I’m sure that like most of you I sat watching Sunday’s victory by the Wallabies against the Springboks in amazement that any team could win such a game with such little possession and field position. OK, that’s not entirely correct — I was pacing the floor and jumping around for most of the last twenty minutes of the game, not sitting!
The Wallabies’ scrambling defence was brilliant and that man, David Pocock, well I just don’t know how to describe how one player could have such an impact on such a big game.
While that game’s over and we all look forward to this weekend’s game, it’s worth looking a little deeper into last week’s game to see if there are any lessons for this week. I always find it interesting when I analyse a game play by play to realise how much I missed watching the game live. No matter how hard I try to concentrate on what’s going on as the game unfolds before me, rugby is a game where there is just so much going on. The Wallabies came away with a win, but there were a few areas of their game that I want to look at to see what changes might be required for this week.
First, to the Wallabies halves: Will Genia and Quade Cooper. I’ve seen some criticism of Will Genia’s game and even mentions that he may have been indecisive. I don’t understand that criticism in relation to his general play. I thought he had a really good game under enormous pressure from a rampaging Springbok pack. Not so for Quade Cooper, who did look indecisive. There’s been plenty of coverage on that issue and there’s no need for me to labour the point beyond saying the Wallabies can’t afford for him to perform at that level this week.
The area I do want to look at that involves the halves is the kicking game. It’s obvious that the Wallabies went out with a plan to try and play in the Springbok half. Is there anything wrong with that plan? No, and especially not in a knockout final of a tournament, particularly the World Cup.
Is it foreign to the way the Wallabies have traditionally played? I don’t think so. Sometimes rugby is about field position and playing a little more conservatively than the rugby public desires. While I have many fond memories of the Wallabies playing attractive running rugby, I remember plenty of occasions where Michael Lynagh, for example, would drive the ball downfield to get his team into position to attack.
Sometimes a team even needs to resort to the drop goal (sorry Slatts and all those puppies). Wallaby fans love to recall the attacking flair of a player like Mark Ella but do you remember that he kicked eight drop goals in his 25 Test matches? That’s one in every three Tests he played. The Wallabies’ overall record is 76 drop goals in 530 Tests; that’s about one in every seven tests, so Mark Ella scored drop goals at more than double the historical average!
My point is not that the Wallabies should be looking for more drop goals, but that running rugby is not always what’s called for, especially in the knockout stages of the World Cup.
However, there needs to be a balance and I think most people believe the Wallabies got the balance wrong against the Springboks and kicked away too much possession.
There are lots of different ways to measure the level of possession a team had in a game including by time in possession, by number of phases with the ball, by number of breakdowns or even by possession in certain areas of the field. On any of those measures the Wallabies were well behind the Springboks.
I analyse possession based on the number of times each team takes the ball into a breakdown and the field position of those breakdowns. The results I recorded were:
|Wallabies – 1st Half||Wallabies – 2nd Half||Wallabies – Match||Springboks – 1st Half||Springboks – 2nd Half||Springboks – Match|
|Ball Taken Into Breakdown||24||23||47||51||78||129|
|% In Match||32%||23%||27%||68%||77%||73%|
|% of Breakdowns in Own 22||17%||26%||21%||2%||3%||2%|
|% of Breakdowns Between Own 22 and Halfway||54%||30%||43%||12%||29%||22%|
|% of Breakdowns Between Halfway and Opposition 22||13%||43%||28%||65%||53%||57%|
|% of Breakdowns In Opposition 22||17%||0%||9%||22%||15%||18%|
Taking the ball into only 27% of breakdowns makes it hard enough to win, but only 23% in the second half makes it even more amazing that the Wallabies came out on top in this game. What about 54% of our breakdowns within our own half compared to 75% of the Springboks’ breakdowns occurring within the Wallabies half!
I also look at the number of times each team started with the ball for a possession sequence and in this match I came up with 64 each. That’s right, the Wallabies received the ball from a kick-off or 22, fed a scrum, threw into a lineout or received the ball from a kick or turnover by the Springboks exactly the same number of times the Springboks started with possession.
Then I look at what each team did with that possession and this starts to give us some detail regarding the Wallabies’ kicking game. There are two issues I look at in relation to a kicking game. The first is whether it was the right decision to kick and the second is the quality of execution. As you can see from the table below, the Wallabies kicked the ball 57% of the time they started with possession in this game, or 36 times out of 64. I also rate whether the execution of the kick was positive or negative at that came in at 53% positive, or 19 times out of 36.
|How Possession Ended||1st Half||1st Half %||1st Half||1st Half %||Match||Match %|
|Try / Field Goal||1||3%||-||0%||1||2%|
|Penalty / Free Kick For||1||3%||1||3%||2||3%|
|Set Piece Lost||3||9%||3||10%||6||9%|
|Penalty / Free Kick Against||-||0%||-||0%||-||- %|
Let’s look at the decision to kick and I’ll start with the level of kicking in this game compared to other games in 2011 against the Springboks and All Blacks.
|TN1 v Spingboks||TN3 v All Blacks||TN4 v Springboks||TN6 v All Blacks||RWC v Springboks|
|Times Starting Possession||56||55||53||49||64|
So the level of kicking in last week’s game was the highest this year, but as you can see from the table the Wallabies best performances in 2011 have been when the level of kicking was 40–45% of possession. In my opinion that’s the sort of level we need to see from the Wallabies if they are to win their next two games. If we apply that to last week’s game that would have been around 27 kicks — about two-thirds of the actual level.
But it’s not that simple, is it? Another major factor is the field position a team is kicking from. If you’re pinned inside your 22, you’re most likely going to kick the ball rather than try to run it out, particularly in a knockout game in the World Cup. If you’ve been pinned inside your half for the majority of the game, kicking from just your side of halfway is not a bad option. I think the decisions to kick in the examples in this video were correct (although Marto doesn’t necesarily agree as he was the one calling for the Wallabies to ‘have a run’).
Ignoring the quality of the kicks for now, I think those decisions to kick were good. The examples in this next clip are a different story.
There are six kicks in that clip where there were better options than a kick. If the Wallabies hadn’t kicked the ball on those occasions their kicking level would have been at 47% of possession — not far from where I think it should be.
Back to how field position affects the decision to kick. Of the 64 times the Wallabies started with possession, 31% of the time they started within their own 22 and 80% of the time they started within their own half. With that level of possession starting in their own half, it’s not surprising that the Wallabies had to kick so much.
What about the quality of execution of the kicks? Interestingly, when the Wallabies kicked from within their own 22, I rated 60% of their kicks as positive, but when they kicked between their own 22 and halfway, I rated only 39% of their kicks as positive.
Again, let’s look at the quality of kicking compared to other games in 2011 against the Springboks and All Blacks.
|TN1 v Spingboks||TN3 v All Blacks||TN4 v Springboks||TN6 v All Blacks||RWC v Springboks|
And there we have the major issue with the Wallabies’ kicking in this week’s game – poor execution! Kick that poorly again this week and the Wallabies will be on the plane home on Monday. Here are some examples:
Of the 36 kicks I recorded for the Wallabies (and there were two others that were made under advantage where the Wallabies got the ball back, which I ignored) here’s the breakdown of the performance from the individual kickers:
|Quade Cooper||Will Genia||Kurtley Beale||James O’Connor||Digby Ioane||Pat McCabe||Berrick Barnes|
|% of Kicking||36%||36%||8%||8%||6%||3%||3%|
|% Positive Kicking||46%||54%||0%||100%||50%||100%||100%|
Yes, Cooper and Genia need to execute better, but Kurtley Beale needs to run the ball rather than kick it! Will Genia used a box kick seven times and I rated only three of those as positive. I’m sure he’ll be aiming for a higher level next week.
There is another area I’d planned to write about in relation to last week’s game but that will have to wait for tomorrow when I’ll take a detailed look at the Wallaby lineout performance.