Sports Update: ‘One of our principles defensively is not to get beaten on your inside shoulder’

Leinster were disappointed with how they gave up the game-clinching try to the Scarlets.

WITH 65:00 ON the match clock, Leinster are attacking 10 metres out from Scarlets’ tryline, pushing hard to close the 16-14 margin on the scoreboard.

Luke McGrath makes a sniping run from the back of a strong Leinster maul, the Irish province suddenly looking dangerous.

James Tracy, Tadhg Furlong, Rhys Ruddock, Robbie Henshaw and Cian Healy dejected
Leinster left Parc y Scarlets defeated.


Source: James Crombie/INPHO

But James Davies swoops in familiar fashion, jackaling over the ball and earning a turnover penalty in the shadow of the posts, allowing Scarlets to kick clear up the left touchline.

At the subsequent lineout, Leinster give up another penalty for contact in the air, resulting in Scarlets kicking for touch again and suddenly finding themselves attacking the visitors’ 22.

Though a strong defensive set from Leinster forces Scarlets to kick the ball away through Dan Jones’ grubber, Leo Cullen’s side then give up the kind of turnover that can be game-deciding against the Welsh region.

With a typically lethal turnover attack, Scarlets dot down through Gareth Davies with 68:29 on the clock and move into a 23-14 lead that gives them the breathing room to survive a late Leinster onslaught.

The turnover is a frustrating one from Leinster’s point of view, with lock Ian Nagle spilling the ball forward in a tackle.

TO

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Clearly, it’s poor ball security from Leinster in the carry but the tackle from Scarlets’ inspirational captain Ken Owens is superb.

With Leinster looking to build towards an exit kick and Scarlets all but sure to get the ball back, it would be easy for Owens to put less energy into his tackle.

Instead, he thumps Nagle, with the smack of the hit audible over the ref mic.

Tackle

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Owen’s tackle technique is excellent, as he lines up Nagle on his right, dips to drive his shoulder into the Leinster lock’s upper thigh area, wraps both his hands in behind Nagle’s knees and chases his legs behind him after he hits. 

Hit

It’s a brilliant moment of defending from the hooker, who was excellent on Saturday night in Llanelli.

The quality of the tackle contributes to Nagle knocking the ball on and giving Scarlets the kind of situation they love to attack from – a turnover. 

Wayne Pivac’s side scored 19 of their 82 tries in the Guinness Pro14 last season from turnovers, with a further eight tries on kick return underlining how dangerous they are in situations where the opposition is forced to transition from having possession to defending.

This try is a prime example.

Finish

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After Lewis Rawlins attempts to catch the ball and drops it, Paul Asquith gives it a slight nudge on the ground with his boot, then openside Davies arrives in decisively again, lifting the ball off the deck to the waiting Jones.

Just before the turnover, we can see that Jones had been dropping into the backfield to cover a Leinster kick.

DJ

As soon as the ball spills free of Nagle’s grasp, Jones responds with the same intent as the rest of his team-mates.

Their immediate thought is, ‘We are on for a try here’. 

That try-scoring mentality on turnover is clear in the movement of two other key Scarlets players off the ball.

Scrum-half Davies [blue below], who has been deeper in the backfield to cover a Leinster kick, instantly bursts up to give Jones a passing option to his left.

Movement

Centre Hadleigh Parkes [yellow] works hard to drop back from the defensive frontline and ensure that Davies can shift the ball another pass infield. 

We can see that Parkes has his hand in the air, signalling to Jones where the opportunity lies.

Jones hits the advancing Davies, who feeds the ball on to Parkes, allowing the centre to show his intelligence and skill.

With Parkes so adept at identifying space in defences, the gap [below] that rapidly develops between Jack Conan and Rhys Ruddock is an invitation.

Spacing

When we rewind just a second, before Parkes receives the ball, we can see Scarlets tighthead Samson Lee retreating in between Conan and Ruddock.

SL

Lee has his hands over his head – either to indicate to the referee that he is retreating in a bid to get onside, or to indicate to Parkes that there is space in that exact zone between Conan and Ruddock. 

Either way, Parkes takes that space with a dummy and step back to the inside of Ruddock, cutting Leinster and allowing Parkes to get up his right hand to fend the despairing tackle of Conan.

Though Conan drops to the Scarlets centre’s hips and clings on, Parkes offloads to Davies, who has worked up on his inside.

Davies is able to burst through the arm of Andrew Porter, who has little time to react and he’s left in a one-on-one with Jordan Larmour with major space on either side and the tryline only five metres away.

Though Larmour may feel he could have driven himself at Davies a little more to close down some of the space, there is near to no time to react against someone with footwork as sharp with the Scarlets scrum-half’s.

To allow a player as dangerous as Parkes to break their line was the real disappointment for Leinster, particularly when taking into account that they had enough defenders on their feet to deal with the Welsh side.

“And as they move the ball to the edge, the attacking player steps inside one of our players, who gets beaten on his inside shoulder, and then it’s inside ball and it’s stepping to the line.

“So, yeah, we need to make sure that on turnover ball we stay connected but also stay square, because as soon as we started running sideways, then you run onto that inside shoulder.”

5-on-3

As we can see above, Leinster have five defenders in the vicinity to deal with the Scarlets’ three attacking players.

Of course, the above is a freeze frame rather than a split second of real time in the frantic reality of a transition situation in a rugby game.

Ruddock [marked with the white 1] is probably unaware of who exactly is available to defend, particularly Ross Byrne [3] and Luke McGrath [5], who have swept in behind him.

As such, he is sprinting across the field to cover the Scarlets’ movement of the ball from their right to left and Parkes is intelligent enough to pick out the exposed inside shoulder and exploit the disconnect between Conan and Ruddock.

“So it was doubly frustrating to concede that try in the context of the try as well because I actually thought that our intent around that area to play out, I didn’t have a problem with.”

Scarlets were lethal with their one real turnover opportunity against Leinster and they are certain to do similar to many other teams this season.

Leinster have to wait until 25 January until their next shot at Scarlets in the Pro14, when they will be keen not to make similar errors again.

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