Brian Smith's Analysis: on the attack - Green and Gold Rugby

Brian Smith’s Analysis: on the attack

Brian Smith’s Analysis: on the attack

Having played in both Gold and Green jumpers it’s always an experience watching the Wallabies play Ireland. Whilst I thought the Australia had that game won with 15 minutes to go it’s difficult not to appreciate the way Ireland dug deep and found a way to win despite the injury carnage they faced in their backline. In this week’s analysis we’re going to focus on the attack of both teams.

Spread Plays

Both teams started the game launching ‘Spread’ plays from scrums and lineouts. It was a signal of intent from both teams. The first clip we’ll look at is an Irish lineout play. Last weekend the Wallabies had some difficulties defending the edge so Ireland had a crack going wide. This play ended with a loose pass but as the picture shows they certainly created space and an early chance.

The Wallabies countered with a spread play of their own and they too were inaccurate. Despite the turnover, the play was very effective creating space for Izzy Folau, Reece Hodge and Henry Speight. We were well over the gain line and had we been able to secure this ball we would would have been perfectly placed to put Ireland under pressure.

Sequence Plays

Having played wide early both teams then went to their ‘Sequence’ plays looking to play through the defence. It has to be said the Irish got lucky on their play with Simon Zebo coming from the bench to slide in a short kick that looked for all money to be covered by the Wallabies.

The Wallabies play however was well constructed and beautifully executed. Australia’s sequence play was launched by Tevita Kuridrani from a lineout as he set a target in midfield. The next phase is pure genius as Bernard Foley and Michael Hooper target Rory Best and Paddy Jackson. The Wallabies know that Rory Best defends at the tail of the lineout and his next job is to cover Paddy Jackson’s inside shoulder from the next phase. Best is many things but he is not agile.

The shape the Wallabies threw at Jackson and Best was very good with Hooper taking a delayed inside ball off Foley’s hip. Dane Haylett-Petty (DHP) ran a nice line to hold up Best as Hooper sliced through. The support lines from Izzy and DHP were excellent. Stephen Larkham take a bow…great strategy and perfect execution.

Attack from the Edge

World rugby can thank New Zealand for the general improvement of all international teams in phase attack in recent times. The Wallabies in particular have really sharpened their attack from rucks on the edge of the pitch. In these clips you’ll recognise a what Australia is trying to do from wide rucks when faced with a full line of defence. The first thing they want to do is bite into the defence line either off 9 or 10. The Locks and one Back Rower are given this duty.

From that ruck we then look to play off Stephen Moore with his Props and Izzy Folau in support. These two direct phases usually get the Wallabies to centre field, from here Bernard Foley takes over with a hard running Back Rower and 3 x Outside Backs playing out the back. These clips show how effective these tactics are creating scoring chances from phase play.


Whilst the Wallabies’ dream of a Grand Slam is over the tour has been a success in many ways. Our attack is clearly improving and the coaching staff can take credit for this.

There is a lot riding on this next game against England. The banter between Michael Cheika and Eddie Jones will add spice to the occasion. Twickenham will be bouncing with 80,000 very confident Englishmen looking to ride their Sweet Chariot home.

Wouldn’t it be nice for our boys to rain on their parade.

  • subfreq

    Nice write up Brian.

    Rugby press is pretty sharp up here in Dublin and I tend to tune into the Wallabies more when they come into the Northern tours and play here.

    Can’t argue with Neil Francis today, “For Ireland’s three-quarters to survive as they did was down to a huge amount of luck and incredibly some sloppy Australian passing, when the vicitors could have torn Ireland apart. The Aussies messed up three fairly certain try-scoring opportunities with forward passes and some dropped ball: something that you would not expect from a side coached by Stephen Larkham, unquestionably the finest passer of a ball at Test level ever.”

    • Greg

      “when the visitors could have torn Ireland apart”


      next time

      • dane

        Its the same old frustrations rearing their heads again

    • Tim

      Wallabies could have torn every team apart. We have a knack of creating opportunities out of nothing then bombing a certain try.

    • Brian Smith

      Cheers, glad you enjoyed the analysis…I played with Neil Francis and he was a big character back in the day. It’s hard to argue with his comments but the margins are so fine when the attack is full flight on an edge. The try we scored in the 42nd minute shows slick handing from Pocock…the try we bombed in the same corner in the 50th minute shows poor decision making by Izzy. Ireland showed true grit and have to be admired for the way they’re playing.

    • dane

      Exactly, if these three had come off, Australia may have won by 18 points. Not to mention the cost of a lopsided penalty count. A more even penalty count would have swung the differential by at least 10 points.

  • adastra32

    Yes, Brian……………………but it would be even nicer for England to equal their longest ever unbeaten sequence ;-). Billy V is out so it’s going to be a cracker and close!!

    • Brian Smith

      Your point about Billy is very important…the Wallabies beat England at the 2015 World Cup (when Billy was injured) so the omens are good for Wallaby fans. However, this England team under Eddie Jones is very impressive…they’ll be very hard to beat at home. Sir Clive may be the only Englishman hoping his unbeaten winning streak doesn’t fall on Saturday.

      • adastra32

        Dead right – I think the omens are positive on both sides. But, despite Argentina’s end of season fatigue, it was still mightily impressive to watch them really being outplayed by 14 Englishmen for almost an entire game. That’s the Eddie factor and, whoever the personnel, it might be the difference between the two sides come Saturday. Bring it on!

  • Keith Butler

    BV will be a big loss. I wonder who EJ will select in his place. Could be Nathan Hughes if fit or maybe Ben Morgan who seems have trimmed down quite a bit since his last England appearance. I think England’s overall game has improved since the June series with the 10/12 axis working a lot more smoothly. George Ford’s mixed passing game has come on in leaps and bounds. What has impressed me most of all is that the forwards now look comfortable with ball in hand something that couldn’t have been said a year or so ago. Pity that Adam Coleman and Maro itoje are both injured as it would have been great to see two great pairs of locks against each other. Should be a cracker of a game though and very difficult to call but England might just pull through with home advantage.

    • Mica

      I agree Keith – BV was a big loss in his absence at the RWC too and Maro out is massive. Still England have pretty good depth in their locks although Itoje is a bit of an athletic freak. If he stays fit he will be one of the greats.

      • Haz

        Itoje also need to learn to run a lineout.

    • Haz

      Looks like one from Hughes Clifford or Beamont.

      Surely it couldn’t be harrison?

      • mikado

        I’d like to see Morgan rather than one of that lot. And dear God please not Harrison up against Timani.

        • Haz

          Agreed but Morgan not in the 33

  • idiot savant

    Really enjoying your posts. Not sure Bernie, Mick, and Cheik are though because you lay out our attacking plans so clearly for the opposition! Still, I’m sure they do their own analysis. Your posts have created a sense that the Wallabies are developing a whole set of attacking strategies, many of them utilising Folau as a midfield runner.

    I loved the last gif. Garces does nothing about the Irish forward who refuses to roll away so Genia has nowhere to put his feet and then walks into the first receiver spot to further frustrate Genia! Really? Garces is taking the piss.

    • Brian Smith

      Hi mate,
      Apologies for the late reply…let me assure you the opposition analyse our team with a team of video guys. I’m not giving away Top Secret information…I’d never jeopardise our boys chances. It’s worth mentioning that I coached Paul Gustard and gave him his first coaching role…he will have analysed our team and none of this info will be new to him. Expect our boys to run some 21 Patterns tonight against that big Blitz Defence…check out the way we attacked v Wales. That’s the way to beat England…kick to score early and run 21 Patterns to get at Ford on the blind side. They’ll be expecting it too…so Steve Larkham will have added a few twists. The game of chess will be fun to watch unfold…hope fortune favours our brave lads.

      • idiot savant

        Thanks Brian. I love the chess. Social media has become part of that chess game especially when it comes to trying to influence the referee. Witness GAGR’s campaign against Joe Marler at the RWC. It used to be just the coaches, but well, Cheik clearly needs a hand in the chess game.

        I also notice Graeme Forbes trying subtly to influence the referees into penalising Pocock for coming in the side gate in his last post on this site. Nice try Graeme!

        So I am sure your thoughts are also read by both sides and form part of the strategy game. Will they or wont they run the 21 patterns? Cant wait to see…

  • phil peake

    Thanks for the analysis Brian. I’m interested in your thoughts on what we should do with Izzy. Where do you think he should play? I think he’s amazing individually at times, but can see major issues with him at 15 (doesn’t kick, doesn’t make enough tackles), 13 (defence, decision-making) and wing (not quick enough) and I think the way he and the backline alternate positions between attack and defence is one of the main contributors to our poor backline defence this year. What would you do with him? I’d have him on the bench as a finisher at best.

    • Brian Smith

      Hi Phil,
      Sorry it’s taken a while to respond to your question. I think Izzy is a class player but he’s out of form on this tour. The Wallabies use him to kick return when their opponents exit (traditional 15). They also use him as a midfield ball player from set play around halfway (traditional 12). They then defend him on the open side edge when the opposition are attacking (traditional 14). Michael Cheika likes redefining conventional positions and in this case he’s tailored a role specifically for Izzy. It’s the sort of thing coaches will do with their better players. However, having players in newly defined roles can be confusing for other players when the game breaks up from turnovers or kicks. It’s a very NFL influenced approach. You may have noticed the Wallabies in training bibs that look like Netball bibs that feature letters instead of numbers. In my view a coach needs to manage a guy like Izzy very well. I’d continue to encourage and challenge him rather than bench him with one game to go and the Grand Slam all over. My gut feel is he’ll explode in this last game and make up for the big error last week. He’ll be aware of the negative feedback and I believe he’ll respond. He’s a proud man and he’ll be wounded…beware the wounded Izzy.

      • phil peake

        Thanks very much for responding Brian. But why does he get so many chances? He’s the only one that doesn’t get dropped when out of form. What you’ve described sounds confusing for Folau and for his team and its obvious he doesn’t have the all round rugby instinct that cheika thinks he does. That’s why i think his role should be simplified. Hopefully cheika will think about it after this tour.
        Thanks again.

  • Warcomet

    With BV out, Australia should bring in Timani as whoever Engand put at 8 will not have the same power as BV but Australia have in their arsenal a man with equal power…could make for an interesting scrum.

  • Muzz

    I like in that last clip how Izzy actually passed the ball. Like he should have done with a two man overlap that would’ve been a guaranteed try. How can you be a bloody hog at international level? And he also did that early against England in the World Cup match last year. Don’t be so bloody selfish Izzy it’s a team sport!

    • Andy

      My thoughts exactly. He was visibly pissed at kurindrani against the scots for doing the same thing even though we won the game.

      Then he does the same thing with 2 outside him 5 metres from the try line. But he screws it up. He was clearly more concerned about finally getting a try then what was best for the team. He needs a serious kick up the backside in my opinion

    • Rebels Ruck

      As I recall both Genia and TK gave him a spray right then and there so he’s aware of his mistake.

  • Hoss

    One point that hasn’t got much coverage is Hodge’s hands, not based purely on above.but for a kid with such talent his hands have been very ordinary on tour and we have lost serious momentum, opportunity and points as a result. Be interested to see some stats on blown chances – as a team, I reckon we are comfortably in double figures.

    Come on GAGR, must be a boffin in your ranks who can satisfy my masochistic tendencies and further rub salt into my gaping (fucking Irish) wounds ??

    • Graeme

      He’s been really hot and cold. He’s looked very good, but if he had a super-power it would have to be dropping the ball when the try line beckons.

  • Rebels Ruck

    Again really enjoy your analysis of these plays, Brian. Really helps me understand the preparatory phases that enables the back-line move rather than just looking at that in isolation. In the last video, did anyone else notice how Reece Hodge was tackled without the ball as he tried to catch it after it slipped through his hands on the first attempt? The story of the night was how the last pass in many of our attacking moves was inaccurate, dropped or made too late (Izzy). They really did look lethal in that 40-60 mins period, probably better than any match since the World Cup match against England.

  • John Williams

    I think the Irish at times really found the weakness in this wide running forwards game Cheika has got going and its the isolation of some of the forward runners. We need to develop this running games around pods of 2 off the pivot. We need some size in the wings to be able to chime into these pods.

    The killer is when you get Referee’s who allow the lying over, entering from the side and slow down of these rucks.
    I believe we need more pop ball like the French that kills when done well.

    Its a disappointing loss and I’m sick of the “face it you guys are medioca” line. I believe one of the few reasons for Wallabies success over time has been their attitude that near enough is not good enough. You want no expectations then support Wales. Cause thats what you’ll get.

  • Jamie Miller

    I think we’re putting the credit in the wrong place for the sweet move that delivered the DHP try before half time. Look at 1:10 from Leinster v Munster, Heineken Cup semi 2009, Rocky Elsom running the same line. Should be lauding Cheika, not Larkham.

    • Brian Smith

      Hi Jamie,
      Sorry for the late reply…it was good call on the 2009 clip. You must have a good collection on the laptop. However, I coached the Brumbies in 2001/2 and Steve Larkham was the main ball player. That play was in our Playbook then. It’s a peach of a play that I’m guessing will become fashionable again. You clearly have a great eye for attack plays (must be a 10 or 12). Good shooting the breeze.


Brian Smith is a rare breed who has both played and coached international rugby and doesn't mind telling it as he sees it. He's currently putting his Oxford degree to good use teaching Commerce and coaching rugby at the Scots College, Sydney.

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