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The Unstoppable Irish: 5 Factors Behind Their Six Nations Dominance | Michael Aylwin
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The Unstoppable Irish: 5 Factors Behind Their Six Nations Dominance | Michael Aylwin

Power of their full-frontal assault

Prior to their recent dominance in the Six Nations, Ireland has been a standout team for their ability to relentlessly attack and pressure opposing defenses.

There are records of a high number of tackles both internationally and within specific teams in rugby. For example, the record for the most tackles in a single match is 518, achieved by Leinster and Connacht in January 2020. The record for the most tackles by a single team in a match is 331, achieved by Glasgow against Leinster in the previous year. One player, Jonny Gray, made 43 tackles on his own. Additionally, the top eight team-tackle counts in the history of the Six Nations tournament have all been made against Ireland.

There have been similar trends observed this year. Ireland has pushed their opponents to make 181 tackles per game during the first three rounds. Wales has made 167 tackles, while the next three teams are in the range of 130s (Italy with 105). On average, Ireland has had possession for 58% of the time, which is the highest among all teams in the tournament. On the other hand, in terms of defense, although England has made fewer tackles, Ireland has distributed the workload more evenly. They have only one player, Caelan Doris, among the top 30 tacklers.

“The number of tackles does not matter, it’s how they are utilized.”

Having the other team make a high number of tackles does not automatically ensure a win. Out of the eight games where the opposing team had a high tackle count, Ireland lost three (and in 2019, Glasgow defeated Leinster).

There are players who show persistence, those who demonstrate creativity, and others who cause destruction. Successful teams possess a combination of all three abilities. It is logical to assume that a player who possesses all three qualities is truly exceptional, as is a team comprised of such players. This Ireland team is filled with powerful ball-carriers who are skilled and tireless in their efforts with the ball.

Last weekend’s match between Ireland and Wales highlighted a notable difference. While Wales was able to put Ireland’s defense to the test, they did not possess the means to cause significant damage. In terms of ball possession, Ireland has outperformed all other teams by nearly 800m, with Wales as the closest runner-up. However, when it comes to meters gained past the gainline, Ireland maintains an even more substantial lead (and Wales falls to the bottom in this aspect). Ireland has achieved 30 line-breaks, while the rest of the teams have only managed between 13 and 11.

.Opposing teams are constantly improving.

It seems ridiculous to describe a team who have taken silver and bronze medals from the last two World Cups as a work in progress, but England certainly are. The most notable aspect of their game so far in this Six Nations has been the rush defence. As Andy Farrell implied after the Wales game, his Leinster players are now coached by the man who developed such a defence so successfully with South Africa, Jacques Nienaber. Rumour has it, though, that South Africa were far more bothered about losing Felix Jones, now England’s defence coach, than Nienaber.

Jones has tasks to complete regarding their defense. In terms of offensive tactics, it appears that England has regressed, but their initial score against Scotland was executed skillfully and had a reminiscent feel of Irish style with its timing and utilization of false runners. While George Ford may want to avoid recollection of some of his passes at Murrayfield, he still holds a position of authority. If Ireland is considered the masters of controlling possession, England has managed to keep the opposing team in their own half more than any other team (41% of the time).

Felix Jones.

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Overcoming initial encounter with the adversary.

Rephrasing: Let’s move away from relying heavily on statistics and tactics as indicators of a match’s outcome. The spiritual factor, or the likelihood of a player performing well or poorly compared to expectations, holds greater significance. No matter how well you strategize, it cannot guarantee success if your performance is lacking.

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Ireland has room for mistakes in this situation since they are a superior team compared to England. The odds for Ireland to win next Saturday are 4-1, implying a 20% chance of victory according to bookmakers. The handicap is a significant 12 points. Even if Ireland has a below-average performance, they could still come out with a win.

The mere presence of those probabilities is bound to excite England. Recall the brilliance of their first try against Scotland, as well as the intensity of the World Cup semi-final they narrowly lost to the Springboks, and a victory at home is certainly possible. However, England cannot afford to make any mistakes.

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The momentum law of the Six Nations:

Do not believe anyone who says that grand slams are difficult to achieve. In the Six Nations era, it has been accomplished more often than not (13 out of 24 tournaments). This is primarily due to the momentum of a winning team in such a short competition, and the decreasing motivation of those who have been defeated.

If Scotland had been given the try against France, we could have possibly been anticipating a rare event (only once out of 24), where a grand slam decider occurs. Instead, England was denied the opportunity to gain their own winning momentum, which will likely drive Steve Borthwick’s team to do the same against Ireland.

However, in an intense competition, it is often the team with a clear goal in mind that perseveres despite the tears. Twickenham will likely prove to be Ireland’s toughest obstacle thus far. If they emerge victorious, it is likely that they will achieve consecutive grand slams in the Six Nations tournament.

Source: theguardian.com