Ireland brilliantly beat Rugby powerhouses New Zealand and England over the last six months. Both teams were undefeated for 18 games before meeting Ireland. Making the scale of the Irish victories enormous.
It’s a credit to the Irish team, and the coach Schmidt who devised shrewd game plans to beat the All Whites (13-9) and All Blacks (40-29).
Ireland played their fast and high-pressure style in both games. They brilliantly adapted to their opposition by outplaying the All Blacks with defense and overcoming the English with an offensive approach.
The four pillars of Irelands gameplay
- Domination of the set piece with meticulous scrums and line-outs.
- Being patient in phase play to wait for the right moment to strike in either defense or offensive situations.
- A high-pressure defense that forces mistakes and slow delivery through fast line speed. And don’t forget their effective ‘choke’ tackle.
- Multi-dimensional kicking and passing options executed in the offensive.
Now let’s see how they adapted their style of play to target All Black weakness.
Ireland versus All Blacks
Tactic # 1: Field Position
The Irish know that the All Blacks are the high scoring super power of rugby. So they chose to force the All Blacks to play from their half.
The Irish employed a deadly accurate kicking game that turned the All Blacks around and created pressure to exit the ball from the New Zealand half of the pitch.
The Irish kicked 29 times in the game. More than double that of the All Blacks who only kicked 13 times.
Tactic # 2: High Pressure & Blitz Defense
Ireland tackled their hearts out. 137 tackles in the game, versus 97 for New Zealand. The combination of fast line speed, choke tackles, and high pressure forced The All Blacks to concede 17 turnovers and 12 penalties.
Tactic # 3 Target Missing Locks in line
Ireland emphasized their lineup set piece. The All Blacks were missing several key Locks due to injury. As a result, the All Blacks had a weak line out win rate of 80%. When the All Blacks won a few weeks later against Ireland, they had a win rate of 100% for line outs.
Tactic # 4 Outscore the All Blacks
All day long Ireland attacked. In three separate occasions, they opted for the Penalty Kick to touch rather than taking the Goal Kick. They finished with a five to four try advantage and converted the penalties to sustain the pressure.
Ireland versus England
Tactic # 1 Run The Ball
Very different from their New Zealand strategy, the Irish ran at the English. The Irish tactic of controlling the game was achieved by maintaining possession of the ball. They had almost double the possession and territory than England. This prevented England from employing their usual structured box kicking game. Stuck in their own half, the English looked tired and lost for options in attack.
Tactic # 2 Slow Down the Play
With ball-in-hand Ireland were in no rush in the attack. They meticulously set up their plays where they would tirelessly and patiently wait for the right field position and team organization before executing their planned attack patterns.
In defense, the slow-down was at work too. The Irish effectively slowed the English in the attack. This prevented the English from having fast ball delivery to exploit advantages. The Irish, with their intense man-on-man tackling, reluctantly committed defenders. Every defense setup had well structured 10,20,30 channels adjacent to the ruck.
Tactic # 3 Targeting Scrum and Fly Halves
Ford and Youngs are small players. While they are naturally good when their forward pack is in control, they look questionable when under pressure and on the back foot. In attack, they were both under high pressure. Youngs could make few yards running, and Ford’s kicking was poor.
Defensively they were targeted by the Irish, and Youngs missed two tackles as a result. Ford didn’t help with poor kicking – even kicking out on the full on one occasion.
Ireland has a tenth of the Ruby players of England. Yet, with the enormous pressure created in defense and tireless continuity with the ball in attack, Ireland achieved a signature victory in Dublin.
Earlier in Chicago, they completely outsmarted the All Blacks for another record ending victory. The All Blacks were literally stuck in the wrong half of the pitch.
The common factor in both games was Ireland prevented the two greatest Rugby teams from playing their preferred style of Rugby. A remarkable achievement.