The Reds consistently looked to run around a drifting defence, more often than not with second line plays. As a general rule, I don’t like either of those strategies. Both of them tend to set your attacking lines cross-field and the second pushes the ball-carrier way too deep from the gain line. When the tackles were easily made, the subsequent pressure on the Reds from advancing Sharks defenders was impossible to withstand.
The accurate way to make space is: (i) to run straight, thus limiting the drift and making support easier; (ii) to use that support with urgency and no hesitation at and around the tackle, to continue the forward progress and attract more defence by way of off-load (like the Sharks – especially Coetzee) and immediate pick-and-go (like Samo, belatedly). Cross-field running and the dreaded prematurely repositioned pod system – which serves to eliminate pressure on opposition defences — are certainly not the way forward. How has our game degenerated into this shambles? (Incidentally, off-loads are not difficult. They require only accurate close support, opportunity and awareness. Then you just give the guy the ball!)
There are no easy ways to beat a committed, off-the-line defence, especially if they are all good tacklers – as the Sharks certainly are. It can be done, but, as is only fair, you have to work for it. Width is detrimental when there is no space. The Reds looked just for that width; they did not work to make space. Around the 50-minute mark, Genia received the ball from a set scrum – a first-phase play. He kicked across field for Shipperley, who caught it – with four Sharks players at hand and only Morahan to support.
One of my many attacking maxims is the closer the ball-carrier gets to the tackle line, the closer should the support player get to the ball-carrier. In other words, a support player on the outside should run an unders line as the tackle line looms. Basketball players understand this concept very well; unfortunately, not so many Australian rugby players – including the 2012 Reds squad. Cross-field running was the order of the day for them and attack coach Jim McKay would have been crying. Like I said, pressure can do that to you. One to remember – attackers should run at defenders, not away from them.
One charge we can never level at this Reds team, however, is that they gave up. Despite the crap hand that they were dealt, they fought valiantly – as they always have over the past months. They fought back from 3-20 to 10-20 and were within striking distance. Again, they came back from 10-30 with Samo’s try for a final 17-30 scoreline.
In the final analysis though, they were well beaten!
In the Crusaders’ crushing of the Bulls, it was more of the ‘I want my team to dominate the opposition’ idea – only the Crusaders did an even more complete job of it. Their forwards were brutal and clinical and made the job easy for Ellis, Carter, Dagg and their mates – as if they needed any assistance. If you want a lesson in straight running, close support, maintaining continuous pressure on defence and using the consequent space, take another look here. McCaw was phenomenal – I want whatever he eats for breakfast!