Beirne’s edge is his abil­ity to play the sys­tem or in­vent his own – Liam Toland

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Front Page - Liam Toland

How does one im­press? Is it the bril­liant in­di­vid­ual that forces his way into the RWC 2019 squad? I mused on Fri­day that an in­sight into a team’s cul­ture is gleaned from their se­cond-string team. An ob­vi­ous ex­am­ple is Le­in­ster’s hu­mil­i­at­ing de­feat of Ospreys on Fri­day evening (for both Le­in­ster and Ospreys). It was ex­tremely help­ful that both Scott Fardy and Ross Molony were in the en­gine room.

Ospreys ar­rived with some dev­as­tat­ing run­ning lines early on that ques­tioned Le­in­ster, but then the two big men Fardy and Molony stepped into the breach, mas­ter­ing the li­ne­out and were es­pe­cially pow­er­ful in the heavy ac­tion. And while last sea­son’s fourth-choice open­side was play­ing for Ire­land on Sat­ur­day, his re­place­ment Scott Penny stepped in with no de­val­u­a­tion to the sys­tem. Be­hind them is ar­guably Le­in­ster’s fourth-choice outhalf Ciarán Fraw­ley (be­fore Joey Car­bery left) look­ing to the manor born.

Watch­ing Le­in­ster and Ire­land, I won­der in what way to judge how some­thing im­presses; is it the in­di­vid­ual or the sys­tem?


Based on those two cri­te­ria Tadhg Beirne is the clear win­ner from Sat­ur­day. His abil­ity and value is ob­vi­ous, even when the sys­tem stut­tered as the USA asked some prob­ing ques­tions. His com­fort lead­ing the tri­an­gle for­ma­tion, so cru­cial to Joe Sch­midt’s struc­ture, is im­mense. As his scrumhalf pass is ar­riv­ing it looks like the ball could go any­where in Beirne’s hands. That is, he sells the carry, like he did when be­ing smashed by USA hooker Joe Taufete’e, fix­ing his op­po­si­tion de­fence be­fore he ex­e­cutes the carry, pull back pass or tip on.

For­wards in in­ter­na­tional teams ex­e­cute this very move, but very few sell the carry first, which makes their in­ten­tions very ob­vi­ous and much more dan­ger­ous to the sub­se­quent re­ceiver.

Iain Hen­der­son led the for­ma­tion at the end of the first half and ex­e­cut­ing the ex­act same play as Beirne had been do­ing. The Ul­ster man didn’t sell the carry which af­forded a great de­fen­sive read from John Quill, who knew ex­actly what Hen­der­son was about to do and smashed Car­bery.

Read­ing the play is one thing, but fit­ting into the sys­tem is an­other. Take the sev­enth phase of play on the half hour. Beirne runs a hard line off John Cooney but doesn’t get it; de­coy! Then on the ninth phase, Beirne leads the tri­an­gle as first re­ceiver; runs on the ball, shapes to pop pass to Rhys Rud­dock, but at the last se­cond pulls back to Ross Byrne; read and ex­e­cu­tion. On the 11th phase Beirne of­fers again, but Cooney fires be­hind him to Byrne; se­cond de­coy line. On the 12th phase Beirne of­fers again, but Fin­lay Beal­ham car­ries with Beirne bridg­ing over the ball. On the 14th phase Beirne car­ries into traf­fic. On the 17th phase he car­ries again, 20th phase he bridges over Rud­dock and on and on it goes.

But ear­lier in the game we wit­nessed a full ar­ray of skills and foot­ball knowl­edge from Beirne; start­ing from a Hen­der­son steel off the deck after min­utes. Beirne of­fered, lead­ing the tri­an­gle; sold the run, fixed de­fend­ers and pulled the sweet­est pass back to Car­bery. Oth­ers would have car­ried into con­tact but Beirne clearly un­der­stands the value of a turnover to his out­side backs, with Garry Rin­grose sub­se­quently be­ing pulled down. He cleared out the next break­down, car­ried a crappy ball on the next play. Two plays later he shuf­fled a beauty on to Niall Scan­nell, and then he swept off the deck to pro­vide the try for An­drew Con­way.

In essence he is com­fort­able in the sys­tem but equally out­side the sys­tem, and hence his value as a starter, but es­pe­cially com­ing off the bench hav­ing soaked up game in­for­ma­tion to that point.

Fine mar­gins

With this in mind then Hen­der­son is the looser of the five top sec­ondrows. Fine mar­gins, in­deed, but he has strug­gled to get the form that has brought him thus far. Why? Re­mains to be seen, but if Beirne doesn’t start the top Tests in the sec­ondrow (un­der­stand­able Toner and Ryan) then he must be on the bench. I noted on Fri­day that crack­ing try Owen Fine­gan scored com­ing off the bench against France in the 1999 Rugby World Cup fi­nal. Beirne is bet­ter than Fine­gan.

On Fri­day I noted the value of both Dar­ren Sweet­nam and Con­way based on their hunger for ac­tion; not all wingers have this need. Sweet­nam’s af­ter­noon was cur­tailed, but Con­way’s was ex­actly as pre­dicted. Lethal in many ways but es­pe­cially off those bro­ken-field break­downs where he can sneak his way onto the ball. And in many ways this was the story of the USA.

The vis­i­tors were very good in many ways, but lacked the re­quired sub­tlety in de­fence to match Ire­land’s re­lent­less sys­tem topped off by hun­gry play­ers like Con­way.

But the Ir­ish sys­tem didn’t func­tion through­out, and a pos­si­ble looser in this was Stu­art McCloskey where the new play­ers and units strug­gled at times. An un­clean li­ne­out, or slightly missed timed run, or a slightly in­ac­cu­rate pass pre­vented McCloskey from re­ally find­ing his rhythm.

Will Ad­di­son, how­ever, looked com­fort­able re­gard­less of shape or sys­tem, where more pitch time with Con­way et al would pro­vide an in­ter­est­ing counter-at­tack­ing unit. So, how does one im­press? Last Sat­ur­day some play­ers re­quired the sys­tem to func­tion and oth­ers sim­ply cre­ated the sys­tem – there is a dif­fer­ence.

Sweet­nam’s af­ter­noon was cur­tailed, but Con­way’s was as pre­dicted. Lethal in many ways but es­pe­cially off bro­ken-field break­downs

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