Bledisloe One Analysis - Wallabies Defensive System Failures - Green and Gold Rugby
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Bledisloe One Analysis – Wallabies Defensive System Failures

Bledisloe One Analysis – Wallabies Defensive System Failures

As part of the fallout from the 1st Rugby Championship game its been interesting to hear the Australian coaching team talk.

Stephen Larkham – “I don’t think it was necessarily a poor performance, there were just too many errors”

It’s an interesting comment and in truth I get what Larkham is trying to say, that if they cut down the errors they’ll be there or there about. But that just doesn’t translate to what the paying public saw.

While there are many areas in which the Wallabies failed on Saturday, for me (and I’d imagine pretty much everyone else) defence was the biggest and most visible problem area of the game. We can talk all the attacking Rugby in the world, but its worth very little without a solid defence.

You can head to any park at the weekend and watch an afternoon footy match and the team that comes out on top is almost always one that makes its tackles. That’s obviously amplified at Elite level and when we get to International level unless you’re operating in the 80-90% range, as a minimum, you’re just not going to be in the game.

Let’s scoot back to the British & Irish Lions test series vs New Zealand. Were the B&I Lions lucky to get a drawn series? In hindsight probably, but whichever way we look at it that drawn series was built on solid defence. 92% tackle completion in test two, 86% in the second and in the 1st test which they lost it was 90% showing how tight the margins are.

In fact throughout that entire tour the highest difference in tackle % between the B&I Lions and any New Zealand team was a measly 8% in that same second test.

Lions Tackle Stats

Tackle Stats per game for B&I Lions Tour

Simply put – get your defence sorted and you’re at least in with a semblance of a chance.

Of course, none of this is, or should be, news to anyone least of all the Wallabies, so when your post thrashing stats look like this:

Aus vs NZ Tackle Stats

You have to take a long hard look at yourself.

Individuals have come in for a lot of criticism for missing tackles but if your defence is posting a tackle success rate a full 17% below you’re opposition there is nowhere to hide that. A drop off rate approaching 20% to me says system error as opposed to individuals just not being up for it.

The fact of it is the Wallabies defensive system has absolutely failed and it comes down to what the Wallabies:

A: Prioritise Squad wise (Answer attack over defence)

B: What they ask their players to do within that defensive system.

Now the first is admirable, score more than your opponents and you’ll win and Cheika has always said they want to play good ball in hand footy. But you can score as many points as you want, it counts for very little if your opponents is scoring more than you.

Again all truisms, so none of this is particularly mind-shattering news to anyone let alone international coaches.

So what went wrong, or more importantly why did it go so wrong? It’s not that they aren’t brave guys to a man, it’s not that they are scared to tackle it’s that what is being asked of them in their defensive system is bordering on being completely and utterly bonkers.

If the best players are the ones who do the simple things well under pressure then the same holds true to the systems a team uses in a game. The simpler it is the easier to execute under pressure and the more effective it is, the more complex it is the harder to execute and the less effective it is.

New Zealand’s attack isn’t overly complex, it’s literally the same Rugby they’ve played since they were schoolboys, just executed at more pace, under more pressure and with refined skills. England and Ireland’s rush defence systems aren’t massively complex, they are just about setting early and getting in the oppositions face fast so they make bad decisions or decisions that favour your defence.

Australia’s defence is the complete opposite of that, it’s convoluted and if we look at the first half it’s abundantly clear players are confused with their roles.

Grey has an ideology, get the best defenders in the middle and the hide the weaker defenders away. We’ve seen it time and time again, mostly with the way the Wallabies and Waratahs keep hiding Foley out of harm’s way. How many times have you seen Horne step in and defend at 10 with Foley dropping to wing or as an auxiliary 15? Thinking Wallabies how often does Foley go to the defensive hooker position on opposition line-out with Hooper dropping out to 10?

It’s a clever idea, but the problem is at some point these players have to defend and while you can hide one player away you can’t hide two or three players as the Wallabies tried to on Saturday.

If we start at the beginning, with the opening kickoff it’s a perfect example of the system in use and the problem the complexity presents.

Foley kicks off, and Rona chases up on a wide channel whilst the kick off is collected on the far side of the pitch.

However the next wide shot we get, he’s gone. Like a ghost, he’s just disappeared. He’s not out wide, he’s not in tight he’s literally nowhere to be seen.  There is just a vast yawning chasm of space and from the back field Foley is coming forward to fill in.

The Wallabies like to play with two fullbacks (left and right) that’s usually Foley and Folau. It makes sense, they shut down kicking options and both are fantastic counter attackers and have strong punts.

But Rona in the back three means Foley who, as the kicker, would usually drop into the 15 position now has to push up hard post kick to shutdown the space whilst a guy who has just pushed up on a kick chase now has to turn, run back and settle into a defensive 15 position.

Foley doesn’t really get there and doesn’t get off the line and the result is New Zealand attack there: Crotty beats Kerevi and the AB’s have dragged the Aussie Defence across and got in behind them.

As we can see on the next phase due to the speed of the ball transfer and the fact Crotty has got through the first tackle the transition defence hasn’t had time to set and the All Blacks go straight through, causing the Wallaby defence to fold in again.

Then off the next phase as they have the numbers on the defence they take it to the edge.

This time the Wallabies don’t know if they should push up, or drift out and as a result do neither. Speight hasn’t pushed up so they are able to isolate McMahon making him turn and Squire gets on his outside and eats up the yards.

Finally on the next phase we again see Foley defending the far edge of the defence and he’s hopelessly outnumbered and some poor passing coupled with a 50/50 offload from Williams halts the All Blacks momentum and gives Australia possesion.

This is a trend throughout so let’s jump on a few minutes and watch the Aussie defence again as New Zealand start to build an attack.

It starts with an easy turnover and NZ switch into attack mode, after a couple of phases we see the Australian defence is actually set up pretty good, 2 in the ruck, 11 in the line and 2 deep (Foley and Folau).

That’s on first glance, because New Zealand have a 4 vs 2 overlap on the far side and Australia with resources tied up in the ruck and the backfield can’t load both sides sufficiently. New Zealand drag the Australian defence to the far touch line.

The Wallabies drift and shut it down and while New Zealand are making easy yards if the Wallaby defence can set early on the next phase they should be able to get off the line quickly and put them under pressure.

Except Roana has again disappeared and this time he’s not been replaced by Foley, which means last man is Kerevi about 20m in.

Suddenly there is a narrow midfield with a massive overlap to New Zealand. Luckily for Australia New Zealand don’t see it and opt to punch up the middle ultimately winning a penalty.

Also if we watch how the Wallaby defence presses, you can see they are caught between two systems – line speed is generally poor but Arnold picks out a target and fires out the line, but no one steps in to finish the job behind him.

It’s just really passive defence caught between two systems.

Finally having won the penalty New Zealand chance the high kick and we see how heavily loaded that back field is considering the defence has been moving backwards at a rate of knots.

Finally let’s jump to the opening Try by Liam squire.

If there is one thing the last two years of Super Rugby has taught us it’s don’t give New Zealanders the chance to attack unstructured defence. So it’s kind of exasperating to see Foley simply kick the ball straight to the New Zealand back three, yeah it goes into touch but only just and it might as well have stayed infield for all the good it’s done in relieving pressure.

Obviously they go fast.

Additionally the kick chase is all over the place, Roana has come from left to midfield and Hooper has shot up with him but there isn’t really any 2nd wave of defenders coming up and McKenzie has a go, and gets the ball away to Crotty.

Also Watch Foley, he just stops.

Now Foley isn’t a lazy guy, he’s got a huge work rate in loose play but here it looks like he just doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do. He doesn’t track into a sweeper position; he doesn’t drop into the pocket for a potential kick return he just kind of stands there lost. You can almost see him thinking “what am I meant to be doing here again?”.

In fairness Australia Scramble but now as they set their defence we see a few things happen. The first is Kerevi is still getting back having tackled McKenzie and instead of just getting in the line on the far side he runs straight through the middle and then floats behind to get to the outer edge looking for a job rather than just making a decision and having an impact.

The second is that for no obvious reason the press comes up from inside to outside allowing the All Blacks to pass the ball reasonably easily to the edge of the defence.

Finally Kervei still not knowing where he’s meant to be just runs into Speights channel rather than taking the outside shoulder and helping out Foley who’s now got to defend a 2vs1 against Squire and Ioane the outcome is only ever going to be one way and Squire canters in from about 30m for a cracking try.

Startlingly we’re just over 10 minutes into the game and Australia haven’t put a solid defensive set in yet.

The first rule of creating a robust defence is get yourself in a position to defend.

That means:

  • bodies in the line
  • movement needs to be forward.

At that point you can decide if you’re going to drift or blitz.

All through this we can see Australia don’t really fill the line, don’t get off the line and they don’t really drift to shut down the wide space.

The end result is New Zealand are allowed to come forward transferring the ball under little pressure to where they can attack them.

To me swapping your defence around on the fly like this just makes no sense. It’s purely about one thing hiding weak defenders which while in theory is a great idea on paper is pretty hard to do in the flow of the game.

In fact all it’s done here is create a narrow defensive edge and left the wingers isolated and a defensive wall that doesn’t know if they should Blitz or drift. With Foley you can literally see him having to fight the instinct to drop back for the kick and force himself up into the line.

Why not just fill the line play out the initial defensive set and then get your players moved around on the next set piece?

Kerevi has come in for a lot of criticism and he’s a constant in the above examples, so is Roana and Foley.

It’s easy to look at them and ask the question what are they doing?
The answer is they don’t really know where they need to be, or what their defensive priorities are – is the first priority to fill the infield or set defensive width do they get off the line quickly or do they come up unified and drift out?

In the Squire try clearly Kerevi is thinking does he get across and cover Speight and Foley and in the end he just kind of does nothing

That’s not to defend Kerevi, he actually made 4 tackles and missed 4 tackles and was only on the field for 40 minutes.

I’m the first to say stats don’t paint the whole picture, and this isn’t about singling Kerevi out for special attention but the simple fact of it is if we look at his stats from the Super Rugby Season he’s got a 77% tackle rate which in truth isn’t awful but isn’t awe inspiring and if we look at individual game stats we can see that he’s not the most consistent of defenders anyway: stats per game for the season are as follows and that % is boosted by a couple of big defensive games:



So you have to question the coaches who would ask a hit and miss defender to anchor a complex defensive system in midfield that between them missed over half of the teams tackles (Beale 5, Kerevi 4, Speight 3, Rona 5). A midfield that returns 17 missed tackles against the All Blacks? It’s only going down one way.

But using Beale as an example shows us it’s doable, he has just come from a pretty successful season at Wasp’s. They topped the table and went to a final with some great attacking Rugby. They also got there with a defensive system that contained Danny Cipriani, Kurtley Beale, Christian Wade, Elliot Daly and Willie Le Roux.

On paper that’s a defensive liability, yet with clarity and a simple system that suited these guys (blitz) they ended up a reasonably solid defensive unit, not the best but certainly not the worst.

The key is it was a simple system and they all knew where they fitted in, and it gave them the best chance to either make their tackles or cause enough of a problem that the attack turned back in.

As a schoolboy I was taught if I can’t make a tackle then the next best thing is to push the attacker to someone who can. That’s a pretty simple concept to grasp.

We’ve seen in both Ireland and the B&I Lions the blueprint for pressuring New Zealand, an early defensive set and quick off the line – you’ll likely get them either coming back through the middle or going to the air but in both scenarios you create chances for your defence to get at their ball carriers/compete.

That doesn’t mean New Zealand won’t figure out how to beat it, but if Australia doesn’t start posing them problems they simply won’t have to.

Grey has expressed his disappointment in how they defended, he knows they let themselves down but ultimately the crux of it is Australia need to get back to basics and fast, simple Rugby where players know their roles and can consistently perform them.

  • kp

    Foley has a strong punt – wtf?

    • a whole article on sh*t defence and you take issue with Foleys punting? :)

      • Bobas

        Saying Foley and Folau have strong punts is the only thing wrong with the the article is only natural after my article about a giant boot Wallaby xv.

      • kp

        I take great offence at the wallabies defence but consider it beyond saving so … However, I remember watching Roger Gould kick from 22 to 22 with the old heavy leather balls as did David Campese. In recent year Chris Latham could also kick yhe hide of it and Larkham was no slouch. But our current flyhalf is the worst wallaby kicker I can recall.

    • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

      I realised this came across as overly rude when it was meant ironically, so have edited it away.

      Good article, appreciated it.

      • it wasn’t taken that way mate. All good!

        *hides waratahs jersey*

    • jamie

      Compared to Nick Cummins, absolutely he does

  • Hurrow

    Why is it that so many of our players simply can’t defend properly? The systems may be complex but the actual act of tackling isn’t rocket science and yet somehow we have at least 3 guys who we have to try and hide because they can’t do one of the basic skills of the game.

    Nathan Grey may be partly to blame for wanting to run a complex system, but if he had players who could actually tackle then it’s probably reasonable to assume that the system could be less complex because he didn’t have try and hide a bunch of blokes and could rely on them to execute consistently.

    • It’s not that they can’t tackle it’s that they are weaker in the contact area – neither Foley or Beale are technically poor tacklers, but neither are going to get dominant hits in and as such they are likely to concede the gain line.

      There are two ways to counter that:
      Line speed so it doesn’t matter if the hit isn’t dominant
      hide the players away – but how do you hide 4-5 players in a 15 man team.

  • Great write up Graeme. The Beale, Foley and Kerevi was my biggest worry going into the game. all of them are just passable defenders but put them together and combine it with a ridiculous defensive system? Well it was never going to work.

    Simplify the defence. Make players defend were they end up and not run to preset place on the field and in the long run we will be better off. How can the players trust each other when some guys get special treatment in defence.

    PS: I don’t believe Folau can ever be called a good punter. Neither for that matter can Foley.

  • mikado

    Great article.

    I may be misunderstanding, but effectively playing two fullbacks seems pretty suicidal – it has to leave the defensive line short of numbers. Why do it? Or it is supposed to be just penduluming wingers (in which case, why did they seem to have such difficulty getting the winger into the line?)

    It seemed to me that Australia were trying to hide Beale, and were bringing Speight and Rona into midfield to compensate. That seems suicidal to me too. If the 12 defends so badly you need to bork the entire defensive system to compensate then he shouldn’t be there.

    If Australia were trying to operate a highly complex defence then it probably wasn’t the greatest idea to run it out against the All Blacks. The lack of a practice match seems particularly short-sighted.

    • mikado

      That said, the AB attack is a thing of beauty – strong running, accurate passing, good support play, very quick rucks, winning the collisions and varying the point of attack. Any defence would struggle to set itself in those circumstances and I fully expect the ABs to walk all over SA and Argentina.

    • Or you use a defensive system that mitigates against it/suits the defenders.

      If they use a rush defence then if Beale doesn’t get a dominant hit, or worse is beaten by it, it has less of an impact on the team as they have all the meters the tackle line gained to recover before they are behind the gain line again.

      Currently it’s a square peg in a round hole.

    • jamie

      Most teams play with 2 or 3 players in the backfield. Normally the openside winger drops back, the fullback, and a 9 plays sweeper 5-10m behind the line.

      15 men are never going to be used in attack, and most attacking moves don’t get to the stage when they’re able to exploit the 11-9 man (or so) overlap they may have across the park (assuming a couple in a ruck, doing rugby things etc.). And if there is a break, the 2 or 3 in the backfield are really only 15m or so behind, distance covered in 2-3 seconds for most, with reinforcements (ideally) right up the attacker’s arse.

      • mikado

        Yes that’s fair enough. But Graeme highlighted a few examples where both wingers (or wing-substitutes) were sitting deep despite the ball moving towards one side. Normally you’d expect the winger to push up into the line and the FB and other winger to swing across. So is this poor play by the individuals, or the actual defensive strategy?

        Similarly Graeme highlighted a number of occasions where the ABs were able to get greater numbers in the key area of the field. Seemed to me this was related to the number of players sitting deep.

        Anyway, the main thing was I didn’t quite understand the two fullbacks comment. Whether this meant two players deep plus the two wings, or just the normal back three operating in a pendulum such that two remained deep at any given time.

  • skip

    Ever since Deans decided to have Digby hold Cooper’s cock on defence in 2010 we’ve had this issue of everyone fucking off to different places in the backline in defence than they are in attack. It looks like musical chairs and it’s a gift for a side that loves to counter attack as they’re running at guys who are half thinking “hang-on, I’m supposed to defend on the wing but here I am at fly-half oh well never mind maybe I’ll get him next time”.

    I’m sick of it. Defence is an attitude. Get that right or piss off.

    • Sam

      I don’t really agree with the ‘defense is attitude’ stuff. Defense is so much more than attitude. Some teams have a ‘smash them” attitude and their defense it actually quite bad. The best defending teams are the ones that think quickly and communicate well. These clips tell us exactly where the team is at. I agree with you re; the musical chairs stuff. They are confused and they don’t communicate well – nobody leads the defensive line. It tells us a lot about grey too. He doesn’t rate wingers and thinks the wing is a place to hide people. Wingers are actually some of the most important people in defense (I know everyone will scoff a bit at this comment) but they have the luxury of time. Their key role in defense isn’t to make a big hit and take make the highlight reel (as most of the time they aren’t the most dominant tacklers), it is to communicate where the gaps are and make the line adjust accordingly. If wingers are doing their job well I would ague they shouldn’t have to make too many tackles. It’s important to note that in the modern game where things change so quickly every team ends up having different people in various defensive positions at some time, so really everyone needs to know the role of the person on the wing or anywhere else really (be it the winger or forward or other backs filling in various positions). The clips that Graeme has put together are great. It shows that because Foley is always trying to get to the wing, nobody is actually communicating how the defensive line should adjust. Of course this perspective relies heavily on a good 13 (that can adjust his positioning quickly) and we miss a that. If you look at Conrad Smith, probably the the best defensive 13 of late (not a massive tackler and not that fast). He was so good because he could adjust so quickly and make very good decisions (to tackle, to rush or to drift). Neither of our 13’s do it particularly well – kerevi has cement boots on in defense (which is really strange because for a big guy his has quick feet in attack) and TK can often commit too early (but is getting better). I hope Grey looks at some of this stuff. If he can’t see it hopefully they can get some fresh eyes on it. Hopefully Cheika brings in another set of eyes – a bit like he has for other skill sets (handling skills and scrum technique). Couldn’t hurt!!

      • Who?

        And if wingers are making tackles in their traditional roles, they’re usually some of the hardest tackles you can be asked to make. One on one, in space, with a fast/strong/elusive ball carrier.
        In terms of 13, Nick Bishop’s column today is another corker… Shows that perhaps the talk of change in the Grey system isn’t inaccurate, and that perhaps Kerevi’s been a little harshly judged. Of course, it doesn’t say we should be sending players into different positions – I don’t think anyone in the Rugby world could justify THAT much chopping and changing in defence – and that’s still a major problem. But it shows some change…

        • Sam

          Yeah, I liked Nick’s article too. Screams of poor defensive intelligence in the team – especially that set piece Crotty try that Nick points out. All of the examples show there is intent by some but the timing is so poor – i.e. Hanigan pressuring the attacker when he should have drifted was just one of the examples. It does make sense though – grey has openly said defense is all about intent and passion. Watched braveheart the other night – what a cracker of a movie! but I think the wallabies can take something from Uncle Argyle!

          “First learn to use this”

  • Redonfield

    Great article. Hope Cheika and Co read it. Everyone knows Beale is a turnstile, Kerevi not reliable and Foley is as good as Quade in defence bar the head highs. Beale hasn’t played in 3 months and Kerevi 2 – combined with that system and you have chaos awaiting. Speight and Foley were the worst offenders for mine – Speight looked like he was a river playing AFL. Kurindrani was held up to be the messiah in 2nd half but reality is the AB’s dropped plenty of pill and he has been found out before – swap him with Kerevi and you diminish attacking threat dramatically. The other thing that would be useful would be if Hooper showed some heart and had a crack at getting to the breakdown – it might actually slow down the recycling of the AB’s – that might help the defensive line set itself even with this structure . He missed tackles, was ineffective again at the ruck and in essence played average. If he didn’t play for the Waratahs he wouldn’t be there. He might have plenty of energy but you wouldn’t pick the Duracell Bunny to be your No.7 would you.

    • Who?

      TK genuinely is as good as people say in defence. Last year, Bledisloe 1 was almost as bad in defence. We missed 40 tackles – only 8 fewer than this year. TK, that night, made 17 from 17. He was, of course, immediately dropped for the following week… As was the only other defender who tackled at higher than 90% that night (Simmons).

    • Brumby Runner

      Can’t agree more re Hooper. The way he is playing has a more detrimental effect on the team than any positive that comes from his energy bunny antics. McMahon or Hardwick would be more effective to the team as a whole than Hooper is now.

      Otherwise, your comments re the backline defense are way off track imo.

  • Brisneyland Local

    Graeme, Bravo (yelled at an annoyingly loud volume)!
    Fantastic article, one that I will be forwarding on to all and sundry. Unlike Sully who is being very generous, Beale Foley and Kerevi are shit defenders. Thanks for the great article and excellent analysis.

    • Bobas

      Sully agrees with you, ‘just passable’ is what nice people call a tiger airway’s fish finger and mash that didn’t make them use the bathroom 20 mins after consuming.

      Polite people don’t say ‘shit’ any more because of ambiguity for the literal meaning.

      • Brisneyland Local

        Bobas, that is the funniest thing I have read in a long time! Tip of the hat!

  • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

    Cheers, mate. Not sure on what planet Foley is a fantastic counter-attacker or either her or Folau have a fantastic punt, because, really, none of that is even remotely true. You might like to do some statistical analysis on Foley’s kicking in open play and kicking for touch. I’ve looked at it a bit. Not pretty. Folau can kick a decent way but his accuracy is poor and he is not good at reading the game and determining when to kick.

    The rest of your analysis is very good, however, and serves to demonstrate some of the key defensive weaknesses in the system and the players. As you said the issues are twofold (1) players falling off tackles they should make and (2) Grey’s defensive system being poor. The two issues actually both contribute to one another also.


    • mikado

      Re falling off tackles it seemed to me that the ABs were consistently hitting gaps between defenders. Possibly partly poor defensive technique, but I think also partly genuine confusion as to who was marking who.

      • jamie

        I could be rather stupid in my thinking, but if a bloke has the ball and he’s within tackling reach, fucking tackle him.

        You won’t be in trouble with anyone for tackling the ball carrier if he isn’t your “mark”

        • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

          The problem with committing to the player with the ball is that you can create an overlap.

          For Squire’s try someone (I think it was Foley) committed to making the tackle, thereby creating the overlap, and the player just passed it down to Squire who ran in unmarked.

          I never played wing and even I was aware that if they have an overlap you need to mark the outside man and trust your inside defence to slide across and cover the inside man. If you go for the inside man they are almost guaranteed to score.

          I understand that it is easy to say behind a computer screen and Foley had to make a snap-second decision, but seriously, if he doesn’t understand this basic tenet of wing defence he shouldn’t be defending on the wing.

          On try 2 (Ioane’s) Folau came in off his wing to mark Ioane despite him already being marked by two players, allowing Ioane (the fastest player on the field) to get outside of him with 5m to the try line.


          And don’t even get me started on the lack of scramble defence. Adam Coleman was the only guy to chase down Ioane for McKenzie’s try. Pathetic.

          Sometimes they aren’t trusting the man next to them to make their tackle, and so are needlessly committing to the tackle to create an overlap, and at other times they aren’t bothering to scramble and make the tackle. It is like a bunch of headless chickens.

        • mikado

          Yup, agree with all of that.

        • on an overlap, yes, drift out, but on a 2vs1 you’ve got two options really:.

          The first is pressure the ball carrier in the hope he will give a poor pass, dummy and go and take the hit and in the meantime hope your cover defence gets back around.

          or drift off and backwards waiting for inside defenders to link up.

          I think foley probably did the right thing there in coming at the inside man, he tried to force the decision. If Kerevi had made a better decision eh could have taken the outside man.

        • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

          I can’t agree,

          There were three guys sliding across to cover Ioane. Foley went for Ioane, had to commit very early and thus put no pressure on Ioane, who made a simple pass out to Squire. Squire could then run in unmarked because not only did the three guys drifting across have much further to run, Foley and Ioane blocked the way.

          If Foley covers squire I am pretty sure that 4 times out of 5 that isn’t a try. If Foley goes for Ioane then 9 times out of 10 it is a try.

          Foley just gave Squire a clear run to the line. If Samu had done that he would have been plastered in the media for his decision making.

      • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

        Good point – which goes back to what I said about problem 1 and 2 contributing to one another and making each other worse.

        That being said there were really no excuses for some of the tackles guys like Kerevi fell off, and I love Kerevi and think he should be given another shot, but not at 13 again, he needs to be developed into a 12. He can tackle decently front on, but really struggles tackling at the more difficult angles of 13, and isn’t a good enough decision maker in defence, and his hesitations mean that he won’t commit when he needs to commit.

    • I’d say foleys decent on counter – he’s not gonna sidestep you in a phone booth but he tracks and follows the ball and he’s got a fair chunk of top end gas. The Semi Final try against Brumbies back in 2014 (?) springs to mind, his work rate on the counter was insane.

      On kicking – he’s definetly not accurate, but he can give it a fair lick as can Folau, that’s all i meant by strong. I’ve done a fair amount on Wallaby kicking for here, I may have to revisit it, probably about time. :)

      Agreed completely with the last points, I think if they just tell them to man up, get off the line they’ll get a far better return on their tackles.

      • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

        Telling them to man up and bloody commit to the tackles would be a good start. But a 10-12-13 of the Foley-Beale-Kerevi was suicidal, so of course it necessitated moving parts, and when no one but Genia actually defends in their own position it was always going to be chaos.

        If Scotland’s attack bamboozled our defence when we were playing a much stronger defensive 12 and 13 then how would playing a defensively weaker 12 and 13 work against the All Blacks? Nuts from the Wallabies’ coaching staff.

        • It’s a tough one, i feel kind of sorry for grey as he can only work with what he’s given (to a degree) but then he also needs to implement a system that holds up.

          The whole coaching crew is culpable in fairness.

        • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

          Oh, no doubt, Grey’s job is currently a poisoned chalice.

          I imagine that, after the 2016 season with the Wallabies and the 2017 season with the Waratahs, Grey was literally begging Cheika not to select Beale and Kerevi in the midfield with Foley at 10.

          Now I am certain that he’s begging Cheika not to do it again.

          Experiment is over, you can field one defensive passenger in the frontline (the Wallabies did it with Cooper pretty successfully in 2010-11 and ’13, as did the Reds) and the Wallabies did it with Foley in 2015.

          Fielding 2? Foley and Beale. No way.

          Fielding 3? Foley, Beale and Kerevi (with Kerevi, a poor defender defending in the most defensively challenging position with two poor defenders inside of him, and knowing he also has to move into the 12 channel on turnover ball, while another weak defender slides into the 13 channel to cover for him… ugh).

      • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

        I hope Cheika ad Grey read this article (along with the one I suspect Nick Bishop will publish tomorrow on the Roar) and take some advice from it. This cannot continue.

  • MungBean

    Good article.

    Here’s a couple of crappy screenshots I took from the 1st and 2nd tries, but I think it demonstrates a couple of howlers by Hooper, Foley and Folau

    1st Try
    McKenzie on the burst – Hooper stands off (can’t be a missed tackle on your stats if you don’t attempt, hey?), Rona falls off attempting tackle.

    Hooper tracks the play then misses the tackle on Crotty

    Crotty tackled then ball recycled & spread wide. Foley, defending on the wing (doesn’t that Cooper guy get criticised for that?), goes the inside man when Kerevi, albeit slow as a poke, is covering the ball carrier. This leaves Squires open. Try.

    Try 2 (only one shot required, very clear cut)

    Folau focusses on Barrett, inside man and ball carrier, who is already covered by two defenders and fails to focus on Ioane. He is then smoked by Ioane.

    They’re not even getting the very basic stuff right, so what sort of coach would burden them with a complex defensive structure?

    • Bobas

      wow, I’ve seen youtube videos of cricket in pakistan with more pixels than that first image.

      • MungBean

        it’s the best way to watch this bunch of muppets

    • Damo

      That last shot absolutely does my head in. What was Folou trying to achieve there. He managed to turn a 2 on 3 into a 2 on 1. He has been playing RL and RU since he was a 5y.o (?). He can’t possibly have not had an instinct that trouble was out wide and that with the inside defenders there the only option Barrett had was to pass to his wing or take the tackle. I actually feel a bit sorry for Grey because I guarantee what Izzy did wasn’t in the D playbook. Just dumb and reminds me that this Wallabies side is not smart on so many fronts.

      • Sam

        Folau looks like he was ball watching and then thought – oh %^&* there is someone outside me! It also says that he has no idea how to defend on the wing!

    • Who?

      Nick Bishop’s analysis of those two tries is very interesting… He blames Speight for poor decision making in the first one, and Genia in the second one. Worth a read.

      • mikado

        Yeah, an interesting read. In defence of Speight, he’s a wing who was being asked to defend as a 13.

        As for Genia, he might have been rightly worried about leaving Sio to tackle Barrett. Bishop’s right that Genia should have pushed up to cut off the pass, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway if Folau hadn’t come in off the wing.

        • Who?

          I’m more than happy to defend wingers who are being asked to defend in the line. I think that Nick’s point is more that the new system – as in a straight rush, rather than a mixture of shooters and drifting – is a better solution, but the team isn’t familiar with it yet. But I don’t see anywhere that he justifies such widespread shifting of positions between attack and defence. And whilst Speight made a bad call, he was FAR from the only one.
          Genia pushing up? I think it’s more about Genia not just trusting Sio, but also trusting that Kerevi can cut off the inside channel. If Sio can be trusted to go for the outside shoulder (because he doesn’t have to worry about getting stepped on the inside), then Genia can push up just outside that outside shoulder to block the pass. Of course, you’re right, if Folau had been more awake and stayed on his man (even just outside his man, to push him in towards Genia), then what happened inside would’ve been much less relevant to the scoreboard…

        • mikado

          All good points Who?

          As Nick Bishop said, “The first indications are that Nathan Grey is trying to…” The defence was so changeable and so disorganised it was difficult to be sure exactly what the plan was. At times, players shot up. At times, there was drift. The issue of rush vs drift vs shoot seemed of secondary importance to the problems of players switching positions between plays, players defending out of their customary positions, and players being hidden in defence.

          I think that Nick summarised the defensive issues well, and his article complements Graeme’s nicely. The highly complex system didn’t work well despite a month to prepare, and surely will be at risk of future personnel changes in the team. Grey has to come up with something simpler (although that can still be a rush defence).

        • Who?

          Agreed – the two articles complement each other really well.
          And I think all agree, if we changed jersey numbers such that we reduced switching of positions so that a maximum of ONE player is switching between attack and defence, then the system would be simpler. There’s always going to be transition with this sort of system.
          One thing not widely noted about the Lions’ excellent defence is that there were no Scots in the Test team, and even the few Welsh who were there largely weren’t in key defensive positions, or were experienced enough that they knew what was happening (i.e. they were TIGHT with Gatland, and would’ve been very keyed in). When I think it through, they had Owens on the bench, AWJ, Warburton, Faletau, Davies. Williams was at 15, so he’s not part of the defence. The rest were all English (who had Farrell as their defence coach until 2015, and who run the Gustard system (who was also at Sarries, who had very significant representation) now, which isn’t dissimilar), or Irish (who now run the Farrell system). So the majority of the team – certainly in key positions – were VERY familiar with the overall type of defensive system, even if they didn’t have the finest details initially. So whilst they adapted quickly, they didn’t have THAT far to adapt. Whereas the Wallabies… They’ve had MILES to adapt. We don’t defend like that, anywhere. So even without switching, it was going to take time to adapt. Add in the positional switching… A big ask.

        • mikado

          Yes good point about the B&IL having a large core who were familiar with Farrell’s system. The B&IL coaching team was also essentially the same as toured Australia in 2013.

        • Bakkies

          ‘weren’t in key defensive positions, or were experienced enough that they knew what was happening ‘

          Davies at 13 and he had different centre partners. Then you had Faletau and Warburton in the backrow who were the keys to maintaining numbers and slowing down ball.

        • Who?

          Yep – Davies at 13 is extremely experienced, a long time Gatland favourite, has worked under Farrell in 2013, and would’ve been HUGELY keyed into all the plans. I never bought that Gatland had to fight to get Joseph into the squad, because I’m sure that Davies was always penned in (not pencilled – I’m talking indelible ink here!) as the Test 13 (barring injury).
          Warburton is exactly the same story. Except he had to ‘prove’ he was past his injury.
          Faletau was close to the same story, except that he wouldn’t have been the starting 8 if not for Billy V’s injury. But that happened early enough that he would’ve had plenty of time to get fully keyed in.
          We’re talking about three players. Three very experienced players, on their second Lions tour, under their regular national coach, under the defensive coach who they had in their previous Lions tour. Running a system they play against regularly. That’s not hard work compared to trying to implement a new system across a squad of 23/34/50 in a similar time frame.

      • HK Red

        One thing I found interesting about that analysis……the stats show that Kerevi attempted 4 tackles and missed 4 tackles. Yet, Bishop clearly highlights an attacking run where McKenzie runs straight through Hooper and Rona (don’t get a hand on him, so not a missed tackle??) and is left for Kerevi, who completes the tackle. Why is this not included in Kerevi’s stats?

    • HK Red

      Check the Nick Bishop analysis of this, looking at the 2nd set of three screengrabs in the article. It’s basically this moment, shot from behind and maybe 1 second before. The direction Folau is looking and his body shape, it appears like he’s actually thinking of going for the intercept. Then pulls himself up as he realises a) he’s not going to make it, and/or b) it’s a stupid idea. By the time he’s done with that, Ioane is around him.

  • Adrian

    Great article Graham

    As a matter of interest, do you think that Saturdays backline, with the same players would have done better if they just stayed in their positions all the time, and used a simple co-ordinated rushing straight line defence?….I do

    I’m not saying I’d leave everyone in the same positions this week, but simply asking if the same players, poor defenders as they may be, would have leaked fewer points with a simple system, than they leaked with the complex system?

    • I think it would work better.

      Not moving around and just setting early would allow them to get off the line quickly which would favour the less physical defenders in the backline.

      Linespeed is a weak tacklers friend.

  • Adrian

    My hunch is that Cheika will override Grey, and we’ll see a much simpler system on Saturday.

    I know this seems unlikely, given Cheika has just given a 100% endorsement of Grey, and Grey got a new full-time contract in July.

    What I do know though is:
    1. Via friends of friends of friends of Cheika, he was furious with defensive set-up, not the players
    2. 2nd half pattern looked simpler to me, not just because Kurandrani was there
    3. 100% support in sport usually means the opposite

    • Ed

      It is too late to change the system for this week’s match as the players would be even more confused about what to do/where to go etc.

    • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

      Cheika will override Grey?

      Grey is being forced to orchestrate musical chairs because Cheika insists on selecting an attacking backline rather than a defensive one, or one with more balance.

      I highly doubt that Grey relished the thought of making a backline work that had 10-15 of Foley (absolute turnstile) Beale (turnstile) – Samu (average defender) – Rona (average defender) – Folau (poor defender).

      I am sure that Grey would have wanted something like Lance (or even Quade, who, despite what people say, can defend better than Foley) – Speight – Kerevi/Meakes – Kuridrani – Hodge – Folau.

      Cheika selects backline of atrocious defenders and then tells Grey to make it work. I don’t have faith in Grey, but the buck stops with Cheika. This has been going on too long.

  • Who?

    Graeme, fantastic article. Great to see what we all intuitively understand explained in clear detail. Thank you. :-)
    Half the problem with all this is positioning. If Beale were played in his best position – 15 – then suddenly everything’s simpler. Move Beale to 15, Kerevi in to 12, Kuridrani off the bench to 13, Rona to the bench, Folau to the wing. You’ve only changed one starting player, and across the starting players and bench, you’ve not actually changed any game day players. But by moving them into their natural positions – as many of us on here advocated before the Test – the defensive system can be MASSIVELY simplified.
    Lastly… I HATE the concept of hiding poor tacklers in the defence simply to hide them. I can take it when there’s an attacking payoff. So, Quade, or Beaudy? Or Kurtley? Fair enough! They’ve got great boots, they’re excellent organizers, they are (or were) good in traffic (Quade arguably less so these days, but the try he set up for Ben Tapuai against the Blues in 2011 is what justifies moving him to the back). But only one player, and only when their counterattack and kicking is better than the player replacing them in the line.
    But if it’s just to hide a poor tackler..? I’ve done a good amount with juniors. There’s a tendency to hide poor tacklers out on the wing in juniors. That just sets them up for failure – because they’re inevitably up against fast kids one on one. So they miss the tackle, their confidence drops, they get left on the wing, it happens again, and it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Take that same kid, put them in the middle of the defensive line where they’ll get some help and have more moments of contact per game, and suddenly their tackling generally improves. They get help putting down the first kid. They think, “I can do this.” The process repeats. Suddenly they think they can actually tackle.
    I don’t see why it’s any different at the top level. If you’ve got a Foley or Beale, get him making low/leg tackles on forwards. Sure, it’s work but he’s more likely to be successful tackling the slower guys than having to deal with Reiko Ioane!

    • Brendan Hume

      Couldn’t agree more – my go to position for new players or kids who struggle in the contact in on the flank – get ‘em near the ball, get them in the contact and have other players around them to help out… In Rugby, wing is for good players with a strong skill set.
      Can’t imagine how this defensive set-up is explained to the players – “okay we’re going to shuffle and slide all you blokes who are shit tacklers around so we’re defending the attacking threats. We’re going to put the most pressure in defence on the blokes from the wing because wingers are there to defend – not to score tries…” FFS.

      • Who?

        What’s scary is that it’s often really good natural tacklers coaching who move the poor tacklers to the wings…
        When they do it, they don’t explain anything to the players, and it just ends up being a cycle of undermining until the kid leaves. :-(

    • Kevin

      I agree with whats being said but also think there are more underling issues.
      let’s just compare the lead up to the game and in fact the last few years and the lead up for the All Blacks:

      Wallabies, Apart from the Rugby Championship games they have not had any competitive games that contribute to the development of the players, coaches, administrators

      Wallabies only played tests with second tier nations: Scotland
      24-19(L), Fiji 37-14(w), Italy 40-27(w) with very little exposure to any
      developing up and comers and fringe players. The amount of exposure to
      test level rugby that Aussie up and coming players get is almost
      nothing, either you are in the Wallabies team or still languishing at
      poorly performing super rugby teams. The Brumbies who played in the
      Quarter finals didn’t get one player into the Wallabies training squad
      let alone the run match day team.
      All Blacks over the same time
      period played to a full strength British and Irish Lions team where the
      visiting lions played against all NZ Super Franchises plus, a Provincial
      Barbarians team and the Māori All Blacks. Not only did this give the
      Lions a great range of high level lead up games but also gave over 100
      NZ players experience and exposure to near test level rugby. It is a
      testament to the highly skilled and very talented Wallaby players how
      they cans still be competitive at different times in games. And man do
      they have some great talent in their squad. Maybe if they had had the
      chance to develop their skills in at a more competitive level they would
      then be able to string that level of skill over a full game. There are
      also the Super Rugby finals which lead to over 30 of the finals series
      players being named in the All Blacks squad.
      You just have to look
      at the lion’s team and how they developed their players over even a
      short period of time (7 super rugby , 2 near tests) by exposing as many
      players as possible (but remaining competitive) competing at a very
      highest level where every game was a chance to fully test the players,
      coaches and team staff. An amazing level of improvement was made in a
      short time by exposing touring players to a highly competitive contest
      with the aim to select the best possible test team. The Lions made
      numerous changes to their Test line-up as players developed and were
      able to stake a starting position during those lead in games. As did
      lots of potential All Blacks just look at the team that ran on

      • Actually consistency of selection was key for the Lions.

        IIRC The lions made only three changes to their test team and only once post 1st Test:
        Warburton for POC
        Sexton for Te’o
        Itoje for Kruis

        The bench only featured three changes reflecting the starting line up:
        Stander for Warburton – Warburton to Test starter
        Lawes for itoje – Itoje to test start
        Nowell for Halfpenny.

        If Warburton had been fit that would likely have been only two all test series as he’d have started 1st test of POC.

        Prior to that the two big Saturday games – Chiefs and MAB they fielded:
        9 players who started the 1st test against the Maori All Blacks, 10 who started the 2nd test.
        13 players who started the 1st test against the Crusaders, 10 who started the 2nd test.

        They went into the Tour/Series with a predefined test team very few players forced their way into the match squad.

        The Wallabies have been together as a coating team for a number of years, the players have been involved in the set up for a number of years, warm up games are not the problem (especially when you consider tey lost to a 2nd tier team as you say in Scotland)

    • joy

      Your use of the kids example to explain a Wallaby problem is most appropriate. (Sadly, I’m serious.)

  • Who?

    I think that if Cheika really means a thing he says about competition for jerseys, then he needs to man up and take Issy’s 15 away.

    • Adrian

      Understand what your saying Who, but the number won’t change how either play. Folau has been a 50/50 winger/fullback for a while, and so would Beale if he dropped back, ..and so was DHP.

      I think Folau was promised the 15 when he started under Cheika, mainly because he was more of a fullback in Cheika’s eyes then (catching high balls etc), but also because 15 was/is a “cooler” number than any wingers number, … given you put the leftover kids on the wing.

      I reckon they’d play well together in the back 3

      • Adrian

        PS and backline defence improved

      • Kiwi rugby lover

        Mate if that’s true and people need a specific number regardless of their position then they really are in the wrong head space

        • Adrian

          Don’t disagree, but it’s not the biggest issue when we have totally weird defence pattern, and heads full of doubt and anxiety caused by ARU ineptitude

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          No it’s not but it does point to an entitled attitude that may be affecting other areas

        • Adrian

          Yes, could easily be true.

          I think that most of the players like Cheika, and accept his little quirks,b old deals and incentives, but that could easily/quickly change.

          It’s one thing to loose, but another thing to be embarrassed, and we’re getting close to the tipping point

    • mikado

      I did like the idea of Folau playing on the wing. Then I saw his defence for the Ioane try, and now it looks like a terrible idea. I think he should probably be dropped to the bench, and move Beale to FB.

      • Who?

        Good thing we didn’t have him defending at 13, as SOOO many wanted him to do previously…
        One mistake on the wing doesn’t mean he’s not better used there than at 15. After all, there’s been plenty of longer range tries scored where he’s not even in the frame. Wing means he’s got to defend less space, and if we had a good defence coach (yeah, I know), his role can be significantly simpler there than at 15. If he can’t defend on the wing, he doesn’t deserve a jersey at all. The most suitable jersey for him, without question, is 14…

  • Rugby Mad

    Get rid of Walla Rugby now. The current crop of Wallabies all went through it. It teaches them to tackle with their arms and not shoulders. I think we are the only country stupid enough to run the program. In reality I don’t think it invites anymore people to the game. If Foley can’t tackle then put a 5/8 on who can. I watched a club footy game on the weekend where a 10 did a better job of tackling and kicking than Foley has done in 2 years. You can win a test match without scoring tries but you can’t if you concede too many.

  • Kiwi rugby lover

    Brilliant analysis. That clears up a lot of things and provides great context

  • joy

    Graeme, did you draw your stats from the NZ Herald or the same source they used? Your overall missed tackle counts are identical (AUS 30 NZ 23) as are the counts for Rona and Kerevi but your counts for Beale and Speight are reversed.

    Great analysis. Wish we had more like this to chew over.

    • ESPN &

      Both have it down as 30.

      You’re right about Speight and Beale being the wrong way around.

  • Bakkies

    Don’t know where those missed tackle stats come from as the Wallabies missed 37 in the first half.

  • Rob Malcolm

    Great article.
    Very clear that we can’t carry more than 1 weaker defender in the front-line – like it or not that’s Foley at 10 (it would be the same if we had QC).
    We need to drop Beale back and Kerevi out. So you have: Beale 15, Folau 14, Kurindrani 13, Hodge 12, Speight 11
    Then instead of musical chairs defence everyone defends their position – except Foley, see below – Speight and Folau looked very confused, just focussing on their wing should help both of them

    Defending in our half: Foley jumps out fast – as you point out this was the successful Lions tactics – if he misses, at least he has channeled the NZ attack
    Defending in NZ half: Foley drops back for the NZ kick

    The only other thing I would add is that our back-row didn’t execute in defence either – NZ were making easy meters in close on the first few phases. Any defensive system that has to back pedal is in trouble. Hooper and McMahon are usually good, but both had a bad games – they need to step up this weekend. Hannigan is WIP, get Timani into 8. We need some dominant tackles in close.

  • Parker

    Excellent analysis. Based on your well chosen videos and the instructive markups you made to them, I think we’ll have to call the pattern the Wallabies were playing, the “red diamond defence”. My only quibble is that I urge you to reconsider your statement that Foley (and to a lesser extent Folau) both “have strong punts.” Ahem

All Blacks

an Englishman living in France, Graeme runs the Rugby Analysis website 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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