Drinking Rum with the wrong mixer - an analytical view on Australia’s attack play at the World Cup - Green and Gold Rugby
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Drinking Rum with the wrong mixer – an analytical view on Australia’s attack play at the World Cup

Drinking Rum with the wrong mixer – an analytical view on Australia’s attack play at the World Cup

I have been tracking team’s attack performance during the World Cup to see how team’s approach this aspect of the game. The Wallabies I am happy to report, play rugby union differently to any other team at the showpiece.

Firstly, we are the team who kicks the least. Against Uruguay we only kicked 28% of our possession, whereas most other teams kick around 45% and upwards of their ball.

The ball-in-hand strategy seems to work, because currently the Wallabies are the team who enjoy’s the third most forward momentum, which is basically a measurement of how a team is able to progress up-field. Only New Zealand has a higher rate of movement into an opponent’s 22, area.

forward momentum

So we are moving up-field, and doing so by keeping ball in hand and not surrendering possession through many kicks. Crucially, the Wallabies are able to convert their attack opportunities into points. When we round-off its like drinking a smooth, sweet rum. Compared to our likely opponents England, we are humming along nicely.

attack ops

However it times it’s like we ran out of mix, and then have to swig down rum with flat coke, or worse, Fanta. The truth is that our breakdown security of our ball is not great, leading to many an attack ending in a lost ball, or a knock-on. Its bloody frustrating to watch and one wonders when the passes will start sticking and when our loosies will start protecting our possession better?

follow on attack

The good thing about our sloppiness at times is that the opposition and the media abroad seems to ignore Australia at the moment. We are cruising, and based on our attack, look primed to offer the World Cup one monstrous shock soon. We just have to stock up on the right mix for our rum.

  • Parker

    Thanks for this interesting insight. My comment is tangential. I watched only the first half of Namibia v New Zealand and was mightily impressed by Namibia’s approach. Their hooker was outstanding. Cheika would do well to analyse the effectiveness of their zeal at the breakdown, particularly in the first 20 minutes (the Wallaby’s dead zone). But I doubt he will.

    • Bobas

      He doesn’t watch opposition games he finds them boring.

      • Bernie Chan

        Apparently analyzing the opponent is just so passe…

  • Huw Tindall

    Thanks Brendan. Great stuff. The Wallabies haven’t adjusted to the complete free for all lack of reffing the breakdown. We stand off or go for legit jackals whilst the better teams just pike in to slow and disrupt ball keeping the attack from getting on the front foot. Only hope is we get a SH ref who isn’t as bad as NH counter parts in this regard. Heaps of commentators are talking about this with ‘the gate’ essentially not existent these days. Sort that and we’ll shoot up the Follow On attacks stats.

    • numpty

      What do you reckon the remedy is Huw? If there is one thing I have learnt from this RWC, it is to not have faith in ref interpretations. I think there are three options that should probably all be implemented in part: a) try and recycle even quicker to minimise secondary disruption. b) put more bodies in the ruck/don’t blowover on the cleanout. c) hooper/white get into the ref’s ear early or milk a penalty at the base by dropping it/throwing it into a player slow to roll… WBs need to get over the gain line for the attack to work, so they cannot drop to ground immediately leaving them somewhat susceptible to choke tackles.

      • Huw Tindall

        Great comments Numpty. Agree. Assuming reffing doesn’t change I’d also make sure we got players I’m support. To often our guys get isolated and held up for a maul or turned over. Poey is great on defense but we play with 60% possession so essentially wasted 40% of the game. Maybe he becomes a bench player and we go back to LSL or Dempsey starting. Controversial but Poey has less turnovers than Hooper this tournament and with Latu on there is enough ruck presence to make teams commit. Of course it’s too late now but I’d have had Laurie Fisher coaching the breakdown. Brumbies were excellent all year there and he has expirence to boot.

        • numpty

          Funny that, I actually think Poey has been one of the WBs best at securing attacking ball (no stats to support this). I’d turn your logic on its head, the WBs are clearly making meters in attack with ball in hand, the problem is ruck security. So, therefore need more ruck monkeys, not more ball runners. LSL has looked good off the bench but I was also mighty impressed with Dempsey on the w/end. I haven’t followed dempsey closely enough, but if he is busyish in rucks and a genuine target in the lineout, he would be pushing into my 23 for sure.

        • Who?

          Completely agree that Pocock’s one of our best securing our own ball. But that depends on the position he plays, and where he sits in the POD system. If he’s a ‘1’ in the tram tracks, he’s not able to secure that breakdown. If he’s in one of the 3’s, then it likely means he’s at 8, and Naisarani’s not there. Or that Naisarani’s ball carrying is wasted in the tram tracks.
          .
          It’s a significant challenge, and one created by the Pod system.

        • numpty

          I understand your point, but the 1 is the best place to put him/you wouldn’t want anyone else playing the 1 except him/hooper. This is why LSL doesn’t start for mine, too inaccurate on the cleanout. It’d be interesting to see what areas of the field the WBs are turning the ball over. Are there hotspots? I think a simple pt that would improve ball security is players not blowing over the ruck during the cleanout as much.

        • Who?

          I see what you’re saying, but our issues are tending to be in the midfield. Often on the second or third effort for a particular pod. Pocock’s doing well, Arnold has good technique, but it’s the guys in the midfield who need to step up. So either Pocock moves in, or we need Naisarani to improve.
          .
          I agree, LSL can tend to go the big hit rather than the effective cleanout. And there’s no value in a big hit where you bounce off and achieve nothing.

        • numpty

          Nick Bishop on the roar showed Naisarani is quite effective in the cleanout (one of the RC games), not sure how he is performing this RWC. Other option could be to bring in Dempsey for Naisarani. But, if the issue is in the midfield (i’m not sure), I think there are better options than to switch men out. Get the tight 5 to improve/refocus their technique, improve decision making by the 9 as to who he feeds or tweak where the support runners stand to make them more effective in cleanout.

        • Huw Tindall

          You need the big bodies to clean out a ruck. Poey is OK but look at what Arnold can do in that area. Blows people out of the way. Also Poey offers not that much in attack anyhow. Definitely improved his pass and link game but he isn’t a primary ball runner like Naisarani and offers nothing in the lineout. Very tough call to make I know and on balance it’s probably good to have Poey on but for 80 mins? Not so sure.

        • Who?

          Where Poey has an advantage over most other Wallaby forwards is technique and accuracy. LSL isn’t anything like accurate enough. A good big beats a good little (to quote Mr Dwyer), but if your big isn’t accurate enough… Mr Bishop’s analysis showed that Rodda’s nowhere near accurate enough.

        • Huw Tindall

          Totally agree. Cleanout technique is important. Like Simmons and Hannigan were average despite having big bodies. Casting my mind back guys like McCaffrey were pretty handy all around at the ruck this year (he does have a lot of experience after all!). Who in the squad would you say are our best offensive ruck exponents assuming we need a balanced pack i.e. can’t have 5 props.

        • Who?

          Honestly, I’m not 100% sure. Nick presented pretty good evidence on Arnold, so that’s a no brainer. The question is probably second lock. And I’m not sure who that would be. Simmons can be inaccurate (though at least he traditionally attends a good number of them), Coleman can be inaccurate (and loves to run the ball, often well separated from his support), Rodda’s weird – some players just tend to be anonymous. Not to everyone, just to a watcher. I’m sure there’s people who see everything he does and nothing that Coleman or Arnold does. But I rarely seem to be able to track him on the field, so I can’t judge his effectiveness, beyond noting that Mr Bishop wasn’t a fan. And LSL seems to go for the big hit, which doesn’t always stick.
          In the hookers, I’d trust Folau securing the breakdown over Latu. The props, I think mostly select themselves.
          .
          Honestly, though, I think we’ve just got to accept that we need to play maybe a little slower and add an extra player to each breakdown in the first 30. Because we’re playing fast enough that we’re regularly relying on one player cleanouts from players who are putting in second third and fourth efforts in quick succession. Sooner or later, regardless of technique, they’re going to miss a cleanout and we’ll lose the ball.

        • Huw Tindall

          Yeah good point – maybe it’s the tactics we need to look at tweaking as we’ve probably got the best 23 or thereabouts and no obvious changes to make on this front. Plus we wouldn’t want to sacrifice set piece which is humming. Hard to tell players to run slower so they don’t get isolated though. Give a rocket to the rest of the players to be up the arse of the guy doing the carry.

        • Who?

          It could be as easy as just switching the play back (rather than going same way again, a longer run around the corner), or a bit more direction from 9 and 10 over when the team’s truly ready to play (i.e. let Genia and White stand over the ball, just a little). It’s great to be able to play with pace, it’s even better if you can control the pace both ways (faster and slower).

        • Huw Tindall

          That’d be nice but it seems they’ve been coached the high octane attack attack attack mantra for too long that switching to a measure game would be a hard change at short notice especially now we gone really flat in attack rather than predominantly out the back wide play as in previous seasons. More of the same ‘no plan B’ criticisms we have over recent years. Think that’s the number one thing I want to see change post Chek. Go at being the smartest team in the world.

        • numpty

          As i said above, I think it is somewhat down to decision making. This is never going to be perfect. I think an extra pick and go here and there, and white just getting the ball out asap and going for a dink or giving it off to someone could essentially halve the number of turnovers.

        • Brumby Runner

          Huw, Simmons and Hanigan really never made it to average level in the rucks. They were (are) both more ineffective than effective and are well below average for players of their size and experience.

        • numpty

          I think Poey starts because this is particularly when defense is needed. Then you bring on Dempsey or LSL for 30min plus. Maybe bring on LSL as the lock replacement and Dempsey for the backrow…

        • Seb V

          Interesting on Poey, but do we expect the same stats against England? I doubt we will have 60% possession against them. And I agree with numpty that Poey is one of the best in the current squat at securing our own ball. But then again he come with weakness in the line-out, not much on offer in attack (compared to Hooper), but a harder decision to drop him then first perceptions may indicate given how poor our breakdown security has been.

        • Brumby Runner

          Surely, the best back row combination for securing our ball at the ruck would be 6. Dempsey, 7, Pocock, 8. Naisarani. That is certainly the back row I’d like to see.

        • Steve

          well then you’re in luck BR vs. Georgia

        • Huw Tindall

          Defensive or offensive ruck? In reality we need more than just the back row cleaning out/securing the offensive ruck.

        • Brumby Runner

          Sounds a bit like a NFL suggestion. Bring Poey on every time the ball is in opposition hands and take him off again when it comes back to the Wallabies. In truth, he is not at all wasted when the Wallabies have the ball. He does still hit rucks to protect the ball and often is the link man from forwards to backs.

    • Reinforce

      Left field here – the problem is “yellow”. Sticks out like the proverbials. Aust get pinged cause we can be seen. Kiddies raincoats are yellow for a reason. The indigenous jersey however with its dark green hue makes us a colourful All Black or a darker Springbok and we should be able to get away with much more.

      • Huw Tindall

        I remember reading something about this last year. Was pure conjecture but when you’re buried in a ruck or a maul we are certainly easier to see! In saying that though England seem to be fine and they are pretty noticeable on the field in bright white.

        • Timbo

          Maybe the refs feel sorry for them because dressed in white they look like they’re surrendering?

  • adastra32

    Statistics abound in most areas of sport, including rugby. And you can use them to reinforce an opinion easily, but perhaps not comprehensively. So “We are cruising, and based on our attack, look primed to offer the World Cup one monstrous shock”. So is the WBs attack the prime and only factor in predicting future success, or indeed just these aspects of attack? Or is there more?

    • Seb V

      Interesting comment. I think the article indicates that our attack is better then most expect which will lead to a shock win. I some-what disagree with this, as we need other aspect of the game to win against the likes of England, SA or NZ, or even Wales. A Shock win will be built on a strong defensive game, solid kicking game, kicking our goals, in combination with an attacking game. it seems we are one-trick pony’s, and that one-trick (attacking) only last 20mins or so a game anyway.

  • numpty

    Great analysis! And confirms some of my unfounded opinions. Long story short – WBs look great with ball in hand as long as they hang onto it. I do think it is somewhat of a live by the sword – die by the sword scenario. WBs can only be as damaging in attack as they have been by being risky with their ball movement and committing minimal numbers to the ruck. Three things that will get them a long way in this campaign – 1) start better by either bleeding less pts or finding ways to score in the first 20. Maybe this is where a few more kicks could come into the frame to deny the opposition. 2) defense – I’d like to see the same analysis. I still think we are a bit sloppy on our edges and out the back. 3) play at their best for more than half a game.

    • Reinforce

      A sword would be samurai style – more elegant and swift. A Wallaby’s supporter is closer to the ‘000 cuts with a blunt knife.
      I like the sword then throwing in the bleeding points reference. Love this site

  • dane

    One would think that if you’re going to play a ball in hand strategy, having an accurate and effective breakdown would be a major priority.

  • Seb V

    Interesting read. I wonder if attacking out of our 22 is a little skewed as we played Uruguay and that seems to be a safer strategy against teir 2 sides. Although the attempt at doing this against Fiji and Wales was surely a poor strategy and against England it will be even worse.

  • Seb V

    I do agree though that we have potential. I think that 30minute period against Wales in the second half was surperb. The question is, can we start the game like that, and can we sustain that type of play and momentum throughout the match. I doubt it. We need contingency plans, Englands rush defence, physicality, and kicking game will surely help break our momentum and put us under pressure, we need strong kickers and safe hands to get us out of those situations otherwise I’m afraid all we can expect is another great 20minutes and the rest a bit rubbish with England scoring penality and goal-kicks off our errors (and lack of breakdown presence).

  • Neil Pocock

    Interesting way to put a shine on a rather rusty new setup! The wallabies have been stiffled by Bernard’s stale Foley for many years now! There was more enterprise from CL and Toomua in the 1st 20mins than we’ve seen all year from Foley!
    Just give them time…… with real playmakers the results will come!

    • Reinforce

      Concur – and truthfully i am only just getting over the reasoning (lack of) behind leaving QC out. Not at rant stage any more (Stage 4 – slight depression and Stage 5 – Acceptance) as the healing is taking place but it is something where i shall be forever flummoxed. He must be a huge twat.

  • Patrick

    How much of this is affected by Uruguay? We seemed to have a deliberate strategy of putting only one man into the attacking breakdowns, for some reason, in that game?

    • Who?

      Numpty’s noted some work by Nick Bishop in his post below. Mr Bishop’s article noted that we were doing it across all our games in TRC to that point (and that Rory Arnold was the only tight forward consistently capable of executing in the role).
      Given how poorly we’ve secured our ball across the majority of the season, you’d think we’d have figured it out and adapted….

      • Patrick

        There are a lot of things that simple folk like us would have figured that geniuses like Cheika have not :(

  • Kiwi rugby lover

    Nice work Brendan, however I wonder how meaningful these are. Nothing against you or the work you do, it’s just I’ve had discussions with MST before about statistics that are all pointing good in a game that’s been lost and I wonder sometimes if we are measuring the right thing. For example if 14.4% of the
    forward momentum is against 100 incidents whereas the 11.4% of England is against 1000 incidents then I’d rather have a conversion rate of 11.4% of a 1000 than 14.4% of 100. Sometimes I also feel we put too much emphasis onto metrics and a lot of things like intent, heart, enthusiasm can’t be measured so easily. Not sure of the answer although a % against a total would be nice and a measurement that shows skills, or lack of as well. In the meantime thanks for the work and it is interesting.

  • Wonky Donkey

    Watching poor ruck defence turnover is the worst. It hurts me inside.

  • Sorry to be late to the party, this didn’t pop into my RSS feed for some reason.

    I appreciate that stats can’t easily demonstrate how smart the decision making is, and there’s a bit of cherry picking here too. But if you have a team that kicks less, it’s bound to run the ball more. It seems to me that leads to one of two situations – either you carry into their half, or you lose the ball. Possibly unsurprisingly the Wallabies seem to be near the top of the tree in both.

    I’m going to guess the AB are comfortably in the pack or higher for kicking the ball away, but also at the top for moving into opponent’s 22, follow on attacks. I’ll take a wild guess their attack opportunities converted into points is pretty well up their too.

    Just running it back isn’t always the smart option, even if it makes some attractive looking stats.

    I’d be interested in seeing a weighted points conversion stat too – points earned per attacking opportunity rather than % converted. Ultimately I think that’s much more interesting. The SH sides say score by 7’s but Wales won a grand slam scoring by 3’s (mostly) and not conceding tries for example.

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