Johnny Sexton’s drop goal will be the lasting Irish memory, from the Stade de France last weekend. Whilst they got the win, the failure of the Ireland attack to score any tries will be the most concerning aspect for Joe Schmidt ahead of the match against Italy this Saturday.
The Story is in the Statistics
Possession and Territory
On the two most basic measures, Ireland dominated both. In fact they recorded 68% in both possession and territory. Purely on this measure it is every surprising that they didn’t score a try, or even come that close on too many occasions. However the fact that they conceded 13 turnovers and made zero clean breaks may help explain why this position and control failed to yield any tries.
Ireland are well known for having a strong kicking game, based on the abilities of half-backs Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton. However they cannot be accused of being overly tactical in Paris, as France notched 25 kicks to 22 by the Irish.
The Irish attacking impotence is further evident when we look at the stats of wingers Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale compared to their French opposite numbers. Both beat only two defenders compared to 6 by Teddy Thomas and 5 by Virimi Vakatawa. Also the Irish pair made only 74m compared to the 171m from the French duo.
Ireland not allowed to Play by France?
We must remember that there is always two teams on the pitch. Whilst the French had a hectic preparation to the tournament, they were able to organise themselves well enough to frustrate the Irish. And very nearly snatch the win.
On the other hand France prevented possible Irish tries through ill discipline. In particular Sebastien Vahaamahina slowed down attacks by conceding reckless penalties. Combined with the poor weather conditions in Paris, perhaps it was just not the right day for the Ireland attack to flourish.
How the Ireland Attack can take on Italy
Looking ahead to Saturday then, when Ireland host Italy at the Aviva Stadium. Here is the team named by Joe Schmidt;
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) February 8, 2018
Interestingly, all four changes are in the pack. With Devin Toner, Jack Conan, Dan Leavy and Jack McGrath come in. However, Schmidt has named exciting Leinster back Jordan Larmour on the bench.
The 20 year old could make his international debut at just 20 years of age. It is probably only the fact that Jacob Stockdale and Bundee Aki have fewer than 10 caps between them that Larmour doesn’t start. Whilst Italy at home is Ireland’s easiest game on paper, they ‘cannot take any chances’.
By keeping the same backline, Schmidt will be able to tell whether the Paris try-blank was a one-off. Or, whether he will need to add a more spark like Larmour, in all important the coming rounds.
Italy team line-up
Like Schmidt, Conor O’Shea has only made changes in the forwards. Nicola Quaglio,Luca Bigi and Braam Steyn come in instead of Renato Giammarioli, Leonardo Ghiraldini and Andrea Lovotti.
📢📢📢 [Media Bin] contenuti rights-free #Italrugby dopo annuncio formazione secondo turno #6Nazioni
🎥 conferenza CT O’Shea, Manager @luigitroiani
🎙interviste Allan, Bigi, Quaglio
📹 allenamento al Blackrock College
— Italrugby (@Federugby) February 8, 2018
O’Shea, on considering his sides performance before traveling to Ireland, will surely be happy at how Italy competed and scored tries against England. However, he still needs to solve the age old problem for the Azzurri – how to put in an 80 minute performance?
Whether the Aviva Stadium is the place to do this directly after the heavy workload against England is debatable. However, if Italy can prevent Ireland scoring early, they could put the hosts under pressure and force errors.
Ireland v Italy – Round Two, 2018 NatWest Six Nations
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