Paul O’Connell’s stock continues to rise as Scotland’s lineout crumbles

Paul O’Connell’s stock continues to rise as Scotland’s lineout crumbles

THE FINAL STATS tell us that Scotland won just two of their eight lineouts at Murrayfield.

They lost six on their own throw as James Ryan and co. put massive pressure on. 

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It’s impossible not to view the lineout as the crucial area of this Six Nations game in Edinburgh and Ireland’s assault on the Scottish throw is the latest sign of the impact that Paul O’Connell is making in his first campaign as forwards coach.

To be fair, Ireland have always had a few steals in them but there is no doubt they have become even more aggressive and better-prepared under O’Connell. Ryan has been the onfield defensive lineout leader in the absence of Peter O’Mahony, with the Leinster man making a huge impression in this championship.

Ryan’s first steal today led to Ireland’s opening try through Robbie Henshaw, while his second should have resulted in Irish points as they opted against kicking for goal and instead went into the left corner, where Hamish Watson turned over Jamison Gibson-Park.

Both of those Ryan steals came in the opening 20 minutes and Scotland hooker George Turner looked understandably panicky as a result. Iain Henderson got in on the act later in the game with a steal of his own, with Ireland constantly seeming to have the jump on Scotland’s lineout plans. Their prep, led by O’Connell, was clearly excellent.

As for the Irish lineout, with Iain Henderson calling, an 81% return rate will mean O’Connell won’t be totally happy.

Rob Herring justified his selection as the starting hooker again with a fine throwing performance and his usual contributions around the ruck and breakdown. He will, however, have been frustrated with what appeared to be an underthrow for Ireland’s only miss while he was on the pitch.

As expected, Rónan Kelleher added dynamism off the bench but his first throw was crooked and contributed towards Scotland applying the pressure that resulted in them equalising. Kelleher was on target with his only other lineout throw.

Ireland forwards coach Paul O’Connell. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

O’Connell will also be disappointed that Ireland’s maul was repelled by the Scots on a couple of crucial close-range occasions, including the aforementioned miss after declining a shot at goal.

The Irish maul was also stopped from five metres out in the second half, but that passage did end with Tadhg Beirne barrelling over for a try that Romain Poite enthusiastically confirmed.

We can be certain that O’Connell is already looking through the match footage at those moments but there is, once again, plenty of evidence that his work is enabling Ireland’s forwards to be a huge threat to the opposition lineout.

“It’s pretty clear, isn’t it, the impact that he has had,” said Ireland captain Johnny Sexton post-match. “We obviously played against Wales with seven forwards but the lads were still outstanding.

“The forwards have been outstanding for the last four games and they did a great job today.”

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell also hailed O’Connell’s work as forwards coach, although he was keen to stress that the former Munster lock had a good foundation to build on.

“He has been top-class, that’s why we brought him in,” said Farrell. “I’ve known Paul for some time now, I know how serious he is about his rugby and everyone else does too.

“This is his first time in international rugby, he’s still learning the ropes and doing a fantastic job at the same time, which is all credit to him, his work ethic and how he is with the boys.

“But what I would say is, Paul would be the first person to acknowledge the work that Simon Easterby [previously the forwards coach, now the defence coach] had done when Paul came in. Paul has been on record during the week saying he has been happy to facilitate some of the stuff that’s already there.

“Also, he will be the first to say that regarding the defensive lineout, it’s the ownership of the players that matters. They have drove that side of the lineout superbly well. Paul would be the first to say that, in fact he has just told me to say that in the changing room because it’s true.

“As far as the defensive lineout is concerned, James Ryan has really taken control of that and stepped up. That’s what we want from the boys, taking ownership and leading.”