A nerdy look at a massacre - Green and Gold Rugby

A nerdy look at a massacre

A nerdy look at a massacre

Well let me say from the outset that Saturday’s result was not really a massacre. I will present a few bit of analysis that hopefully back up my point. Oh and thanks for the guy’s at Green and Gold for not telling me that in Oz the term ‘rock-spider’ refers to a peadophile. I spent most of last week batting that wicket on social media.

The good news

Controlling the controllables

For the third week in a row, the Wallaby’s fundamentals were sound. We slipped a line-out on our own feed near the death, and we lost ‘that’ scrum to a penalty, which is something every player in the tight 5 will henceforth remember and learn from, but overall we managed to secure our ball.

We also created a lot of opportunities, but it’s starting to sound a bit lame (or like coach-speak) to keep harping on about how many opportunities we create, when for the 3rd week in a row we butcher so much of it.

Our weakness exploited

Often when an opponent plays in a certain way, it’s not because they are so good at it. They might just play that way because they know they can control how the opposition will respond to it. I generated this table to study the first half, and immediately noticed New Zealand pulling a cheeky:

half one

Look at the % ball surrendered for territory stat, and you will notice how New Zealand in the first half to give back almost half of all their possession, because they know we will not kick it back. The Wallabies at the moment prefer to keep the ball in hand, even in their own 50, area.

But whereas last week managed to exit properly and make progress up-field, partly because Smith and Ioane were not chasing kicks properly, this week we gained less field (momentum stat). All they had to do is kick is and chase it properly, because the Wallabies right now has no variation to this strategy.

And then errors came..

It’s one thing not being able to exit properly. But being plain shaky with ball in hand is a recipe for a 36-points loss. Check out the same stats for the second half to see what I mean:


Now New Zealand kicks a bit less and we stop kicking altogether, as they would have predicted (% ball surrendered stat again). With tired bodies both defensive lines start to crack, but the proverbial plumbers crack is our error rate.

This stat looks at the amount of handling errors we make on attack and tackles we miss on defence. We mucked up almost 60% of everything we did at this stage, which is a worse stat than my wife registers  trying to barbeque ribs.


Remember how New Zealand played against Ireland the week after the Chicago loss? Cast your eye to this stat to see from the first half how the Kiwi’s react to a loss:


15.56 of all their tackles were dominant. 4.42 of ours were. Guess who wanted this more?

Want to help generate awesome stats for the World Cup with me? Email bren@rugbycology.com and get involved!

  • Jcr

    I think you’ve done really well but …. As coach Cheika says , why do you need to know what the opposition does . Totally irrelevant as to what the opponent wants to do . Name 1 conflict that was won by understanding the enemy . As the great Donald says , all you need to know is that the enemy are bad , bad , horrible people .

    • Brendon Shields

      Hehehe that’s funny. I would argue that how the opposition plays at pro level often reflects more what they think about you than what they do themselves. I would also kick on Oz because I know for sure they wont kick it back. Christian has to take more onus on himself and dictate play.

      • Jcr

        I’ve spent just about all my rugby playing in NZ and for a variety of reasons I still support the Wallaby’s, I assume a fair part of that is due to lack of oxygen at birth , anyway . The main thing I see in Aus rugby v NZ is that Australia seems not to do much eyes up rugby , they seem to know what the immediate next allotted task is , do that and then try to remember what the task after that is . I think the ABs are facing the realities of the Law of Diminishing returns. They used to be , fitter , bigger ,better skilled and more focused , I think nowadays over the above there are a number of teams that can reach parity or surpass the ABs on what appears to be more days than used to be . What they still surpass most teams most of the times however is they read the game ,not just the next phase , but whole movements , players getting into support positions automatically ie eyes up rugby. I think that’s showed in how often they win so late in many games and with poorer stats .
        Cheika sets a plan irrespective of the opposition, if you do that then there is no need for eyes up rugby and subsequently you only need a small shelf instead of a Trophy cabinet .

        • Brendon Shields

          I do however think Cheika does that for a reason and when yuo are working with international teams made up of players from teams who do not synchronise, then it makes even more sense. NZ success is fact that they all work off same template. In contrast the Reds under Thorn plays a totally different style than the Rebels under Wessels. So your international team is a mix-match. Keep things simple and structured and you have better odds of winning. BUT, if this Oz team stays selected as is, with Pocock just joining off the bench, then come QF time you should be hitting serious strides, much like Cheika’s Tahs did a few seasons back.

        • Who?

          I don’t see using different templates as a bad thing. It means the national coach can select players based off what they bring in their scheme, but also what they could bring in the different national scheme. It means he has a broader style of players to select. If you’ve got 5 provinces all playing a fast, ball-in-motion style of game, and you need a solid scrum, the odds are you won’t have many immoveable rocks to stick up front. But if you’ve got a mix between ball-in-motion and ten man rugby, you get a mix of player types, which adds flexibility.
          I also question whether NZ teams all run off the same template. It’s fair to say that they work their back three players hard, ensuring they’re all great at counter attacking. But tight forward depth, style and usage varies significantly between the teams. Their styles of 10 vary. Their styles of 9 vary (from Aaron Smith’s sublime passing game to Weber running). What they do well is connect everything up to the ABs.

        • I kind of agree and disagree with that. If you look at what they do, all of the teams, and their players, do the core skills really well. There are differences, yes. A. Smith and Weber are different and have different strengths at scrum half, so the team plays slightly differently off them. But they both pass well, they both kick well, they both boss the forwards well and they both can run with the ball. All their props all scrummage well and generally carry well in the tight and tackle well. Their hookers scrummage and throw well. The list carries on like that. What makes the differences between the sides is the little differences, where Smith’s and Weber’s individual strengths are. What extra prop A brings or prop B brings.

          And what Hansen does, and Henry did before him, is orchestrate a team where all those little extras blend together. Barrett is a genuine X-factor player. Picking Smith over Weber makes a lot of sense, because you want to get the ball to him fast and let him make the choices to work his magic. While Mo’unga is a different player, I think the same is still true. Someone like Ford, for England, who isn’t a great runner IMO, you might want to pair him up with someone more like Weber so you can have that running threat there. Or dredging back through time, Merhtens, who couldn’t run to save his life – that’s probably unfair but it’s not far off – would make sense to pair with someone more like Weber.

          Bringing that back to Cheika, I’m not sure he does that. I like the White and Lilo pairing for example. I’m not necessarily sure their added extras synergise particularly, but I like them together. But Kerevi and Kurundrani… well it wasn’t working so well, it looked like it was just “pick the best two centres in Australia, it’s bound to work out.” It could have developed given time, it was better in the second test (that might just have been that Argentina weren’t as abrasive in defence as SA) but I think they were also working it out more. But Kerevi and JOC looks better because it’s two different types of player and it offers more. Despite what happened on Saturday. But how much of that was dumb luck?

        • Who?

          Completely agree. I think the Kiwi teams are more rounded in their skill sets, but each team brings a different style and set of challenges. A game plan that might beat the Highlanders might be dismantled by the Hurricanes, and vice versa. They build, as you say, off the strengths of their players. But they coach to minimise the weaknesses. And they all provide great players for the next level up, and Shag does a great job of blending them.

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          I think you’re 100% right on both why other teams are looking better and why NZ is able to stay on top. Most other teams have increased their fitness and skills but haven’t yet managed to get the total game down pat. Without a doubt they will one day and NZ needs to look at something else to keep them on top.

        • idiot savant

          Great analysis.

      • I’d add to that, certainly at the moment, attack wherever Hodge is. Defensively he’s a liability against a quality winger. Step him or make him turn and he’s just beaten like he’s not there.

  • LED

    Great analysis of a single game but what I want to know is why when the Wallabies lose, they mostly capitulate – ie totally go to pieces more than any other top team. To back this up heres the stats since 2017 season focusing on just losing International matches:

    Average losing points margin: Wallabies -17 pts; Argentina -15 pts; Scotland -14 pts; Wales -9.5pts; England -7.5pts. Dont bother with SA and ABs – its no comparison.

    Wallabies lost by >20pts in nearly 50% of losing matches vs next worst Argentina with 30% and Scotland with 25%. They only managed a “close” loss (<10pts) in 5 out of 15 losses (33%). Same stat: Wales 60%; England 75%; Scotland 50%.

    Its not just how often we play the ABs either. Remove them and the pattern still remains. I genuinely don't understand this frailty and am looking for answers…

    • LED

      I’ll also add…If Rugby Australia is looking for why Australians are so negative rugby these days. Its not just Israel etc – its the stat above. A close loss we can tolerate as its still a great game. But their repetitive capitulation is just noxious.

      • Jcr

        What about looking at why the defence is failing and you probably have to look at what the overall tactics of the game where , possibly/probably that given that there is no weight ( conjecture) put on the other teams systems by Cheika then it should be obvious by another coach the best way to help unravel the Wally’s and look at the defensive coach, easy fix Nathan , and maybe that’s where the answers are .Personally I don’t try to worry about the point spread of losses ( plenty of practice) but rather try to see what the changes have been (polish a turd area sometimes) . Bottom line is I thinks the squad is far better than it was over the last couple of years and they could go deep in the WC but I could also see them in the WC circling the drain .

    • idiot savant

      The main reason is defence. Grey’s failed systems along with too many poor tacklers. Cheika’s Wallabies have let in more tries per season than any other team in the modern era.

      • LED

        Agree the tacklers point. Australian rugby has too much preoccupation with just getting X factor attackers on the pitch in any position they can fit them irrespective of their defence stats. It means these same players go their whole career without being held to account for woeful defence because they keep getting picked. Think of the tackle stats for Foley, Beale, Folau, Quade, even Kerevi. When we stuck most of these guys in the same backline you have an average tackle completion rate in the mid 60%’s. That means every 10 times a opposition runs at you they’ll probably make 4 line breaks! Talk about points leakage.

        Imagine what would happen if we drew a line in the same and said anyone who cant tackle at 75% + doesnt get picked. These same players would have to really pull up their defensive socks.

  • idiot savant

    Terrific stuff Brendon. You would think after 5 years in charge and many millions in football department wages, Cheika would have this analysis and more at his fingertips. He would have the means to devise strategies and counter strategies. Yet we have seen scant evidence of this for nearly 6 years. The last graph is very telling. If the Wobs had gone out to use defence as a weapon, it would have unsettled the ABs but Cheika just doesn’t think like that. The ABs on the other hand have much more respect for their opponents and clearly do devise strategies to beat them rather than play their own game. Taking on the Aussie scrum was a case in point. That’s respect and planning.

  • Kokonutcreme

    Anyone familar with Cheika’s coaching DNA will know that he coaches possession rugby. He likes his team to hold on to the ball and pressure the opposition by relentlessly running the ball back at them forcing more tackling and wearing them down.

    What were the standout characteristics of their marvellous win in Perth? – they won majority of possession and territory statistics, they carried over the advantage line for more than 70%, majority of their ruck speed was less than 3 seconds, their discipline was vastly improved and missed tackle rate was low.

    These are all interdependent. All coaches know that if you secure majority of possession, then as the attacking team you get a greater rub of the green from the referee. When you’re able to recycle ruck ball under 3 seconds then you take away the effectiveness of the rush defence as it relies on slow ball and tackling carriers behind the advantage line. The All Blacks struggled to do either and missed 20 tackles in the first 20 minutes. They were starting to get on top of the All Blacks in the first half, when Barrett received his red card and that was always going to favour a team that wanted to have more of the ball.

    Tactical kicking has never been a widely used weapon in Cheika’s teams arsenal but it should have been given the forecast wet and greasy conditions in Auckland which actually penalised teams who play the possession game, rather than the territory game. It was a game where the scrum, rather than the lineout would have a greater influence on proceedings due to the wet ball increasing the difficulty of passing and handling.

    The All Blacks not only kicked more, but they also attacked the blindside more rather than risk turning over possession in the middle of the field and giving up easy territory or counter attacking opportunity.


I research schools and club sport to help coaches create better training sessions and smarter game plays based on science. I believe that data hides these coaching gems that are very rewarding if you are willing to mine deep enough! Yes it's nerdy, but it works!

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