Attacking The All Blacks - Green and Gold Rugby
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Attacking The All Blacks

Attacking The All Blacks

I recently asked my Twitter followers for some topics they’d like to see me analyse over the Christmas break. Dan Abrahamsen asked for my thoughts on how the Wallabies can attack the All Blacks’ defensive structure. That’s not an easy question. I’m sure there are coaches and analysts all over the world who’ve tried to come up with an answer, but I’ll give it a shot.

The All Blacks use a variety of defensive structures depending on how the opposition are attacking. Their players are obviously very good at recognising which is the appropriate structure and that isn’t something that comes without a lot of hard work in practice.

Most of the time they’ll use a man-on-man structure and come up together in one line to create a black wall. Sometimes that will evolve into a drift structure if the ball is moved wide. Regardless of which structure they use, the key with the All Blacks is how hard they work off the ball to realign quickly and re-establish their structure if the opposition gains an advantage.

As with any team they do make mistakes, although they make fewer than most teams so opposition teams have to take advantage of every opportunity they get. Taking advantage of the opportunities doesn’t necessarily require any spectacular play – if a team can recognise the opportunity early and execute basic skills they can make inroads into the All Blacks’ defence. Far too often we see teams over-read the situation and try something risky when a simple play would take advantage of a mismatch. I’ve included some examples in the first video below.

Carter-Nonu ChannelFinding weaknesses in the way the All Blacks defend is difficult but there are three areas where teams have had some success.

The first is on first phase from set pieces. I know some people believe a try should never be scored on first phase in matches between top international teams but the evidence says otherwise. No matter how well a team defends, a well designed first phase play (and that can be as simple as having decoy players running good lines) will often cause defenders to hesitate and that’s often all you need. I’ve included some examples of first phase breaks made against the All Blacks in the videos below.

The second is in an area where I doubt most people would expect it to be. The 10/12 channel between Dan Carter and Ma’a Nonu yields more line breaks than any other area of the All Blacks’ defensive line. Teams that run well designed and executed plays targeting that channel are likely to have some success.

The following video looks at those topics.

[youtube id=”UIfffguNlSU” width=”600″ height=”350″]

The third area is using the wide channels, normally through a long pass, to get around the black wall. This is not just a matter of throwing the ball wide. It requires inside decoy runners to hold the All Black defence from drifting out early to shut down space in the wide channels. The number ten then has to have a good enough pass to hit the wider runner into the outside channel, either by passing in front of the decoys or by ‘playing out the back’. A slow, deep or looping pass will not open up the space — those types of pass will just give the defenders time to drift across in cover.

Unfortunately, that’s it. There are no really obvious weaknesses in the All Blacks’ defensive structures — you really do have to look hard to find these opportunities. So, teams have to try and create opportunities by disrupting their structures more and that means testing them constantly – because even the All Blacks will make mistakes when pressure is unrelenting.

One way to disrupt defensive structures is to do the unexpected from time to time. The Wallabies have become very predictable in attack — they always take the shot at penalty goal, they seem to kick for territory the majority of the time and they run very few first phase moves. Taking the option for points is sensible but how would the All Blacks react if the Wallabies took a quick tap, rather than attempt a penalty goal? How would they react if the Wallabies run the ball in counter-attack when a kick seems the safer option? Whilst I’m an advocate for doing the unexpected from time to time, players have to be better with their decision making – why try a chip kick (which might be unexpected) when a three-against-two situation exists, which can produce positive results without the higher level of risk involved in regathering a chip kick? Similarly, early in a match when defences are fresher or late in a match when the score is tight, taking a quick tap rather than a penalty goal attempt is too risky.

Kicking has to be a part of the Wallabies’ attacking strategy against the All Blacks as kicking helps turn the defence around. I don’t think the Wallabies’ level of kicking in general play is the problem many others do – the Wallabies kick no more than any other team. However, I do question the decision as to when to kick and the execution of many of the kicks is unacceptably poor. The first rule of kicking in general play for the Wallabies should be, once outside your own 22 only kick when the previous phase has got over the gain line – this way the kicking will become more of an attacking tool rather than a defensive play to try and get out of trouble.

For me, there are three keys to the Wallabies successfully attacking the All Blacks in defence:

  • Generate quick ball from rucks – this requires getting at least two players into each ruck quickly to clean out the opposition before they can disrupt the ball – it also requires the players not involved in that ruck moving quickly into position to offer themselves as ball carrying options for the next phase. There is no room for players walking around the field.
  • With players realigning quickly there will be multiple possible ball carriers that defenders have to think about and this places pressure on them. It may take multiple phases for gaps to start to appear in the defensive line but if questions are put to the defensive line on every phase, those gaps will start to appear.
  • With quick ball and multiple ball carrying options the number nine and ten need to be capable of picking which runner is in the best position to receive the ball and they need to have the ability to make that pass without the need to run across field (particularly when the opportunity is wide).

There’s nothing revolutionary with those points and in fact, nothing that the Wallabies haven’t done in previous matches against the All Blacks. You’ll also notice some common themes to those espoused by Bob Dwyer on this site regularly.

If the Wallabies were to implement that sort of approach they’d have to adopt a more attacking mindset than was on display in 2012.

The following video looks at those issues in a little more detail.

[youtube id=”NNNAJdgmqh0″ width=”600″ height=”350″]

I’ll post an article over the weekend comparing the Wallabies’ options at number ten to see which player best suits this type of attacking game plan.

  • Cheers for that. Seems to me the key factor is, because the ABs are such a tight unit, you have to take what they give you every single time.

    • Johnny-boy

      No, you don’t wait to take what they will give you, you confuse them by doing something different and sticking it up them. The All Blacks love structure and predictability and their efficiency will eat you up all day if that’s all you ask of them but if you delve deeper in to their tiny little kiwi minds there’s all sorts of insecurities looking for a smail.

      The big mistake ‘second tier’ teams like Australia and Wales have made (because only second tier teams hire foreign coaches – great point Red Kev) in hiring boring predictable kiwi coaches is that they have not only castrated the passion from their teams but made them easy meat for the All Blacks. There’s nothing ‘different’ for the All Blacks to think about. It’s all just tedious going thru the motions and yet still expecting something different, like a win. Insane isn’t it.

      The primary reason the kiwis hate Quade Cooper so much is that he has the potential to completely bamboozle the All Blacks (which I believe he will one day with McKenzie as coach), which makes them very scared . Even worse they know he will eventually become a better player and person for having moved to Australia, given he would have been hounded and stifled for being so exciting in NZ. I’ll bet there’ll be a few All Blacks that will eventually envy Coopers opportunities to come.

      • erm…all I meant is the old “You need to take your opportunities when they arise”

        But thanks for the kiwibash anyway…

      • goldie

        JB your like a broken record. The Wbs were easy meat before dingo came along and as for QC, the only players in world rugby affraid of him are the one’s outside him waiting to get a bullet pass when he’s about to get smashed..The kiwis know how to beat us and QC is one of those weaknesses they’ve exploited quite often,they beat us by dominating upfront and set peice, aswel as being far more fitter.Qc being a better person?

        I don’t know whats normal in Queensland but if you ask everywhere else, he’s a big headed twat..But i’l be sure to get on your back again when he crumbles under pressure accross the ditch, maybe even the Lions tour we shall see.

      • Ibaka

        “a better player and person for having moved to Australia” love it.

        • Johnny-boy

          Well that’s what happens when you put a dopey dull kiwi coach in charge of the Wallabies. Point proved. Pay attention Ibaka

  • Madflyhalf

    The worst thing Dingo said in 5 years is about scoring tries in first phase moves.

    It was madness, and the Wallabies of 2009-2010 were a proof of what you can take from them.

    top level player (such as the ABs or Wallabies are), first phase is the
    best chance to score a try, as there are 8 (sometimes 9) defender
    packed in a 5mt wide space.

    What do we need? Just look at the Mitchell’s o AAC’s try in HK:

    – playmaker who read correctly the defence and, don’t care if he’s a dick, QC is the better option

    a good passer sh: look where QC is positioned, he’s 20m away from the
    scrum, Genia pass cut out the openside flanker and the flyhalf!

  • bill

    I guess the short hand on this is have a go ball in hand you mugs. You might actually do something. Oh well, only another 9 months of wallaby/robbie torture before he fails through his stubborness. starwars, fish admiral ; “It’s a frap!”

    I’m pretty sure John Cleese or Peter Sellars are running the aru….ok Nucifora left, that should say, jumped before pushed, but why stop there, get Robbie to head to the lifeboats as well…..he could say he tripped and fell into the lifeboat!.

  • Robson

    Good stuff – as always – Scott, and proof that the cut out pass has value in the right situation. Only one player capable of it on a consistently accurate basis though – QC – and he tended to over use it, just a bit. The other interesting issue for me is the vision required of players to take advantage of the space you have identified that occurs in the AB defence; and not just their defence either. Again I would nominate QC as a player with that kind of vision, but so is JOC (probably even superior to QC) and Taps. Does Beale or AAC have it? Depends a bit on the situation. I tend to think that Beale has blinkers on when he is playing at 10. His vision is much better when he is attacking from depth. The jury is out for me on AAC as a player with genuine vision; irrespective of all the other qualities he brings to the game and for all his courage, McCabe doesn’t have it which, for me, is why he has very limited value in the midfield role. Thanks again for a great article.

  • Morsie

    Really interesting and it shows that what is lacking is the precision that is required to pull off these moves. This is precision that should come almost instinctively at this level. You just have to wonder what these guys do at training sometimes but I lay that squarely at the coach’s feet. I would also like to see you do an analysis of the All Bleck’s tactics of cleaning out players off the ball to open up attacking lanes. I don’t understand how it’s legal to tackle someone without the ball who is standing in defense off the edge of the ruck. It seems to be an All Blecks speciality.

    • ‘BoutBloodyTime

      Great analysis Scott, as always…and Morsie, I absolutely agree…when you see analysis like this that shows the ABs are susceptible on first phase moves & have a Wallabies coach that denies that scoring from first phase moves is possible, that removes at least 30% of scoring opportunities before the game even starts…secondly when the Wallabies use a 12/13 that rarely passes (McCabe/the failed Rob Horne experiment), that limits the options to get the ball wide…then when you have a 10 with the freakish passing abilities of QC, but don’t know how to get the best out of him (Link has been able to show at the Reds that the fault doesn’t lie solely with QC because he performs for the Reds while often floundering under Deans), those are significant problems that lay squarely at the coach’s feet…with his current strategies/lack of, no wonder Deans views the ABs as unbeatable…and that attitude also sucks!

      Use the crash ball runners against other more direct sides maybe (I have nothing against the commitment & loyalty of McCabe destroying his body for the cause), but for the ABs, we definitely need to hammer & exploit their few weaknesses.

  • Redsfan1

    This article points out the blindingly obvious. Make the advantage line, kick better to win, win the collisions… Easy to say but if you don’t have the troops who can do it then it’s pointless. The Wallabies problems start with fitness, lack of brutal strength & size. They need to get the conditioning right before executing tactics.

  • Thanks Scott… This is the reason i come to this site.

    I note that the conclusion makes 3 key points, which, when you think about it, are 101 rugby.

    Point 1 is about mongrel. Sure, technique is 90%, but there is nothing better on the rugby field than defending against a forward pack without mongrel. As for this, i do think we are starting to turn the corner and will be ready to match it up again before the next RWC

    Watching the wallabies under Deans, I think that they acknowledge point 2 & 3, but just do not have the fly-half to achieve it. Sure, Cooper can, but hasn’t for a very long time. Beale same. Barnes just doesn’t have the backline vision/decision making for it. What happens is the outside backs run their line hesitantly because there is no certainty on the ball carriers line or timing. The forwards know it, and they are always worried about the backs turning it over, and POW, no one is certain any more of their role.

    In stark contrast…

    I think also that when discussing the all black defense, it is important to state that their real point of difference and the reason that they are able to realign so efficiently is that each player has complete trust in his team mates around him. That split second of uncertainty when the guy inside or outside cant do his job is what creates holes that can be capitalised on. The all blacks are remarkable in the way they effortlessly turn a broken defensive line back into a rigid wall; and it is simply because each player looks up, knows where HE needs to be, and does it, with complete confidence that the lads around him are doing the same.

  • Garry

    The most damning evidence about how inflated the gulf is between the potential of the Wallabies and AB’s came during the AB v Poms game when the NZ commentator admitted that ‘no team had taken it to the AB;s like this’. I think he should have added ‘…. for a long time.’

    We have a team capable of regularly beating the AB’s, we just need better coaches (and an ARU board) to make it happen.

  • Nick

    LOVE your work Scott Allen

All Blacks

Scott is one of our regular contributors from the old days of G&GR. He has experience coaching Premier Grade with two clubs in Brisbane.

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