‘Dominant tackle’ stats paint grim picture of regression since winning Grand Slam at Twickenham two years ago
"It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog." Mark Twain
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For all of its complexities, deepening analysis and almost annual law alterations, the blueprint for winning rugby matches hasn't changed that much since Webb Ellis supposedly first picked up the ball and ran with it.
Whether a coach is handing you your first or last jersey, the core message remains the same: the initial point of contact can either get you into the game or knock you out of it.
The Ireland of 2018, the majority of whom are still wearing green, roared with ferocity once the referee pursed his lips for the first whistle. They hunted in packs from the off, desperate to win the opening physical exchanges, intent on landing the first psychological blow.
Joe Schmidt's Grand Slam champions played on the edge, their doggedness and energy ensuring they rarely lost the gain-line battle - the primary source of any team's oxygen. But the Class of 2020 are struggling to breathe, their lungs obstructed by the baggage of 2019.
It's become obvious that they are no longer feared. And that needs to change.
Attacking alterations have dominated the conversation around Andy Farrell's early priorities, but the attitude towards the collisions, particularly early on, must be addressed before anything else can be implemented. Walking before running comes to mind.
The numbers around 'dominant tackles' - when the defender makes contact and drives the attacker back in one movement - paint a pretty sorry picture in the panel.
It is one of the better methods for gauging a side's performance on the gain-line and yet the last time Ireland came out on the right side of that particular ledger in a Six Nations game was their Grand Slam success in Twickenham almost two years ago.
Interestingly, that was also the last Six Nations game that saw England beaten in the dominant tackle count - although they did come out all square (21-21) in last weekend's defeat to France.
The dominant tackle count is obviously not a guaranteed predictor of match outcomes, as the panel also shows, but it is an obvious area of Irish regression over the past 14 months.
In 2018, Ireland had a reputation for racing out of the blocks and being incredibly difficult to rein in.
When Wales came to the Aviva that spring, Jacob Stockdale launched Dan Biggar's opening kick-off back down the field towards halfway, and although Leigh Halfpenny scrambled well to field the ball, before he had a chance to turn his body away from the touchline, Chris Farrell - on his Six Nations debut - had wrapped his 110kg frame wrapped around the full-back and was driving him backwards and to ground. The crowd erupted.
A panicked Wales immediately tried to settle things, Gareth Davies asking Rob Evans to carry it straight up the middle, but the loosehead was unceremoniously driven back where he came from by a Munster double act of Peter O'Mahony and CJ Stander.
The stadium shook again. Welsh heads dropped and Ireland were bouncing around the place before some supporters had taken their seats. It was a similar opening in Twickenham on St Patrick's Day of 2018: Maro Itoje taking the ball deep in his 22 from Johnny Sexton's kick-off.
Seeing the onrushing wall of green he attempted to crab across the field but he couldn't avoid the claws of his opposite number James Ryan, who manhandled him and heaved him in the direction of his own posts. The tone was set.
Ireland trailed England and Wales 7-0 with only three minutes on the clock in last year's competition; their failure to impose themselves defensively from the off allowing Hadleigh Parkes and Jonny May to touch down for early tries.
The same thing happened last week. Scotland fly-half Adam Hastings was the first man to charge at the Irish defensive line. It looked like a foolish option but he made ground despite running into two Irish forwards, Iain Henderson and Rob Herring.
That trend continued for the first 90 seconds, Hamish Watson, Scott Cummings, Jonny Gray and Nick Haining punching holes as Scotland rolled into the Ireland 22.
Were it not for a smart breakdown turnover from Caelan Doris, an area of the game that saved Farrell's side time and again last week, they could have found themselves chasing another Six Nations game.
To be aggressive in defence you have to be brave, you need to back your speed, technique and decision-making to get your target to ground.
Miss him and you could leave the rest of the defence exposed. It's an awful lot easier to be brave when confidence is high, when you are sure you will make the hit, when you are confident those around you are working in sync.
On the back of such an underwhelming World Cup, with such deep psychological scarring, some players are bound to be a bit risk-averse, a bit tentative.
The "performance anxiety" that David Nucifora diagnosed in his Japan post-mortem still seems to be lurking in the background.
Brian O'Driscoll has lamented the lack of a 'dog' in the side, and on recent performances he has a point. But this is largely the same squad that out-fought everyone else just two seasons ago. The dog is in there, it just seems to have lost its bite.
Ireland will never have a massive physical advantage, but winning defensive collisions isn't all about size, it's mostly about attitude and timing; we saw as much last weekend at the Stade de France where Antoine Dupont and Vincent Rattez - two men who tip the scales at about 80kg - were among the game's most effective tacklers.
I met Shaun Edwards after his latest masterclass and he was raving about the game at the Aviva the day before, lavishing praise on the intensity of the play from both sides, and he's not one to sugar-coat things.
He was right too, there was plenty to be proud of in last Saturday's performance, particularly in Ireland's scramble defence. But if Farrell's side are going to be genuine contenders for this Six Nations title they need to be producing their big moments in the earlier phases of contact; pushing the opposition back, forcing them to rethink or kick it away rather than having to turn the ball over in their own 22 to prevent an almost certain try.
It wasn't that long ago that our Six Nations rivals, and even some on the other side of the world, used to bemoan Irish cynicism, insisting our national team were getting away with more than their fair share of law-bending.
You don't hear those cries anymore, partly because the fortunes of the international team have plummeted, but also because Ireland have become easier to play against.
There's a fine line between keeping your discipline and being too wary of getting pinged by officials to the point that you make no impact. I'd like to see them be a bit cuter and to self-police games with a strong - and legal - arm when required. You can't always rely on the referee to set the boundaries.
With 59 minutes on the clock and Ireland 16-9 ahead last weekend, Peter O'Mahony won a lineout throw from Herring and the pack set up a maul in Scotland's 22.
It was the ideal opportunity to take hold of the game and kill off Scotland's resistance, yet Hamish Watson was still able to disrupt the maul before wrestling possession from Josh van der Flier. The Ireland of 2018 wouldn't have allowed that to happen. He would have been tossed out of there without a second's thought.
At the Principality Stadium last spring, Justin Tipuric and Co played on the edge of the laws; closing gaps and pushing in the lineout, coming in from the side, slowing down Irish ball.
The Welsh frustrated Ireland, before humiliating them in a one-sided cruise to the Grand Slam.
Maybe Scotland had a bigger cause last weekend and were closer to the right emotional pitch. They were still hurting from their humbling in Yokohama and were on a mission to right a few wrongs.
Ireland owe Wales one for last year and should be in the same mental space this afternoon. If they aren't desperate to prove a point today there is something desperately wrong.
I don't need to see new attacking shapes and a series of slick backline moves to be satisfied today - a raw hunger and a will to win reminiscent of 2018 would do just fine.
Start well, win the early collisions and the rest should fall into place.
By the numbers - Dominant tackle count
What is a dominant tackle?
A referee may call “Dominant!” as a player is tackled to indicate the dominance of the defender over the attacking player in possession during the contact between them at the tackle. A dominant tackle is judged to be when the defender makes contact and drives the attacker back in one movement.
Six Nations 2018
Scoreline - Dominant tackles
France 13 Ireland 15 - France 23 Ireland 29
Ireland 56 Italy 19 - Ireland 16 Italy 24
Ireland 37 Wales 27 - Ireland 14 Wales 13
Ireland 28 Scotland 8 - Ireland 18 Scotland 17
England 15 Ireland 24 - England 25 Ireland 30
Six Nations 2019
Scoreline - Dominant tackles
Ireland 20 England 32 - Ireland 11 England 48
Scotland 13 Ireland 22 - Scotland 34 Ireland 19
Italy 16 Ireland 26 - Italy 19 Ireland 10
Ireland 26 France 14 - Ireland 7 France 18
Wales 25 Ireland 7 - Wales 21 Ireland 9
Six Nations 2020
Scoreline - Dominant tackles
Ireland 19 Scotland 12 - Ireland 18 Scotland 27