Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Analysis: Breaking Down Ireland

By Derek Sagehorn

In early March, the Eagles looked ascendant: four wins and a tie to sew up the Americas Rugby Championship, young dynamic players claiming shirts and an exciting attacking identity in bloom. An aggregate win against Canada in the summer would likely yield America’s first outright ticket to the Rugby World Cup.

Three months later, all the facts remain. But coach John Mitchell’s departure for the Blue Bulls of Super Rugby casts a shadow of doubt over the proceedings. Mitchell remains through the final Canada Rugby World Cup qualifier. Qualifying as the North American seed could send Mitchell out on a high note. The summer test series will provide ample opportunity for the Eagles to tune-up for this clash. Georgia, the sixth best in Europe, will present a challenge for a reinvigorated American pack.

Yet Ireland, even depleted by Lions call-ups, will be the Eagles toughest task. The Irish narrowly missing Warren Gatland’s selection will be chuffed. Simon Zebo, Devin Toner and Garry Ringrose all would be traveling to New Zealand if they wore red. These players will form the core of coach Joe Schmidt’s touring side to New Jersey and Japan. Schmidt has selected a young squad to supplement his Six Nations veterans. Eight uncapped players will travel with the squad, including three recent u20 players.

Take the jump to read more.

Given the resources of Ireland’s provinces, the sterling young prospects are identified and quickly fast-tracked into academies. From here the age-grade national sides like u18s and u20s are drawn. The u20s Championship is the pinnacle of this player pathway. Three of the Irish u20 squad from 2016 championship feature in Joe Schmidt’s side. We’ll take a look at each in turn.

Andrew Porter plays loose head prop and does a lot of the hard work around the park. As we see here, he works hard to get a dominant chest position on his opposite.

This kind of hard-headed graft can be difficult to defend against as a tight-head prop. Sometimes the best effort is to patiently hold until the player exposes himself. We see as much from England u20 prop Billy Walker. The youngster waits until Porter turns his hips out until he drives through the center of the scrum.

Every front-rower gets turned early in their career, some more than others. But high-level scrummaging opportunities like this are imperative for young props like Porter and Titi Lamositele.

We can also see some of his power in the open-field as he keeps the legs charging on a crash-ball.

Jacob Stockdale will undoubtedly be a second-choice fullback behind Simon Zebo, but the young flyer is a great option off the bench. Watch his patience, step and speed below:

That elusiveness is consistent in the u20 games. An unorganized or unenthusiastic kick-chase could leave the Eagles skinned.

We discussed the importance and roles of lock pairing in February. James Ryan has the weight and size of a tighthead lock but displays fantastic athleticism. He is a dependable lineout target and disruptive nuisance in defense. The young Leinsterman is recovering from injury and had his first competitive minutes this year several weeks ago. The pace and power have not abated.

Ryan can bust out the hard yards too. Observe him target and bust a tackler to put his team on the front foot.

Again, the graft stands out for these young men. Below we see Ryan link with a ball carrier. He loses his feet in the tackle but gets up to secure the ruck when possession is threatened.

Watching these young men play, you can see the physical talent is obvious. But what really stands out is the work-rate and intelligent play. For young, talented rugby players, aren’t always manifest. It’s far easier to rely on your natural speed, size or strength. We’ll see how these young men, hungry for a regular spot in top-flight rugby perform on Saturday against the Eagles.

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