One area of our weekend’s analysis that led us to a bit of further study was the absence of any degree of passing from the Irish backrow. Collectively they scored a whopping one point for passing. O’Mahony got an offload away and O’Brien put a nice pass into Rob Kearney who kicked well from the space afforded him, but one point was scratched off for O’Brien’s failed offload to Murray which turned the ball over to France.
It’s been a long held view of ours that Ireland have never developed any sort of game where forwards are trusted to pass or offload the ball, with the carrier invariably hitting the deck promptly and anyone in support waiting to hit (or inspect!) the ruck rather than take a possible pass. It’s in stark contrast with the way Leinster played over the last few seasons, in particular when Nathan Hines – a superb ball player – was in the side.
Do the stats back up such a view? Oh me oh my, yes. We looked at the number of passes given by forwards over the course of the Six Nations so far. Ireland come out bottom of the table, but what’s particularly eye-catching is just how far they are behind even the second-last team. Anyone wondering how Ireland have failed to turn pressure into points in the opposition’s 22 has a pretty good clue: Ireland’s forwards’ inability or unwillingness to pass the ball makes them an easy read for defenders.
It’s a scathing indictment of Ireland’s attack that their forwards pass so little, especially so given they have a backrow of O’Mahony, Heaslip and O’Brien. Heaslip and O’Mahony in particular are exceptionally skilful players and how more cannot be made of their skillsets is staggering. Are there mitigating circumstances? Well, you could argue that the weather has been pretty awful, with both home games swept away in a deluge, but the conditions haven’t exactly been tropical for any of the other teams either. Ireland lack tight forwards who are naturally good handlers, and it’s a pity Dan Tuohy’s season has been broken up by injury, because he is probably the best we have – not that he’d have been picked in any case.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone who has been watching to see Italy top the log. Their commitment to moving the point of attack has been admirable, even if they lost their way in the middle of the series. Sergio Parrisse’s total alone over three games is higher than all of Ireland’s. England finish a surprising second, but their total is skewed by their performance against Scotland when they were feeling adventurous. They’ve shut up shop since, settling for three-pointers to win games, although they have the highest number of passes by reserves, reinforcing the suggestion that their bench has been a significant factor in putting them on the verge of a slam.
To compound the misery, bear in mind that this is probably the lowest quality Six Nations in living memory, despite a good first weekend, dominated by treacly rugby played on roly-poly pitches. The potential grand slammers can barely score a try. It puts Ireland at the bottom of the bottom in terms of a desire to play attacking, incisive rugby.
The full horror is shown in the tables below. Read each entry as the number of passes given by the team on the left in their match against the team above.