Anatomy of a perfect try: CJ Stander's effort against England took hours of practice, a few failed attempts and a brave call
In the immediate aftermath of Ireland's stunning win over England last weekend, Joe Schmidt offered a brief insight into how his meticulous mind works.
The Kiwi explained how the only time Ireland had used the sensational 'power play' that led to CJ Stander's try was against England back in 2015.
Evidently, this was a move that was carefully plotted for England in particular, and although three years ago Billy Vunipola managed to tackle Robbie Henshaw as he went through the gap, Schmidt waited for the right moment to use it again.
In the three years since, the master tactician tweaked it so much so that it still managed to bamboozle the English defence.
It was a snapshot of everything that Schmidt is about, and Johnny Sexton went one step further, earlier this week, when he revealed how Ireland had attempted to use the move earlier in the game, but again it didn't work - this time due to scrappy ball off a lineout.
However, rather than let the move fizzle out, Sexton had the wherewithal to quickly shift the focus and one trigger word later, the plan changed, and Garry Ringrose scored the try via an alternative route.
The warning signs for England had been there but they failed to heed them and were punished for it.
"We planned to play it, definitely," Sexton told the Left Wing podcast.
"It was one of our go-to plays in that area of the pitch. We had actually called it at the start of the game. We won the lineout but it was scrappy and that was actually when we put up the kick for Rob (Kearney), when Anthony Watson was by himself back there.
"It was called earlier but we didn't get a chance to use it. So then the next lineout, we called it and it worked a treat. It was something that we probably scouted with England a few years ago.
"Obviously they like to read that wrap-around and they read the other side of it and we snuck Bundee through.
"It was very pleasing. We had worked very hard on it. Joe is pretty big on the detail so we had run it loads of times last week.
"It's so pleasing when you can pull it out and do it well on the big stage. A lot of work does go into those kinda things."
Sexton's role in the try was crucial as he carried out Schmidt's plan to perfection, but Tadhg Furlong was equally as important.
The amount of moving parts that go into pulling off a move like that is remarkable and it again highlighted why Schmidt is at the peak of his powers.
"It's quite clever isn't it," Sexton continued.
"He's (Furlong) a very high-skilled prop but it's natural for the opposition to think that he's just going to stand and pivot it back to the 10.
"Obviously a big part of the play was using someone who you wouldn't think has such skill. Tadhg worked very hard during the week to be able to perfect that transfer (to Bundee Aki).
"That's what makes the move really. There are a lot of different parts that go to it as well - different running lines away from the ball that a lot of people probably don't even see, but they make a huge difference to dragging people out of the way.
"We did it really well but I don't know if Joe will be happy! He'll probably find something wrong with it. He'll be happy that we got the score from it - it contributed a big part to the result I think." Appearing on Off the Ball during the week, Brian O'Driscoll spoke about the move just as glowingly, as he outlined why he believes Schmidt is so highly regarded.
"The sequence of everyone doing their role was an absolute thing of joy," the former Ireland captain enthused.
"The loop play isn't as simplistic as everyone makes out. There's lots of different varieties.
"It's not, 'Oh Ireland or Leinster do the loop play.' There's a bit more to it. This was very, very clever though because of the personnel there.
"Johnny shifted on really early and that's the secret on this particular loop play. On a lot of other loop plays, he will try and straighten early, sit the defence down, then throw the pass and come on the loop if he wants to get it back.
"As the years go on, there are more plays that I have never seen.
"It's rare enough that you see the modifications that we are seeing with this Ireland team. I think there is ingenuity like you would associate with other great teams like the All Blacks.
"I think we are at the cutting edge, Joe Schmidt is at the cutting edge of plays. In years to come, we're going to see coaches copying what he does because his thought given to the game-plan, and the rationale behind it, differentiates him from any other coach in the world."
Having perfected this particular 'power play' at the third attempt, we may not see it for a while again as opposition teams will be more wary of Sexton's dummy loop.
But Schmidt's innovation is such that his play book is constantly evolving, and while he has his core set of moves, his ability to tweak them to devastating effect is exactly why the New Zealand public are gushing over their potential future head coach.
Ireland are lucky to have him.
If at first you don’t succeed, try. Then score a try again: Plan A doesn’t work, so Sexton finds a Plan B
1 - Ireland win a lineout on the right and set up with Tadhg Furlong (circled) in the middle of the field. Peter O’Mahony acts as a dummy jumper and Rory Best instead aims for Iain Henderson in the middle, but George Kruis reads it and ensures that it isn’t clean ball (circled right). Best recovers but the disruption forces a rethink.
2 – The reshuffle means that the tunnel (gap) between CJ Stander and Dan Leavy has not been created, which Johnny Sexton immediately recognises and as a result shouts a trigger word for a new move. The out-half is already on the move (circled). Furlong is still in position.
3 - Furlong waits behind Sexton but he is no longer active in the move. Sexton has already spotted that Anthony Watson (circled) is alone in the back field and knows that the full-back is less than convincing under the high ball.
4 - Rob Kearney and Garry Ringrose recognise the new call and set off to chase Sexton’s towering kick, which Watson spills, under pressure from Kearney. Ringrose is quickest to react and pounces on the ball to score – giving Ireland a dream start. Plan A was aborted, Plan B worked perfectly.
THE STANDER TRY:
1 – Just over 15 minutes after Ringrose’s try, Ireland win a lineout on the opposite side of the pitch. This time they change the call and O’Mahony collects the ball, rather than acting as a dummy jumper. O’Mahony’s landing isn’t the cleanest but he does well to provide clean ball for Conor Murray, so that the power play can be launched.
2 – The tunnel between Stander and Leavy (highlighted), which Ireland were unable to create earlier, is in place, and from there, Murray arrows a pass to Sexton. It’s important to highlight Furlong’s position here (circled) – again it’s similar to the earlier play, only he knows that he is going to have a key role this time around.
3 – Murray’s pass to Sexton through the Stander/Leavy tunnel is perfect and suddenly the move is starting to take real shape.
4 – Furlong has stepped up in order to collect the pass from Sexton. Out on the far right wing Keith Earls is waving his hand looking for the ball, which is enough to ensure that Elliot Daly keeps close tabs on him. Sexton moves into position as if to play his trademark loop and the English defence has eyes only for the out-half. Note how Earls is still animated out wide. Stander’s trail run (circled) is also important here as he waits for a potential Bundee Aki line break. Ringrose (arrow) makes his move.
5a&b – Rather than returning the ball to Sexton, Furlong plays a sublime pass to Aki who is about to power through. This is better illustrated from the higher angle, Owen Farrell has been totally caught out by Sexton’s dummy, while Ben Te’o is also in no man’s land as he was lining up to smash his former Leinster team-mate (circled). Aki, meanwhile, has breezed through the gaping hole created by Furlong’s pass and Sexton’s dummy with Ringrose (arrowed) also ghosting behind the defence to Sexton’s right.
6 – Aki still has a lot to do but he is helped by two outstanding support lines from Ringrose and Stander who, as shown in Figure 4, started well ahead of him but are now alongside Aki. Watson has closed down the option of passing to Ringrose on Aki’s right (circled) but the Connacht centre instinctively plays a perfectly-timed pass to his left for Stander, who does brilliantly to score at the base of the post.
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