The Anatomy of a Try - Liam Wright vs Brumbies - Green and Gold Rugby
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The Anatomy of a Try – Liam Wright vs Brumbies

The Anatomy of a Try – Liam Wright vs Brumbies

On occasion heavily criticised, on occasion praised, the quality of attacking play during Super Rugby AU has been both interesting and quite divisive.

The clear steps teams have made on Defence has been huge. A return to the values of the 90’s and early 00’s when Aussie teams were some of the best defensive units around. If you’ve read Eddie Jones Biography he continually references how much defence was a focus of those great teams, the ’99 wallabies, the ’02 Brumbies etc…

It’s obviously been a huge focus. You still need to score more points than the opposition though so it’s also been good to see teams developing their attacking play over the last 10 weeks, even if it was not at the same rate.

It’s not always worked, but the intent has been good and that’s an important thing

The intention in attacking play is rarely talked about but it’s a major key in how good an attacking side can be. It’s something we’ve seen the New Zealand sides demonstrate time and time again and I don’t mean simply scoring tries (which is a given) but more the knowledge of where you’re going to stress the defence, where that line break is coming from and how you’re going to manufacture it?

There are a multitude of ways to do this, strike plays, phase maps/patterns, it’s what suits your teams talents best.

Ahead of the Super Rugby AU final I wanted to go back to the last Reds vs Brumbies game and look at the two teams attacking play.

From an analytical viewpoint it’s a good game to look at we saw two teams attacking with genuine intent, not just “heads up, let’s have a look”. One team nailed it the other, not so much but the two teams that took to the field knew exactly what they wanted to do and how they were going to try and do it.

That’s a great thing because over the course of Super Rugby AU that hasn’t always been evident to my eyes.

Some of that has been down to the new kicking laws, which on occasion has been awesome but has also lead to some pretty aimless kicking as teams struggle to find the best way to use them to their advantage.

Regardless, back to the main focus, attack.

We can actually sum both teams attacking play up in two quick sentences.

The Brumbies Started Deep and Stayed Deep. The Reds Executed on the tackle line.

I want to look at Liam Wright’s try in this game I think it’d be good to go through the Brumbies first attack as I think the contrast in how the teams set out to attack was very interesting.

The Brumbies Deep Attack

Playing deep isn’t an issue if it serves a purpose.

In this instance the Brumbies wanted to play a “wide wide” pattern that would allow them to attack the Reds defence where it is thinnest.

Brumbies win a free kick at the scrum. White immediately taps and goes to the midfield.

Perhaps a better option here would have been for White to pass the ball back to Samu who was on the mark and looking for the ball, so he could have gone early, or tap and go himself to get some yards.

Instead he plays an ambitious pass and it’s a great pick up by Simone but straight away we know Wright isn’t in a position to create the extra man on the chase around even without the quick tap so at best it’s a man on man attack.

01 11 Doesnt Follow

This is not a strike move this purely a launch play designed to get the ball the edge and eat up some easy yards.

Simone plays out the back to Kuenzle, but it’s very clear Kuridrani is some way off being a threat both wide and flat resulting in none of the Reds defenders being sucked in by him and Simone plays out the back.

The issue is the ball is just moving laterally (remember a key principle of Rugby is go forward with the ball).

02 Kuridrani too Deep

While this isn’t such an issue at this point the depth of that point of execution does become as things played out through this move and the wider match.

O’Connor (JOC) and Stewart safe in the knowledge Kuridrani was a decoy start folding under and Petaia and Daugunu are able to just slide and track the ball.

03 Reds fold under

The Brumbies were never too interested in fixing the Reds, the speed of the ball through the hands was what was important and has given Muirhead space to run in.

Again though, there is no support coming from deep and everyone is in front of him – which further adds weight to the idea this is all about getting the ball to the edge and turning the Reds players out to chase.

04 Muirhead wide Reds Fold Under

Muirhead makes some easy yards before he is dragged down. 

This is schoolboy rugby and it’s effective.

From the recycle the Brumbies again use the deep alignment to go wide wide, with the first pod holding the inside defence just, White plays to Kuenzle who plays to Simone.

05 Lateral Brumbies

Here are where issues are starting to creep in. The first is look how lateral the running has become?

The second is the fact that Kuridrani when he receives the ball is almost 20m behind the gain line and all his support is either lateral or in front of him.

06 20m Deep

This is a different situation to Muirhead having no support in the previous phase as Kuridrani is in the middle of the pitch with defenders either side of him.

via GIPHY

He does exactly the right thing and cuts back inside to try and find support.

It’s loose between Kuridrani and Simone but when it’s tidied up we see another wide attack set up with a 3-2 formation giving the Reds the impression the Brumbies will play the same side to the far touchline.

07 Carry Pod - Reload

In fact the Brumbies however are reloading this near side and as White approaches he checks back to see who is defending short for the Reds. Having made his decision never looks right knowing he is attacking back this short side.

via GIPHY

It works and but for a sliced chip kick by Wright trying to keep it in (perhaps a better option would have been to kick long and chase) the Brumbies may have well gone close.

Regardless this is clearly a mapped out sequence of play. The Brumbies are looking to go wide wide, eat up yards and then once in behind the Reds (over the gain line) bounce back to negate the Reds ability to regenerate line speed. Hopefully exploiting the thinning out defence they’ve created.

The sequence of play ends when the Brumbies return the clearance kick and give a penalty away for holding in.

Now here is the Reds first attack leading to Wright’s try.

The Anatomy of a Try.

The sequence starts with a messed up lineout but with the Reds first to react they are able to get straight across the gain line and set up their next phase on the front foot.

Throughout, keep a close look on how much the Reds push up and engage the tackle line, making defenders function under pressure. That allows them to force defenders into making decisions and stop them sliding out. In contrast the deep attack from the Brumbies allowed the defence to make many decisions safe from any form of pressure.

First of all look at how close to the tackle line the Reds carry unit is?

Secondly also note how close to that JOC is, this allows him to talk to the unit and also keeps him hidden away and as a very live option the Brumbies have to think about.

It’s a little detail but options is something the Reds do very well here.

via GIPHY

Notice how close to the tacklers Salakaia-Loto gets the ball – again this serves two things.

The first is the Brumbies have to engage, they can’t drift off him.

Secondly it robs the Brumbies of momentum, they don’t have the time to generate the speed to facilitate a truly dominant tackle and even though Salakaia-Loto doesn’t bust the line wide open he doesn’t get hit back, is able to spin through the contact and get to ground.

02 JOC Doesn't move

Also note how JOC doesn’t move at all, he just allows the pod to carry and he drifts across into position for the next phase.

Now options and decision making are a big thing in this Reds attack, note below JOC is already operating under pressure and has four options.

via GIPHY

  • Petaia on the short ball.
  • Stewart sliding behind Petaia.
  • Feauai-Sautia on a shorter late line
  • The fourth option is a tunnel ball through the diamond to Campbell.

It’s also clear that there is an overlap with Feauai-Sautia hugging the far touchline while bottom of frame the Reds Pack is starting to reload this short side.

03 Options

I think here perhaps a better options by Stewart than to turn the ball back inside was to draw and pass.

Reds recycle and to keep up the pace there are three quick phases keeping the Brumbies Defence sat on the gain line.

As the reds get to the edge JOC again takes the ball right up and whilst it’s a great step and go from Campbell to make the break it’s important to know how JOC and Campbell operating so close to the line force engages the Brumbies and reduces their chances to recover from any mistakes.

via GIPHY

Great break from Campbell, and already we can see how the Reds flat (or as I prefer tackle line) attack is causing problems.

Now in the Red Zone the reds drop a little deeper.

07 Deeper but Flat Pass

This gives the Reds a little more space to re-set in but to combat this depth JOC gives a flat fast pass to Salakaia-Loto to re-generate speed.

via GIPHY

In the next phase JOC again interests the defence but look at how many options he has under pressure.

09 JOC flat but still with Options

He plays behind to Petaia who sees they are drifting too much and cuts in to stop the defence creeping up and across. 

When the Reds finally come back notice how close to the gain line Tupuo is.

10 Flat Pod

Also note how close to the tackle he gives the ball to McReight forcing all three defenders to bite in on him.

11 McReight Carries Short

via GIPHY

Which brings us nicely to the pay off.

As the ball is recycled look at how many options JOC has.

Inside ball, Tunnel ball through the back, two short runners and a floating chaser who can pop up wherever he feels.

12 JOC Options

JOC dummy cuts and then plays behind. 

Which has pulls Kuridrani in, makes him sit back allowing Campbell to come around and then use a nifty change of pace to take him on the outside.

13 JOC Tunnel Option

Wright knowing he’s totally isolated chances his arm at the block and Cambells gone with plenty of support to pass to when Kuenzle commits sending Wright over. 

via GIPHY

It’s a wonderful score. The offload from Campbell is great and understandably draws a lot of attention.

I think though more importantly we can see the control JOC had over the sequence and how the speed of McDermott at the ruck allowed the Reds to play close to that tackle line.

There is always a lot of talk about the Gain line in Rugby and it’s very important but the Tackle line is something that seldomly gets commented on but is intrinsic to what every team is trying to do.

The Reds throughout this sequence of play know what they need to do and how to beat the tackle line in each case.

As motivation goes, losing by 2 points courtesy of a final minute penalty is pretty good and one of the great things about competition Rugby is that it invariably throws up opportunities to right some (perceived) wrongs.

No matter what coaches may tell you, having a reason to win that is more than just “winning the game” is huge and leading into the Brumbies game the Reds will have been able to use that turn around in Canberra as a trigger for this performance ahead of their semi-final against the Rebels.

Heading into the Semi-Final, having not lost the Rebels and having beaten the tournament favourites was a great place to be, confidence was high and much of what we saw in the Brumbies game played out, a continuation of the Reds ability to engage defenders and preserve space for their pacey back three.

The Brumbies will certainly be a different proposition in the Final but perhaps the biggest factor will be the Reds having to back up aginst a fresh Brumbies.

  • idiot savant

    Thanks Graeme, this is great. Im not sure Reds supporters will be too keen on the free analysis for the Brumbies though! Their strategy to stand deep to go wide was one of the root causes of their loss and I expect they might now flatten up a little!

    You have called Lukhan Samu in the above and I think confused Feauai-Sautia with Daugunu above but no matter. The analysis is accurate!

    You have also revealed the difference that Jim McKay has made to the Reds. Thorn appears to have given him so much more rope this season and their attacking setups have been clever all season. JOC has the right mix of experience and flair to be able to see the shapes and opportunities McKay has been setting up. I love the way the Reds always seem to have a second passing option or a running line option almost all the time. They use Stewarts and Campbell’s passing ability as much as they use the running options that the rest of the backs provide.

    • I did get names mixed up, Reg flagged up to me – when i was writing i just threw in the first name that popped into my head and then go back and check spellings and correct names etc…. and clearly forgot to do so here, they should be corrected now.

    • on McKay, I 100% agree, Defence is an easier fix so we were always going to see a spike there first but even then the speed with which the Reds attack has developed has been excellent.

      Really good to see Aussie backs working under the pressure.

  • numpty

    Great piece. Loved the comparison between the two teams. Both rebels and Brumbies have found weakness in reds short side D as white did in your example. Rebels made a great break at 7min mark down the short side but also kicked it away with Tate cleaning up.

    Loved the analysis on the tip on pass. I’ve known this is a good skill to have in terms of making breaks, or finding a seam, but never thought about it in terms of sticking defenders for subsequent phases. Top stuff.

    • on the short side, hold that thought. It’s something worth focusing on in a piece i’m doing right now.

      • numpty

        Pretty sure the brumbies made a nice play overloading the left hand 15m channel early on in their game in brisbane too from memory. I find the reds can be slow setting their D after a turnover/set piece so they are often weakest in the first ~3 phases (much worse earlier this yr). Would be interesting to know if you see the same pattern in the reds or other teams.

        • deffo, teams statistically are more vulnerable in low phase numbers (don’t have actual number) and off lineouts.

          This is why Brumbies are very keen to launch off lineouts.

        • numpty

          Good to know. Cheers and thanks again for a great article. Hopefully you’ve got some champagne reds rugby to be working with in 5 days time :)

  • Simon

    Kuridrani has been considered by many to be the best defensive 13 in Australian rugby for years, but Campbell really shows him up here twice. I know Kuridrani is probably past his peak speed and reflexes but I’ve been loving seeing the resurgence of smaller men like Campbell and Cheslin Kolbe, after the long trend towards bigger and heavier backs.

    The focus towards keeping the ball in play longer will help here too, though we’re still in the early stages.

  • RedAnt

    Thanks, Graeme.

    I’m really impressed by how much JOC has improved at 10. At the beginning of the season I really didn’t want to see him in the 10 jersey (based on past chances he’d had there), and the first few games reinforced that view. But, boy, he has proven the doubters (me!) wrong. His ability to play flat is obviously a plus, and his awareness and timing of passing is great. (He’s also improved his kicking game lots.) But how much do you think is down to his personal improvement vs the improvement in the Red’s shape in attack and, as you call it, their attacking intentions? As you and Idiot Savant point out, JOC now has lots of runners to choose from and the overall cohesion seems much better.

    • I think what we’re seeing is a guy playing in a team that suits him, he’s playing a style of Rugby that suits him.

      I think elsewhere he’s probably been suited to different roles (like when at Sale he was a perfect 12 for them) but here he suits that pressure distributor and I think a lot of his kicking improvement is down to being able to keep the attack moving and only kick when he thinks it will benefit the team – as opposed to kicking because he has no other options (if that makes sense?).

      I think one of the big steps Thorn and co have made is to build the team around what they have as opposed to the style of play they wanted to see and the players are really able to run it well.

      • whatwouldberniedo

        I also think that the team and especially JOC learnt an enormous amount from analysing the narrow loss earlier in the season. after a first half of pushing almost speculative offloads and giving up procession cheaply, they reined in their game and played 20 mins of really good footy to put themselves in a match winning position. but what was strange and allowed the ponies back into the match was they started playing too deep trying to grind out the win rather than forcing the defence to continue to make decisions at the tackle line (a similar problem in style to previous seasons and one of the issues with building an attack around kerevi).
        JOC is constantly varying his depth now. he was already one of the best players at the start of the season, but I reckon he’s also been one of the most improved on account of his greater understanding of the nuances of being a 10. Right now he’s very Cruden like.

        • Geoffro

          JOC has always had the skill.Name me a guy who debuted for his country at 18 and is one of the first on the teamsheet at 30 ! regardless of a bit of shit along the way.I reckon he would have excelled anywhere Thorn had placed him in the backline,he is a natural footballer.Glad he got his head in a good space.

        • in some ways the absences may work in his favour in regards longevity, he’s still relatively fresh and has experience but will feel the desire to get a good run with the Wallabies.

          I think he might be in or around the squad come 2023.

        • yes, i’d agree with all of that

      • idiot savant

        What you say about JOC’s decision making makes sense. I think also because he feels secure with those around him and doesn’t have to panic kick. He has a 12 who can kick so he can shovel if a shooter puts him under pressure. He also uses the pocket very well and runs close to the ruck. He likes heavy traffic and contact and plays well in it which really opens up so many options, halting slide defence if he suddenly goes wide or offloading in contact which has led to a number of tries. I really hope Rennie play him at 10 and allows hm to keep playing this way.

        • I think this is why he worked so well as a 12 for Sale in the Premiership – he just distributed and attacked the line.

          Having those options oddly reduces his need to make more decisions – he can operate safe in the knowledge if he makes a wrong decision or doesn’t know what to do he can move it to someone in a better position to impact play.

    • I think as people have pointed out below, we’re seeing him playing in a game plan built to suit the players, which certainly helps everyone, but one thing we shouldn’t overlook is that the Reds backline has been relatively stable. Obviously there have been changes, but broadly speaking you know who is in what position, week to week.

      That builds patterns and combinations well. It lets you make those passes under pressure, because you know from week-after-week of practise, both in training and in matches, where the players will be. Not where they’re meant to be according to the coach, but where they will be because he’s carrying a bit of a sore hamstring, or he’s tired after playing 70 minutes or whatever.

      The Brumbies deep attack doesn’t require that so much – you’re under less pressure, less often, so you can turn and see your target and pass to in front of them as they actually are. But a flat offence like the Reds is based so critically on really flat passes and split seconds you need to know where the player is rather than really turn, look and adjust.

      This final is going to be interesting. If the Reds can get fit, their defence should be good enough to broadly stop the Brumbies backs. Their discipline has improved over the last few weeks, which will slow their attack from set piece. Can the Brumbies D adapt to the multiple options the Reds offence is presenting them?

      • RedAnt

        Good points.

        The final will indeed be interesting – but like all big games, it will be won or lost in the forwards!

      • RedAnt

        Good points.

        The final will indeed be interesting – but like all big games, it will be won or lost in the forwards!

      • idiot savant

        Yeah it will be interesting to see what McKellar and co are cooking up for the final. Im pretty sure JOC will have a big target on his back. I think their tight 5 will play so much better than in Brisbane as well.

        • I’m sure he will, but if the Reds can field a fit enough squad, I’m not sure that’s the right play. You don’t want to ignore him, but you want to make sure you reduce his options. Plug the inside lane, cover his easy outlet passes. Leave him only the run, kick or pass back.

          In the Premiership here, a couple of teams ran what they called the diamond formation, very similar to what the Reds are doing. It wasn’t a good look, because the other sides just shut down the options. The Reds are doing it better because they’re creating more choices for JOC, so it’s harder to defend against, but the defensive response is, I think, the same. Don’t give the 10 the options – if you key on 10, there’s a space somewhere and JOC is good enough to pick the player in space and create line breaks that way, which is not good for you.

      • numpty

        I think this analysis and the way the rebels played shows that teams see a weakness to be exploited by going wide often and as fast as possible against the reds. The rebels did this well for the opening part of the match but failed to capitalise on opportunities and the reds adapted well. It’ll be interesting to see if the brumbies can better implement this ploy next week around and if the reds can stop it for a third time. I think that there is space there, but the reds are a fit, mobile team that have learnt to scramble very well, so the brumbies will have to take their chances the first time around, as the reds will nip any leaks in the bud quick smart. Brumbies have also taken next to zero penalty shots – the reds on the other hand do quite consistently. Will be interesting to see if brumbies go for the line when they get a penalty in the right areas, or the pts.

        • Every defensive system has its weakness, hitting the wide channels doesn’t, to me, instantly seem to the Reds, I think the gap is one in, between 12 and 13. I don’t think with Meakes and Hodge the Rebels could really exploit it though.

          Please note, I’m not picking on the Reds midfield defenders here, just saying I think their system leaves a bigger gap (or longer connection if you prefer) there than I’d like, and it should be able to be attacked. You can see, in several of the pictures above, even when it’s not the midfielders, there’s a gap there, roughly where you’d expect that channel to be, about 4 out from the breakdown.

          But we will definitely see.

  • Alister Smith

    Two thumbs up from me

  • Who?

    Graeme, a few weeks ago you wrote a piece about the Reds’ defence. I posited in response to your article that they weren’t really challenged in defence, because the attack asked few questions.

    Sadly, for quite a while now, we’ve not seen many Australian teams running attacking systems that forced defenders to make difficult decisions. It’s just been, “Here’s the target, can you make the tackle?” But the system McKay’s installed with Thorn’s young group gives defending teams this challenge: “Who’s going to get the ball – who covers each option, and if it’s the one you don’t want it to be, can someone get there to make that difficult tackle..?”
    You could have Dan Carter playing 10 and looking like a mug with some of the attacking structures we’ve run. Finally, a system where everyone knows where they should be moving, and the 10 is simply asked to take the option – of several available to the 10 – that they think has the best chance of success.

    Graeme, ultimately, there’s a question that needs to be answered… If that Reds attacking system met the Reds defence from your article a few weeks ago…… Who wins? I don’t know the answer, but I do know it’d be a game well worth watching!

    • I think that’s an interesting question and I think my approach to attacking that Reds defence wouldn’t be to use the Reds attack.

      I actually think the Brumbies had the right idea (i’m just writing another piece for the final so will touch on it) but the edge is a real weakness for the Reds in the same way it is for England and South Africa.

      • Who?

        The question of where the weakness is in the defensive line may not be the same for the Reds and Brumbies, but I’d still put forward that having a higher number of options at the point being attacked creates a higher likelihood of success. And, as NFL analysts regularly put forward, the defence has to be right on every play. Attack only has to be right a few times a match in order to make a big impact. One missed tackle can mean a 50m break downfield, whereas a poorly taken option often just means slow ball, reset, try again.

        • 100% on options, just where you stress that defence is what matters.

          If the Brumbies want to play that wide wide pattern then the wingers and 15 need to contribute more.

ACT Brumbies
@thedeadballarea

an Englishman living in France, Graeme runs the Rugby Analysis website thedeadballarea.com. He coaches in his spare time, is an IRB qualified coach and you can catch him on twitter lazily re-tweeting other peoples comments.

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