Tuesday 23 January 2018

Battle of the skies key to Cardiff clash with or without roof as lineout wars start early

Ireland ace Iain Henderson Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Ireland ace Iain Henderson Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Wales may have put a roof on their stadium but it will not prevent an aerial assault from the Irish on Friday.

Perhaps duplicity may be the preferred ally of the home side who, amidst such dire form, may require every trick in the back to aid their cause.

Just like six years ago when, on the back of six successive defeats, Wales helped themselves to a late steal thanks to an infamous try when Mike Phillips scored what was deemed a perfectly legitimate try from a quick Matthew Rees throw-in.

The problem was that the perma-tanned pilferer had done so, imperfectly, and with an illegitimate ball; Rees - unwittingly, he claimed - took the quick throw with a replacement ball, ie not the one that had been originally kicked to touch.

Cue Cardiff bedlam which, to most regular visitors, is the Welsh capital's default status in any event.

The Welsh lineout has been faultless thus far; their visitors, an opening-day moment of utter insipidness aside, when allowing the Scottish centres to make fools of the men in green, have mended their broken ways.

Something has to give.

Of their 77 lineouts (Wales with 37, Ireland with 42), they have only coughed up two each thus far.

Unusually, Wales have opted to avoid their predictable sky-scrapers in the second-row - albeit that might change if Luke Charteris is introduced - with Justin Tipuric and Sam Warburton taking 24 balls between them.

"We have noticed it," said Iain Henderson. "Justin Tipuric is a massive threat at the front, he is very athletic and he can be up almost in a single lift and have somebody chasing around the back of it. It gets them good quick ball at the front.

"Sam Warburton is an athletic guy, I'm sure he is easy to lift and he gets up very fast. They get good quick ball and maul a fair bit off it. It depends on your personnel. Alun Wyn Jones has taken a good bit of ball, Jake Ball not so much but it is only a matter of time.

"We have analysed what they do in certain areas of the field, whether it is a four-man or five-man, six or seven maybe further up the pitch."

Simon Easterby, Ireland's set-piece supremo, has noted the trend too but also hints that Wales may unwrap a different threat on Friday, and he also downplays Ireland's relative aerial success since Scotland's effective spoiling on day one.

"We might have won 22 against France but the quality of those 22 weren't 22 good ones and France didn't compete that much," he said.

"Wales pose a real threat at scrum and lineout time, both with and without the ball, and we know we've come under pressure against them in the past in certain situations and we've to make sure we avoid that.

"Luke Charteris is a bit like Devin Toner - a bit of a freak for his size, has incredible range in terms of his lineout ability and the ability to be very disruptive and destructive.

"He is a good footballer, good engine on him. Like Dev, he doesn't miss many minutes, he usually finishes. Whoever they choose to partner their captain, Alun Wyn, they are in a powerful position."

Securing one's own ball provides a perfect platform for setting up scoring opportunities, either from maul or strike moves; unlike the famous Justin Harrison theft on his own line in the deciding last few minutes of the 2001 Lions tour, fewer opponents tend to attack in the air, especially that close to the whitewash.

"You will see a lot of teams doing that because the mauling threat is so much greater now," agreed Henderson.

"It you have a lead of four points, you don't want to give a try away, whereas you mightn't necessarily mind giving a penalty away.

"However, if they go up in the air and they get their maul set and you don't get down to sack it, Wales - they've got good mauls going - will definitely be likely to take points from you there.

"If you stay on the ground, you are ready to smash into it and defend the maul with everything you've got.

"That's about weighing up which one will work better, a lineout steal, which you might only get 10pc of the time against staying on the ground, where they will only score 10pc of the time.

"You weigh up your options and make them play out of it."

Irish Independent

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