Ireland limped over the line with a poor defeat against Wales in game two of Super Saturday handing the home side the Grand Slam title and unfortunately rendering a manic final game between England and Scotland completely meaningless.
It’s hard to argue that there were quite a few underperformers for Ireland in this tournament – neither Conor Murray or Johnny Sexton looked their composed selves and are possibly still getting over their respective injuries – and it led to a disappointing all round tournament that had plenty of expectation beforehand. Murray and Sexton weren’t the only players not firing on all cylinders but certainly grabbed the attention of the press as well as supporters on social media due to their quality and Ireland’s heavy reliance on them.
- Ireland Men Minutes Played
Appearances Minutes Peter O’Mahony 5 400 Jacob Stockdale 5 392 Keith Earls 5 357 Conor Murray 5 351 Bundee Aki 5 332 James Ryan 4 320 Tadhg Furlong 5 316 Johnny Sexton 5 313 Rory Best 4 263 Garry Ringrose 3 231 Cian Healy 4 229 Rob Kearney 3 225 CJ Stander 3 225 Sean O’Brien 4 187 Quinn Roux 4 170 Jack Conan 3 166 Chris Farrell 2 160 Dave Kilcoyne 5 154 Jordan Larmour 4 142 Josh vd Flier 4 142 Ultan Dillane 3 107 Iain Henderson 2 87 Jordi Murphy 1 80 Robbie Henshaw 1 80 Sean Cronin 3 74 Andrew Conway 2 72 Joey Carbery 2 65 Niall Scannell 3 63 Tadhg Beirne 1 59 Devin Toner 1 57 Andrew Porter 3 45 John Ryan 2 39 John Cooney 4 37 Jack Carty 3 31 Jack McGrath 1 17 Kieran Marmion 1 12
Ireland used 36 players in the tournament this year, six more than last year in an attempt to bolster their strength and depth ahead of the World Cup next season. Only Peter O’Mahony played every minute of every game while Jacob Stockdale only missed eight minutes of the tournament when he was subbed off against Scotland.
Unsurprisingly, France had no players playing the maximum minutes with Damien Penaud leading from the front on 373 minutes. Out of the rest of the sides, Elliot Daly, Jayden Hayward, Grant Gilchrist, Jonathan Davies and Josh Adams played 400 minutes.
- Total Point and Try Scorers
Owen Farrell scored the most points of the tournament with 59, including one try while Ireland’s top point scorer was Johnny Sexton, fifth in the overall rankings with 23. Jonny May scored the most tries with six, one behind Jacob Stockdale’s effort last year. Stockdale didn’t have much success this season scoring just twice in rounds two and three against Scotland and Italy respectively. Keith Earls was Ireland’s top try scorer with three. Earls moves to joint second in the all-time Ireland try scoring records, level with Tommy Bowe on 30.
Owen Farrell 59 371 Gareth Anscombe 43 312 Tommaso Allan 34 369 Jonny May 30 390 Johnny Sexton 23 313 Greig Laidlaw 21 216 Yoann Huget 20 338 Conor Murray 16 351 Henry Slade 15 338 Romain Ntamack 15 346
Interestingly, Wales were joint lowest try scorers in the tournament with ten alongside Italy despite winning the Grand Slam however they conceded three tries less than the nearest team, Ireland. Ireland were joint second in the try scoring charts with Scotland (14) and behind England, who led by ten tries (24). Wales showed that a Grand Slam can be won via a solid defence rather than an explosive attack.
Tries Minutes Jonny May 6 390 Yoann Huget 4 338 Darcy Graham 3 225 Blair Kinghorn 3 254 Henry Slade 3 338 Edoardo Padovani 3 351 Keith Earls 3 357 Josh Adams 3 400 Conor Murray 2 351 Tom Curry 2 361
Finn Russell supplied the most try assists (4) and at times showed how he can be a massive threat to Ireland’s World Cup chances when they face Scotland in the opening match of the tournament. Lastly, France were the only side to land a drop kick – a severely underused method of points scoring in my opinion – thanks to Camille Lopez’s effort in the opening game and Romain Ntamack’s goal against Italy.
In the two matches Ireland lost, Wales and England were happy to let Ireland plug away from deep and then attack them on the counter by forcing a mistake through a dominant tackle or blitz defence. Both sides had an answer to every question asked by Ireland. Against France, Ireland looked better attacking wise, but still left a lot of points out on the pitch considering the amount of line-breaks and beaten defenders from Irish strike runners.
In 2018, Ireland preyed upon defensive mistakes and then routinely punished sides through ball retention and one out runners. With defensive sides not making as many mistakes as last year, Schmidt’s men found it hard to break down the opposition, resulting in six less tries than 2018.
- Top carrier
Runs Metres Run Metres run per carry Defenders Beaten Clean Breaks Offloads Billy Vunipola 71 231 3.2 9 1 5 James Ryan 63 74 1.2 2 0 0 Braam Steyn 60 122 2 2 0 0 Louis Picamoles 56 196 3.5 7 4 7 Jayden Hayward 54 373 6.9 16 4 6
James Ryan is Ireland’s top carrier followed by Tadhg Furlong and Bundee Aki. Jacob Stockdale made 42 carries while Iain Henderson made 17 in his 87 minutes.
- Most metres run
Most metres run
Runs Metres Run Metres run per carry Defenders Beaten Clean Breaks Offloads Jacob Stockdale 42 395 9.4 23 7 1 Jayden Hayward 54 373 6.9 16 4 6 Blair Kinghorn 47 323 6.8 14 10 2 Jonny May 52 284 5.4 9 11 4 Damien Penaud 28 279 9.9 14 7 4
Ulster’s Jacob Stockdale leads the way in the metres run charts ahead of Keith Earls on 171m. Earls had a solid tournament on the whole, but is only 18th on the list for all sides. Three Italians, two Welsh, one Scot, six English and four French are ahead of him which goes to show how much homework the opposition had done on Ireland’s attacking game plan.
- Most metres per carry
Metres run per carry
Runs Metres Run Metres run per carry Defenders Beaten Clean Breaks Offloads Yoann Huget 27 277 10.3 18 8 2 Damien Penaud 28 279 9.9 14 7 4 Jacob Stockdale 42 395 9.4 23 7 1 Stuart Hogg 18 162 9 5 4 2 Henry Slade 38 271 7.1 7 12 2
After round four, Stockdale was the only player to average more than ten metres per carry however he didn’t get much joy against France, recording an average of 3.8m per carry. Dan Robson and Joe Cokanasiga averaged 27m and 13m per carry respectively but neither reached ten carries which was the minimum to be included in the list.
Rob Kearney was second for Ireland with an average of 6.1m which sees him come in 12th in the overall list. Jordan Larmour and Keith Earls were third and fourth for Ireland with the former averaging 5.9m and the latter 5.7m.
- Most defenders beaten
Runs Metres Run Metres run per carry Defenders Beaten Clean Breaks Offloads Jacob Stockdale 42 395 9.4 23 7 1 Yoann Huget 27 277 10.3 18 8 2 Sam Johnson 35 133 3.8 18 5 1 Jack Nowell 38 191 5 17 5 1 Antoine Dupont 40 178 4.4 17 8 7
It’s not all doom and gloom as Stockdale showed he hasn’t lost the golden touch that he had in last year’s tournament with a competition high of 23 defenders beaten. Again, Keith Earls was second for Ireland and 13th overall with 12 defenders beaten. Jordan Larmour was third for Ireland 17th overall, level with Garry Ringrose on ten. The massive jump from first to 13th between Ireland’s players with the most defenders beaten, shows how inefficient Ireland’s attack was.
- Most clean breaks
Runs Metres Run Metres run per carry Defenders Beaten Clean Breaks Offloads Henry Slade 38 271 7.1 7 12 2 Jonny May 52 284 5.4 9 11 4 Blair Kinghorn 47 323 6.8 14 10 2 Josh Adams 27 277 10.2 18 8 2 Yoann Huget 27 277 10.3 18 8 2
England lead the way with clean breaks, which is unsurprising considering they scored ten more tries than the side with the second most. Scotland followed with 56, with a manic final game between the sides presumably boosting their figures.
Ireland only made 32 with only Grand Slam Champions, Wales making less (31). Indeed, Warren Gatland’s side only scored ten tries, the lowest the winners have got since Ireland only scored eight on the way to the 2015 title. I’m not sure Ireland – or Wales – can compete with New Zealand or South Africa when making so few clean breaks.
- Most offloads
Runs Metres Run Metres run per carry Defenders Beaten Clean Breaks Offloads Mathieu Bastareaud 31 115 3.6 9 3 9 Antoine Dupont 40 178 4.4 17 8 7 Louis Picamoles 56 196 3.5 7 4 7 Jayden Hayward 54 373 6.9 16 4 6 Elliot Daly 50 274 5.5 13 4 5
Much of France’s misery was caused by some interesting selections that defied logic. Antoine Dupont has been one of the form players in Toulouse this season but was omitted from the starting lineup in their opening two matches. Coming off the bench in the humiliation of England he beat nine defenders, made five clean breaks and offloaded four times. It’s not often you get an offloading scrum half, particularly one with the diminutive stature of Dupont, but he quickened the pace of their attack and it paid off against Scotland.
On the whole, Ireland’s defence wasn’t their worst facet of the game. As they like to control possession – they had the most possession in all of the matches – the tackle count was relatively low compared to other sides. None of the opposition managed to make less than 150 tackles, with England, Scotland and Italy all making over 200 tackles in comparison to Ireland who made over 150 tackles twice in the tournament.
- Most tackles
Tackles Success rate (%) Tom Curry 86 89.5 Josh Navidi 83 95.84 Jamie George 78 94 Mark Wilson 78 90.7 Allan Dell 76 95
Ireland’s tackle statistics are an indication of how they like to play. James Ryan was the leading tackler with 49, coming in at 23rd in the total statistics while CJ Stander came second in Ireland’s statistics, and 40th with 39 tackles in the total rankings. Ryan and Stander were the only two Irish players in the top 40, which shows how much of the ball Ireland had in the tournament.
Players in the top 40 for tackles England 9 France 8 Scotland 8 Wales 7 Italy 6 Ireland 2
- Tackle Completion Rate
Tackle completion rate
Tackles Success rate (%) Jonny Gray 68 98.5 James Ryan 49 98 Sebastien Negri 44 97.8 Maku Vunipola 38 97.4 Justin Tipuric 67 97.1
The threshold for inclusion in this leaderboard was 30 tackles so 28 players who had a 100% success rate miss out. Of those, Brad Shields was the closest to inclusion with 21 hits. Considering Ireland made the the least amount of tackles in the tournament, they missed the least (91) closely followed by Wales (92). Scotland topped this table with 141 missed tackles, however I would be reluctant to draw too many conclusions from this other than Wales tournament win was built on a very impressive defensive effort thanks to a superb coaching ticket of Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards.
Where now for Ireland?
Overall Ireland were disappointing but it was always going to be hard to replicate last season’s exploits. Not many sides are able to win the Grand Slam back to back as France were the last side to do it in 1997 and 1998. I don’t think the tournament was as high quality as previous editions, as quite a few teams, including the Grand Slam winners, looked off the boil in one or two matches.
Ireland take on Scotland in the opening game of the RWC2019 on the 22nd September but there’s plenty of time for Ireland to recover. While a lot of the criticism has been fair, there’s been an equal amount which was been over the top. The failure in this tournament will pose questions, but the disappointment should re-calibrate the focus ahead of chasing that first ever semi final berth.
The lack of ruthlessness in the final game was a particular sore point while the Italian game saw many errors and Ireland were fortunate to escape with a bonus point win. Yes, Ireland experimented giving a select number of fringe players starts, but the jury is out as to whether they stepped up to the plate. In particular, Joe’s lack of faith in the replacement half backs is worrying, especially with a lack of form from the halfbacks.
Nevertheless, Ireland are in a much better position going into this tournament than they were heading into RWC2015 and I still think that they’ll be a challenge to whoever they meet in the quarter finals, providing they don’t replicate 2007’s campaign. It’s still the strongest Irish side we’ve seen in recent years and they have enough quality to reach the semi finals.