WE LEARNED A lot from the scrums on Saturday, but unfortunately we couldn’t get much of an answer for the biggest question of them all.
Michael Bent replaced Mike Ross at tighthead for the final 20 or so minutes, and while Ireland’s control of the setpiece continued, the logistics of camerawork at the Millennium Stadium meant we couldn’t get a true gauge of where he is in the position.
Don’t worry though, we’ll be taking a close examination of the Leinster prop closer to the time of the squad announcement, his lack of gametime at tighthead over the last 12 months would suggest Joe Schmidt is eager to see more of him there in the coming weeks.
There were things we already knew that we had reaffirmed; Mike Ross looked effortless in his control of Nicky Smith, while Jack McGrath put in a performance to reassure us, given the question marks over Cian Healy’s fitness.
While the scrum numbers looked ok for Wales – they won five of their six scrums – Ireland limited their clean ball, and it was the scrum that directly contributed to two of the five tries Joe Schmidt’s side scored on the day.
After two quick in-and-outs, the third scrum yielded the first penalty for Ireland, and Jack McGrath was the man to take the plaudits.
It started with a great body position and long bind (note now stretched Aaron Jarvis’ jersey is. Modern jerseys are becoming far too difficult to bind to), while Jarvis’ positioning is poor.
His hips and shoulders aren’t square, meaning he engaged at an angle. While often times it’s the loosehead who bores in, we can see that McGrath is driving parallel to both Rory Best and Mike Ross, with Jarvis turning in even before the ball is fed.
By engaging crooked, Jarvis’ angle only becomes more pronounced once the ball is fed and the drive starts.
In the circle, we can see how he then drops his bind onto the arm of McGrath, pulling him inside, and referee Glen Jackson (who handled the scrum very well on the day) had no hesitation awarding Ireland the penalty.
The game’s next scrum laid the platform for Darren Cave’s burst over the tryline, and he owes a debt of gratitude to Welsh loosehead Nicky Smith, whose attempts to con the referee backfired immensely, as well as fullback Hallam Amos, whose positioning was a disaster.
For a reference point, we’ll look at how they lined up, square and straight, and practically symmetrical.
But once Reddan feeds, Smith begins to angle across the body of Mike Ross, coming in under his chest and driving upwards.
However, as we can see below, Ross does exceptionally well to keep his hips pointing forward, to prevent himself caving in and collapsing.
With Ross holding his position and Jack McGrath driving the scrum forward, the scrum, the crooked push from Nicky Smith causes it to rotate further, as well as moving it infield and putting Mike Phillips on the back foot.
The moment Reddan gets ready to pass, all three Welsh backrows are now out of the game, and Cave burrows into the space excellently.
But it’s also important to note the poor positioning of Hallam Amos. Anticipating Ireland would attack the blindside, he initially moved into the channel, but with the backrow unable to defend the space between the scrum and the goalposts, Amos needed to move inside earlier to fill the gap.
Amos doesn’t move in soon enough, and instead sprints across once Reddan passes out. With Cave coming back across him, Amos couldn’t react on time, and ended up missing the tackle.
The next scrum followed a similar pattern, with Smith boring on Ross, who showed all of his experience to hold position and win the penalty.
As usual, here’s the initial set-up, to give a perspective on how far Smith angles in.
But when Smith begins to drive, he drives perpendicular to Ross, who has disciplined himself to avoid following looseheads when the angle across him, risking collapsing. Glen Jackson isn’t fooled, and Ireland win the penalty.
The importance of 8
While the front row controlled the game on Ireland’s feed, the most impressive facet of Ireland’s scrummaging was on the Welsh feed.
Driven on superbly by Jamie Heaslip, Ireland’s scrum worked as a collective in defense, while the Welsh scrum continually acted on their own.
The scrum in the build up to Keith Earls’ try was a typical example; while Wales got the ball in and out, it wasn’t clean, with the front row popping up, and moving backwards.
When we look at Ireland as they drive, we can see the reason they appeared so more powerful than the Welsh. All eight are driving with straight backs, in the same direction and at the same height. In contrast, the Welsh are at sixes and sevens. Nicky Smith is popping up, and Justin Tipuric is loosely bound, and so much higher than his corresponding flanker Tommy O’Donnell.
The importance of the eight-man drive was heightened in the second half.
With Wales down to seven in the pack, Ireland made their numbers count, again driving straight and in unison, the Welsh front-row standing up to avoid going backwards.
However, there’s more to an eight-man shove than everyone driving as hard as they can. Communication is key.
When the scrum engages, you can clearly here the Irish pack shouting “Hit, 2 3 4…” with the front row then communicating to the rest of the pack when to begin driving together, by calling “Ready… Ready… And now!”, with all eight forwards moving together on the call.
The other important part of these defensive scrums is the position of Jamie Heaslip at number 8. As we can see in the pictures above, much of Ireland’s power is coming from the back of the scrum, with the captain low, fully bound and driving straight through the scrum.
Compare this with his Welsh counterpart Dan Baker, who spent the majority of defensive scrums while he was on the pitch contributing nothing to the drive, lying into the pack, looking out over the top, trying to anticipate the Irish movement.
While it’s common – and probably sensible – for the number 8 to do this close to his own line, Baker was also doing this further out the field when providing a strong push should have been far more important.
In the below scrum, which took place inside the Irish half, Baker’s priority should have been to push, rather than watch Heaslip, and it was a scrum Ireland comfortably won a penalty from.
The cavalry arrive
Unfortunately, while Michael Bent was present for the final five scrums, being at the far side of the scrum, we couldn’t get a proper gauge on his performance.
Dave Kilcoyne came on at the same point, with a penalty at the final scrum of the day blotting his copybook.
His first action was to win a penalty though, taking advatnage of Scott Andrews’ poor positioning.
We can see how Andrews makes the first move by turning his hips into the scrum to have a go at Rory Best, with Kilcoyne still scrummaging straight.
With Andrews’ body going across the scrum. once Dave Kilcoyne pushes, it begins to move towards the sideline.
While we can’t see ths ins and outs of it, Michael Bent did seem to get a solid shov on his side, ensuring the scrum also moved forward, rather than just wheeling on the spot.
However with Ireland a man down for the final two scrums after Tommy O’Donnell’s injury, Kilcoyne probably tried to compensate for the loss in power on the final scrum of the day by boring across Andrews to concede a penalty.
As usual for perspective we’ll look at how the lined up together initially, with their backs forming one long, straight line parallel to the ground.
However, Kilcoyne then begins to angle across Andrews and bore in. Note the direction that the different pairs of shoulders are facing; Rory Best and Michael Bent are pointing to the goalposts, while Kilcoyne’s are facing the corner, while his bind has also dropped.
Jackson spotted it and awarded the penalty, capping off an alert performance from him at the scrum.
Overall, the control Ireland showed at scrum time bodes well for the World Cup, with their communication and structure on defensive scrums particularly pleasing.
If Joe Schmidt does have thoughts on bringing Michael Bent along to cover, we’ll need to see more of him over the coming games to give a real opinion on him at tighthead.
While Mike Ross looks better and better with every game, Schmidt may have to leave the tighthead out for the first time in his tenure this weekend, simply to see more from his back-up options in Bent and Tadhg Furlong.
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