Analysis: Ireland lineout firing at just the right time

Of all the satisfactions of Ireland’s convincing opening success of the World Cup, perhaps the biggest will have been the performance of the lineout in Yokohama.

Of all the satisfactions of Ireland’s convincing opening success of the World Cup, perhaps the biggest will have been the performance of the lineout in Yokohama.

Skipper Rory Best played the full 80 minutes of the 27-3 success and Ireland’s lineout was faultless, despite the heavy rain in the second half that made handling conditions treacherous.

It was a far cry from the five lineouts lost at Twickenham last month, and put to bed some of the concerns that leaving out a lineout specialist like Devin Toner might have provoked.

Instead it was Iain Henderson charged with calling the lineout, ably assisted by Peter O’Mahony and second-row partner James Ryan.

The two locks also combined for the first try of the game but it was the way the set-piece functioned throughout that was particularly pleasing for Ryan.

He explained: “It was a good test for us, particularly when the rain started belting down. I was really happy with how the guys went.

“I took one ball towards the end where they shifted up towards the front and the space was in the middle. In the pouring rain the ball was like a bar of soap and Besty (Best) hits me full extension so I was delighted with that. I thought we made some good progress.

“Traditionally it’s been a strength of ours. Obviously there were a couple of games in the summer where it wasn’t where we needed it to be. But this was a good platform and hopefully the more time we spend together, the better it will get.

“Hendy (Iain Henderson) is running the lineout so ultimately he decides where the ball goes. But Pete (O’Mahony) and myself with Hendy share responsibilities so if I see the space up the line I can feed that back into him and likewise Pete does so it’s very much collective responsibility.”

Ryan scored the first try, but it was the second that really demonstrated Ireland’s commitment to their lineout, turning down a simple penalty to kick to the corner.

That ambition was rewarded as Best got over the line from a rolling maul, and Ryan was pleased to see that tactic come off.

He added: “For us, we pride ourselves on the set-piece and there is no better feeling than when you get a good drive going and you get over the line.

“So again, we were happy with the lineout and hopefully we can keep improving our process, as well as the drive and all the bits that come into it.”

Best had been one of those to come under the spotlight following the heavy defeat at Twickenham, when Ireland lost a third of their lineouts.

However the constructive criticism from the Ireland coaches has clearly paid dividends, at least that is the view of the skipper, who ended up playing the full 80 minutes as Josh van der Flier went off in the second half after O’Mahony had gone off in the first.

He said: “There were questions externally. It’s hard to get away from it. You talk about being in the bubble, but probably the biggest frustration was we knew we had a lot more to give and we just weren’t getting it for whatever reason.

“We were happy with our preparation and a lot of those games and just didn’t execute as well. Maybe we didn’t, as players, put enough pressure on ourselves to be in the position we needed to be to execute the plan we were given.

“There’s always going to be critics and the constructive criticism we get from people like Joe (Schmidt) and the rest of the coaches is probably tougher than anything. And that’s how you learn and get better.”

It was a demoralising evening for Scotland, who quickly found themselves behind and were never able to recover as Ireland’s rush defence denied Finn Russell any time on the ball, and also kept Stuart Hogg in check when he came into the line.

More concerning was the defensive aspect however. While Scotland made 90% of their tackles, the ones they missed proved crucial.

Henderson was able to stride through the middle of the 22 on a break that set up Ryan’s opener, while CJ Stander was another to punish the fringe defence at the breakdown shortly before half-time.

The ruck defence was also put under huge pressure close to the line, where Ireland were able to score two tries thanks to a powerful carries from Ryan and later Tadhg Furlong.

No team will find it easy to stop those sorts of carriers from such close range, but the inevitability with which those scores came will be a concern for Gregor Townsend.

Next up for Scotland are Samoa, another team packed full of big-carrying forwards. Townsend called for greater aggression and energy from his team after the game, they will need it in Kobe.