Ireland's place as World Number One on the rankings is well deserved, largely down to their ability to force their opposition to concede breakdown penalties.
In the past 12 months, Ireland have played 21 test matches, winning 17 of them. While France won the Grand Slam, Ireland's series win over the All Blacks in New Zealand counted in their favour and an unbeaten Autumn campaign meant that they could not be caught atop the world rankings.
While Joe Molloy argued on Monday Night Rugby that South Africa could have won their match in Dublin if they had a kicker, and that the Australia match similarly went down to the wire, Ireland's ability to see out those close games will stand them in good stead when they head to France for the World Cup in just under a year.
One particular standout for Ireland is the penalty count in their favour over the past twelve months. As pointed out by a texter into Off The Ball, Ireland's ability to draw penalties from their opponents has been crucial to their rise.
"When you talk about discipline on the part of Ireland's opponents it's worth remembering that in the 2022 Six Nations the opposing five teams conceded more penalties when playing Against Ireland than against any of the other teams," the texter pointed out.
In fact, it was only England, Scotland and Wales that conceded their most penalties against Ireland this year. However, France conceded their second most penalties against the runners up of this year's championship.
Only Italy managed to concede less penalties against Ireland than they did against England France in 2022.
One of the key factors, though, was that Ireland were the only side in the 2022 Six Nations to not concede more than 10 penalties in a single match, while every side except Italy conceded more than 10 penalties against the Irish in the Six Nations.
Similarly, New Zealand in the third test in the summer were the only other side to concede less than 10 penalties against Ireland this calendar year.
Ireland forced Australia into neck rolls
Ireland had a favourable penalty balance throughout the year, conceding less penalties than their opponents in the Six Nations aside from against Italy.
On the tour of New Zealand, the tourists conceded 34 penalties across three matches, while the All Blacks conceded 36. Finally, in November, both South Africa and Fiji conceded more penalties than their hosts, while Australia were level on penalties conceded at 12 each.
However, what drew particular attention in the final match of the year was the number of breakdown penalties that Ireland won, particularly through Australia's neck rolls.
Speaking on Off The Ball, Ireland legend Brian O'Driscoll used this example to explain one of the ways that the world number one side have forced their opposition into conceding penalties.
"That's largely due to Ireland’s really good body positions in rucks," O'Driscoll said. "That's not just an Australian issue.
"I think it's credit to Ireland because the only way to move those players, they were latched on, and the only position that you can get immediate access to pull a player away from a ruck is with their head.
"You can't get that access by locking arms or pivoting. Obviously the crocodile roll has been outlawed. So, if you lose the shoulder, that's the only way to contort the body and take them away.
"That's not just Australia. I think huge credit and kudos has to be given to Ireland to get into those strong body positions to make it more difficult to move."
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