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How Johnny Sexton's drop goal drama was birthed out of Ireland's 2013 defeat to All Blacks


By Ruaidhri O'Connor

For many, Ireland's 41-phase drive to set up the winning drop goal for Johnny Sexton last Saturday called to mind the All Blacks' win at the Aviva in 2013.

Little did they know there was a direct correlation between the two.

Mike McCarthy was on the field as the world champions worked their way through 12 phases to set up Ryan Crotty's try in the corner at the end of a long period of ball in play in which possession changed hands.

McCarthy revealed that Joe Schmidt identified the period as something Ireland needed to work on, developing a four-minute, 30-second power-drill to improve their capacity to cope in a tight finish.

"I got 20 minutes against the All Blacks in 2013 when they scored in injury time," McCarthy said.

"Joe worked out that they kept the ball for four to four and a half minutes. So a big thing which since Ireland have done on a Monday or a Tuesday is this segment of four to four and a half minutes where you actually work harder than you do in the game.

"So, it's multi-phase, keeping the ball, running into bags, setting up rucks in different areas of the pitch.

"You're really blowing harder than you would in a game and I think you're seeing dividends of that drill they use and key learnings from that All Blacks game.

"It's just incredible in those conditions to keep the ball, everything... Joe is big on ball placement, the clearers arriving early and doing their job, strong ball carries - everyone was on the same page, everyone was believing.

"I read CJ Stander say that after seven phases of the 41, he was blowing but then he went into autopilot and you just get through your work, you believe you can do it and, fair play, they did do it."

McCarthy retired at the end of last season, so he got a front-row seat for the emergence of James Ryan and he is not surprised at the young lock's capacity to hit the ground running at international level.

"I remember being injured in the gym and James Ryan was injured with a hamstring injury and he had a big frame, 6ft 8ins, but he needed to bulk up a bit," he recalled.

"Speaking to Greg Feek last week, he's put on like 5kgs in the last year and he looks really big.

"He asks questions, he's always looking to improve and he led the U-20s to second place, so he's got those leadership qualities. People are talking about is he the next Paul O'Connell, and you can see he's got the leadership there as well.

"I played in that game against France two years ago and I think I had two ball carries.

"He's doing maybe 17 ball carries, so that's the difference between a modern-day second-row and an old second-row.

"He has a bright future," he added.

Ireland face Italy at the Aviva on Saturday.

Belfast Telegraph


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