Momentum Swing: Exit Strategies and the Restart

Although it is not mentioned often, the battle at the restart following a score can prove to be a pivotal point in rugby. By far not one of the most glamorous aspects of the modern game, it is without a doubt one of the most practised, and looking back at the Ireland match at the weekend, Mr Cotter and co. have reason to be concerned.

Before anyone mentions that this was an “experimental XV”, the restart is a fundamental aspect for any team, let alone our current crop of World Cup hopefuls, and an area that would have been worked on as thoroughly as the ‘organised chaos’ attacking structure. Never mind it being an easy thing to practice for any level of rugby team.

The main idea behind an exit strategy is to stop your opponent immediately cancelling out your score, by relieving pressure from your half. The kick off receipt and following phases from the last quarter of Saturday’s match were a very bad example of how to deal with this, look away now kids…

Here is a timeline of the two Irish tries in the last 20 minutes:

59:52 – Restart following Pete Horne’s penalty (15-14), Scotland (just about) regain possession from the kick off.

60:22 – Substandard passing forces Tonks to send up an aimless bomb, Ireland recover ball almost unopposed 35m out.

60:52 – Simon Zebo dots down to put Ireland in the lead, Madigan converts. (21-15).

65:29 – Restart following Pete Horne’s try and Jackson conversion (22-21), Ireland win the ball then knock on. Scotland Scrum on the 10m line.

66:52 – Solid Scotland scrum, Denton passes back to Lamont, who gives a poor pass to Matt Scott who subsequently knocks on.

67:49 – Ball is playable following Irish scrum.

68:51 – Luke Fitzgerald crosses the line, Madigan converts. (28-22).

For Fitzgerald’s try, the ball was in open play for only 73 seconds between the restart and the try. Even more worryingly, Scotland had possession 30 seconds before Zebo’s try. Quite simply, that is not good enough. When playing against top sides like Ireland, they will (clearly) punish us when Scotland immediately hand over the ball in our own half. South Africa and Samoa will definitely take note and pressurise us here if there is not a significant improvement in the following Warm ups. At neither one of these restarts did Scotland look for a territorial gain to put Ireland on the back foot, rather they tried to compete against an aerially dominant team and then failed to execute a simple crash ball.

In my view, a strong Irish XV were there for the taking, and what a confidence boost it would have been to have won at the Aviva. There were however many positives, including the impressive return of Ruaridh Jackson, and our ability to regularly punch holes in a team that prides themselves on their defensive systems.

Unfortunately, we have been trying to wring out positives for 6 months, rather than wins. A winning mentality is invaluable at International level. Scotland must sort out their composure at essentials like the defensive restart if they are going to be making it through the group – if they had been focussed on Saturday, they probably would be jetting off to Turin on the back of a much needed win.

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A former "out and out 7", never big enough to play in the pack but still gave it a shot anyway, stickler for technique. Edinburgh born and raised.

3 comments on “Momentum Swing: Exit Strategies and the Restart

  1. Merlot on

    I’ve got to agree.
    If this wasn’t an “experimental” side and a warm-up, I would have been devastated at the lack of composure in the last 20 and ignoring all those “there were a lot of positives” and “good performances”. It’s a loss. Again. Brave performance. Again. We should have won this, and although I haven’t re-watched the match Jack’s analysis of why we lost seems to strike a chord. Maybe the changes in personnel which always disrupts a side around the hour mark didn’t help, but everyone should know what they are supposed to be doing when receiving a restart kick.
    Any side at any level practices the re-start, and probably the only set piece which the whole team is involved. If we cannot get this right then we will continue to lose to the tier 1 (top 10) sides.
    Jack’s piece reminds me that I’ve got accustomed to losing and actually get satisfaction from a bonus point loss! It’s all in the mind my friends!!! WE ALL HAVE TO REJECT THIS AS UNNACCEPTABLE!!!!

  2. Callum on

    Nice article really highlighting a weakness that I never really noticed. To concede points within a minute of having possession is a worrying factor for any team

    The only positive is that this seems to be an area that shouldn’t be too hard (you would hope) to put right before the RWC starts for real.

    I have to say, with all the build up coming to a tee, and with SA struggling to impress, I am (in typical Scottish mentality), feeling more and more positive of an impressive campaign.

    Just hope that Dunbar makes it back in time.

  3. pragmatic optomist on

    Agree with you Jack. I did notice the immediate Irish counters every time we scored. I wasn’t sure whether it was ‘losing concentration’, or they were having a ‘collective mental rest’. Either way, it is noticable. If you had another look at the recent 6N I’m sure you’d find similiar stats for points lost due to bad kick receiving.

    Our inability to attack and hold on to the aerial balls is becoming the subject of our oppenents focus, just as the rolling mauls mauls are at the moment. Seymour has always been good at the high balls. Hogg has improved because as a full back, he had to (and Peter Murchie is very good at the high balls). I have no faith in anyone else to really ‘go for it’ and damn the consequences. The back row should also be in a circle around the jumpers waiting to pounce on the rebound.

    It seems to result in so many easy turnovers that it’s a serous issue. I’d much rather the players went for it leading to occasional knock-ons’, rather than the hesitant mess we have at the moment. It looks so amateur.
    Part of it is also down to the kickers. The kicks have to be long kicks which hang in the air allowing the runners to get under it. Not many of our kickers seem able to do this, particularly when starting with a drop kick.
    It does look as if they haven’t practiced this in the summer. I’d suggest they started right away.

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