In the aftermath of a heavy 57-15 loss to England, Ireland’s lineout faced a huge amount of what was largely deserved criticism. Losing 5 of their 15 lineouts in the air and trying out 12 different lineout formations in one game reflected the sense of panic that spread across both the team and fans as the match unfolded. This article will look at the two Welsh warm-up games Ireland have played since that game and how James Ryan has played an instrumental part in the Irish lineout’s revival.
We will start by taking a look at Ireland’s first lineout away to Wales. Mindful of the lineout debacle from the previous week in Twickenham, Ireland’s Iain Henderson calls a pretty basic 5-man set up for the first set-piece.
As the diagram above shows, Ryan (white 5) is slightly in front of Wales’ Aaron Shingler (red 6) and seeing this, Henderson calls the ball to his second-row partner.
In the following seconds, the rapid foot-speed of both Ryan and Dave Kilcoyne at the front of Ireland’s lineout beats their Welsh counterparts to the jump. As a bonus, Ryan’s transfer of the ball to scrum-half Kieran Marmion’s back shoulder means that the Irish 9 can then pass the ball away quickly without having to readjust.
Two phases later Ireland have a penalty for Josh Navidi playing the ball off his feet and, as a result of Ryan’s good lineout work and a successful kick from Jack Carty, Ireland are suddenly 3-0 up.
Ireland’s one and only lost lineout of this game saw a return to some of the more overly complex lineout moves that had led to the Irish set-piece struggling against England. As the picture below indicates, Ireland have the exact same lineout formation for their fourth lineout as in their first, as do Wales defensively.
Let’s see what happens next as we roll the clip on.
This time, instead of going to Ryan-who is still ahead of Shingler-Ireland use two dummy jumps on Ryan and Peter O’Mahony at 7 before eventually going to O’Mahony at the back/middle area of the lineout.
Looking at the picture below, even as Ryan makes his dummy jump, Shingler-circled in yellow-has already smartly ruled out Ryan as an option and turned his head to the back of the lineout.
From an Irish perspective, Dave Kilcoyne-circled in red-leaves his position quite early. Doing so sees him fail to sell either Ryan or O’Mahony as genuine lifting options on the first two dummy launches, allowing Shingler to gamble and eventually steal the ball.
While there is a sense with Ireland’s lineout-calling that they are just trying out as many different combinations as possible before the World Cup, it’s telling that, having lost their first lineout, the next throw went to Ryan.
23-year-old Ryan would go on to win all three of his lineouts in Cardiff, with Ireland steadying the ship considerably by winning 6 out of 7, or 85% of their lineouts on the day. After winning only 66% of their own ball against England, this represented a big improvement.
Moving forward another week to the return fixture in the Aviva Stadium, Ryan got the added responsibility of calling Ireland’s lineouts for the first time. Wales would have been undoubtedly conscious of this and looked to put the pressure on the young lock’s calling early. Ireland ended up losing their first two lineouts called on Jean Kleyn and CJ Stander but it’s that second lineout that we are going to take a closer look at.
Ryan initially looks to step into a leadership role and call the lineout on himself but referee Mathieu Raynal blows the whistle to warn Wales about encroaching on the 1 metre gap.
Raynal clearly tells the Welsh lineout “You keep the space, on the line”-referring to wanting the Welsh lineout to stay on the half-way line when competing for the ball.
However, as the play rolls on, it’s worth noting the calculated gamble that Wales captain Alun-Wyn Jones makes here. Having been warned to keep the gap already, Wales closing it again will at best result in another stolen lineout and at worst a free-kick. Jones ends up using his experience to test referee Raynal’s mettle and steps off the line again to successfully steal Ireland’s ball again.
Even with Jones closing the gap, Stander gets in the air before Jones and hooker Rory Best will still be a little disappointed with his throw here.
Throwing to the middle of the lineout is often the most difficult area for hookers as there needs to be both loft and pace on the ball to beat the front jumper. Unfortunately for Best, with the relatively slow pace of the ball in the air here and uneven flight, the ball angles towards the Welsh captain and gives him time to get up in front of Stander and palm the ball away.
With their first two lineouts lost, and the prospect of facing a world-class lineout forward for the rest of the game in Alun-Wyn Jones, it would have been easy for Ryan to wilt under the pressure here. However, Ireland get a minor reprieve at the next lineout as they are finally awarded a free kick for Wales encroaching on the gap for a third time.
At the next lineout, and with the game at a crucial juncture, Ireland need someone to step up and win the ball in the air after two Welsh steals.
As the image above shows, Wales are putting the pressure on again and have a number of jumping options stacked at the front of their lineout here in Aaron Wainright, Justin Tipuric and Adam Ball-circled in yellow. Wales will have wanted to dissuade Ryan from taking the ball himself in this situation and force Ireland to throw to the back where their best jumper in Jones-circled in blue-is lurking. Watch the following clip to see how the lineout unfolds.
In a testing moment for Ireland, it’s again a fantastic piece of lineout leadership from Ryan. The young Irish lock starts the play by calling Tadhg Furlong to closer to him. As there is no-one to lift Kleyn from the back, Wales’ Tipuric rules out Ireland’s number 5 as an option and scrambles to the middle of the lineout where Ryan is. Once Tipuric has been identified by Ryan as Wales’ defensive jumper, he then uses quick feet and a clever hop-step to make Tipuric jump early and ensure that Ireland win clean lineout ball.
After Ryan setting a maul here and 6 more phases, Ireland have their first try of the game through Rob Kearney and go 7-0 ahead. Ryan would go on to call three of the next four lineouts to himself, building his team’s confidence and getting a try of his own after another lineout take in the 57th minute.
Having not made an appearance in the first two warm-up games, James Ryan has been quick to make his presence felt in Ireland’s lineout as both a jumper and first-time caller this Summer. Although Ireland will still want see their lineout win percentage improve on their own ball, the 23-year-old has shown leadership ability to cope with the adversity of lost lineouts and step up when his team need him. With the experience of captaining Ireland’s U20s to a World Cup final in 2016, Ryan will be hoping to make a similar impact at the senior World Cup this year.
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