through an aggressive line.

Sexton continues his run as if to go for the trademark loop play off Aki, but instead the centre carries hard into the Russia defence.


3 – It takes three Russian defenders to take Aki down, which is crucial as it means they cannot reset properly from here.

Sexton meanwhile, has continued his run out the back of Ringrose.


4 – Ringrose and Jordi Murphy arrive quickly to the breakdown and are in place to clear out any red jerseys.

McGrath is briefly blocked off by Ramil Gaisin, but the Ireland scrum-half maintains his composure and bumps off the Russia out-half.


5 – Beirne has shown great work-rate after winning the lineout and the lock gets around the corner to run another hard line at the Russian defence.


6 – Ireland commit three players to the breakdown after Beirne's carry, which is crucial for the switch play to work.

While Peter O'Mahony (7) has done well to clear out the initial jackal threat, John Ryan (yellow) and Jean Kleyn's (blue) roles are just as important.

Ryan clears out beyond the breakdown, which attracts two defenders and Kleyn pins another into the ruck.


7 – Kleyn's (blue) role is clearly highlighted here as he stops the Russian (6) from getting set as Ryan holds his position.

That creates clean ball for McGrath to play off and he bounces back to the blindside for Murphy.


8 – As Sexton did earlier in the move, McGrath (yellow) runs a dummy loop off Murphy, while Rob Kearney (red) appears on the scene and tears through the gap that has been created.

Schmidt is big on animation off the ball and Aki is doing that well at the top of the screen as he provides another potential option. That creates more indecision in the defensive line.

Again, it is worth pointing out Kleyn (blue) here as the gap is created by the Russia (6) not being able to get back into the defensive line.


9 – Murphy (yellow) gets hit hard in the tackle as he plays the pass back inside to Kearney who takes advantage of the working parts of Schmidt's move.


10 – The reverse angle gives a good picture of the point where Murphy (yellow) passes the ball to Kearney.

We can clearly see the gap that opened up with the help of Kleyn (blue) and Ryan (black).


Kearney shows good pace to run clear and score a cracking try off a move that he must know like the back of his hand at this stage.

Being the play-maker, Sexton is the one who made the call to run the move, even if Schmidt was surprised that the out-half called it that early in the game.

We hear so much about Sexton's instinct and how he sees the game several moves ahead of everyone else. This is a good example of that.

"They’re actually really well organised defensively and playing against the coaches that they have over the years, they make life very difficult for you and they like to spread across the pitch and get 14 guys in the front line," Sexton said, offering an insight into his thinking behind calling that particular power play.

"So we kinda thought that there would be a bit of space back to the rucks at times and we nearly got it a few other times from phase play. I just had a feeling.

"It worked for us. I remember over in Clermont a few years ago in the semi-final. Rob runs it really well. Jordi picked up the detail during the week really well.

"Yeah, I had a good feeling it was going to work and why not use it when you can?"

Schmidt will be expected dip into his playbook again for Saturday's meeting with Samoa as well as a potential quarter-final after that.

As was proven by Jacob Stockdale's stunning try against the All Blacks last year, which came off the back of another Schmidt special, one power play could be the difference between winning and losing against the best teams in the world.

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