Scotland’s Autumn Internationals got off to a lively start against a Samoan side that refused to throw in the towel at Murrayfield. One area that went well for the home team was the lineout. Time then for On Top Of The Moon to delve into the numbers behind the setpiece success.
Overall there were 16 lineouts on the Scottish throw with 15 of them won and just a single loss. Here’s how they break down:
5 in the Samoan 22;
8 between the Samoan 22 and metre line;
2 between the Samoan 10 metre line and halfway;
1 (just) inside Scotland’s half
Essentially every lineout presented Scotland with an attacking opportunity. They were never put under pressure on their own throw deep in their own territory. For all that the kicking game was at times imperfect and betrayed a lack of patience it kept Samoa pinned down in their half for extended periods and forced them to concede field position when they tried to clear the ball – 8 of Scotland’s lineouts came from Samoan clearances from their own 22 with the other primary source being 5 penalties booted to touch (it would have been 6 but for a ‘loosener’ from Finn Russell with his first kick of the game!)
McInally 12 throw-ins (all won);
Turner 2 (won 1, lost 1);
Hogg 1 (won);
L. Jones 1 (won)
Scotland’s throwing in was really on the money. Stuart McInally was perfect from his 12 throws with very little risk of being picked off. Jumpers were catching at the very top of the lift and the apex of the throw on most occasions. The put in got a little flatter the odd time nearer the line but in those cases Samoa were generally more interested in defending when the ball got back to ground rather than attacking the throw. New Zealand will be far more aggressive in trying to get up in front of the jumper – all the the Scottish hookers can do is ensure they continue to put the ball where it will take an exceptional effort for the All Blacks to beat Scotland into the air.
3 x 7-man;
9 x 6-man;
1 x 5-man;
1 x 4-man;
2 quick throws
The favoured set-up was the 6-man with Ali Price dropping back and leaving the forwards to it with Hamish Watson taking on responsibilities at receiver. It was noticeable how little variation there was which probably arose for a couple of different reasons:
1 – keep the powder dry for the bigger tests to come. Allied to the lack of variation was minimal movement in the lineout – far less of the formation dancing that fans are using to seeing near the sidelines. Essentially Scotland were trusting the mechanics of their thrower and jumper to be sufficient to beat Samoa. Next time out there will be far more involved in terms of giving the opposition something to think about and the deceptions that will be put in place.
2 – it simplified setting up and calling the lineout allowing Scotland to significantly speed up the way they were approaching this phase of play. Excluding each sides’ 2 quick throws where no lineouts were formed Scotland were more than twice as fast at getting the ball back in play. Samoa averaged 25 seconds from being given the mark by the Assistant Referee to throwing in (and they were moving quickly by the relative standards of pro rugby – no lengthy delays in forming up or stepping out to have a conference about what the call should be). For Scotland that average was just 12 seconds.
Generally Scotland stuck to solid ball from the middle, going there 10 times with another 3 to the front of the lineout. The sole time they did try to go to the tail to get quick ball off the top for the backs was the one setpiece that was lost. They’ll need to weigh up the risk and reward when it comes to the All Blacks and there may be a need to be a little less conservative to really get the chance to stretch the Kiwis defence.
Ben Toolis 7 takes;
Jonny Gray 3 takes;
John Barclay 3 takes;
Cornell Du Preez 1 lost;
2 quick throws
Jonny Gray was calling the lineout (and doing it well) but there’s no question the slightly lighter, slightly more athletic Ben Toolis is Scotland’s primary option right now. Even with Ryan Wilson missing this weekend, John Barclay provides another useful alternative to the locks and this is another area that’s likely to see more variation against the All Blacks and Australia.
1 knocked on
As can be seen later on the catch and drive was the favoured option to try and tie in the opposition forwards – or on a couple of occasions to attack the try line directly. Tapped ball can be useful for getting it out to the backs quicker but often it makes sense to secure solid possession before involving the fancy dans…
The Next Phase
2 dummy mauls;
6 straight out to the backs
The maul worked reasonably well around the field. It made ground (although not particularly dynamically) but generally there was good control. McInally’s first try showed a strong initial shove but it wasn’t exactly serene progress over the line and drop on the ball. If Rambo hadn’t taken off to dive and score he was about to be sacked by a Samoan player who had come through the middle of the maul – fine margins and all that.
For the Edinburgh hooker’s second try there was some patience and cool heads. Initially the maul lost ground before eventually outworking a rather disorganised counter. Having the opportunity to work on these phases of play in a game has hopefully been a positive warm-up and preparation for taking on the New Zealand pack at close quarters.
From the 16 lineouts each of Scotland’s subsequent possessions ended in the following ways:
2 kicks at goal (both made by Finn Russell);
1 penalty kicked to touch;
2 box kicks into opposition half;
4 knock ons (including 1 at lineout itself);
1 turned over at maul;
1 isolated on opposite wing (penalty conceded)
The lineout is almost the ideal attacking platform for Scotland. Including penalties 6 of their 8 scores against Samoa had the lineout as a starter play. All 3 close in lineouts were converted into tries. 3 of the 5 lineouts around the 22 produced also produced scores. Of the other 2 lineouts in the final third of the pitch number 10 generated a penalty (for pulling down the maul) which lead directly to lineout 11 and McInally’s 2nd try.
That just leaves lineout 14 which came at a point in the game where the intensity / performance level had dropped off slightly. In between Samoa’s 2nd (which had seemed like it might just be a consolation) and 3rd tries (which really brought them back into the game) Scotland had 4 possessions – 4 chances to score and really stretch away again – that all ended in errors. Given the success of the lineout / maul combination this setpiece is likely to be the one that will smart the most. After Toolis again secured the ball well it was then held up by Samoan captain Chris Vui who found himself a split in the Scottish pack where he could wrap up Stuart McInally.
Defending the Lineout
On the other side of the ball Samoa had 12 lineouts – 2 of which were taken quickly. Of the remaining 10 they lost 1 to a Jonny Gray steal and 1 to an overthrow which was snaffled by Hamish Watson.
Until 54 minutes into the game Samoa only had one lineout in the Scotland half. That intensity that seemed to drain out of the dark blues a little after going 32-10 up allied the visitors’ never say die attitude made the last 25-30 minutes much more uncomfortable in this respect. Scottish indiscipline and conceding field position from kick offs combined to give Samoa great attacking locations to play from.
Samoa couldn’t really get any kind of mauling game going though. Their one big attempt came to naught after they were halted in the 22 by Scotland. When they were forced to break away Hamish Watson was then able to take advantage of a lack of organisation and turn the ball over.
The Samoan’s final play also saw them cough up possession after Tim Swinson was able to come through the maul and hold the ball up. New Zealand will provide a sterner test in this aspect, particularly close to the line, but given the struggles Scottish sides have had in this area the organisation around defending mauls showed some encouraging signs.
Worst Lineout of the day
Unquestionably Samoa’s first quick throw. It followed a comedy of errors with a dodgy penalty against Scotland at a scrum. Tim Nanai Williams missed touch with his kick into Scotland’s 22. Stuart Hogg followed this up by running outside his 22 before booming one down into Samoa’s half – but straight into touch where it was fielded by Josh Tyrell.
The spirit of playing quick rugby must have infused into him so deeply that it bypassed the thinking part of his brain. Instead of just marching 60m up the pitch for the throw-in he fired it in to a horrified Nanai Williams who tried not to touch the ball – looking it at like his colleague had tried to pass him the box from the denouement of Se7en…With no option but to pick the ball up he was swamped by the onrushing Scottish chase and turned over.
The lineout will be the platform that Scotland are most keen to attack New Zealand from. Mechanically the setpiece has to function close to perfection with the thrower and jumper in perfect synchronicity. Even at that there will need to be some trickery and misdirection to reduce the chance of New Zealand being able to fling someone up to compete. It will be a fascinating battle and one Scotland must win if they are to have any chance of remaining competitive in what is likely to be their toughest fixture of 2017.
Picture credit to Adrian Henry – for more of his gallery from Scotland v Samoa head to rugbypeople.net