Lions Defence Offers Space The Wallabies Can Attack - Green and Gold Rugby
British & Irish Lions

Lions Defence Offers Space The Wallabies Can Attack

Lions Defence Offers Space The Wallabies Can Attack
Lions Red Wall

A wall of red and moving up fast

As you can see from the image to the right the Lions defensive structure presents a wall of red – one straight line moving forward with really good line speed.

I know people were complaining that the Lions defence was continually offside against the Waratahs on Saturday – I also heard lot’s of complaints that Jonathon Davies must have been offside when he took that intercept, which the replay clearly showed he wasn’t. Similarly if you look at the replay of that match in detail you’ll find that of 71 Waratahs breakdowns the Lions only got in front of the last feet on 3 occasions – the appearance of the Lions being offside simply comes from great line speed.

So, with a wall of red getting up in their faces where is the space for the Wallabies to attack and what’s creating that space?

I’ll answer the second part of that question first. The Lions are using the English defensive system, which is no surprise given the English defence coach, Andy Farrell, is also the Lions defence coach. That system relies on both the blind side and open side wingers starting up in the line, whereas most teams start the open side winger positioned a little behind the line giving them the flexibility to move up into the line or to stay back to help cover a kick.

With the open side winger starting up in the line there is space in behind that winger which the fullback is required to move across and cover.

This creates three spaces that the Wallabies can attack:

  1. If the fullback does get across far enough to cover the space in behind the winger that often leaves space in mid-field in behind the line – the chip kick is then the option as we saw the Wallabies do so well against England on the end of year tour in 2012;
  2. With the open side winger starting up in the line this often creates a narrow defensive line and leaves space outside the winger as we saw aginst both the Reds and the Waratahs – to take advantage of that space you need someone with a good, long pass. We saw Quade Cooper find that space and we also saw Bernard Foley finding the same space. Do the Wallabies have anyone in their squad who can get the ball to that space? James O’Connor can as can Christian Lealiifano whereas Kurtley Beale and Berrick Barnes are more limited with their long passing game. Regardless of capability, will the Wallabies seek to target that wide space when running the ball? Unfortunately I don’t think they will;
  3. With both wingers starting up in the line the fullback has a lot of space to cover in the back field – sometimes the flyhalf gets back to help but the Lions offer a lot of space in the back field to target.

Whilst taking advantage of two of the three spaces requires a kicking game, which isn’t a popular option with most fans, kicking doesn’t have to be a defensive tactic just seeking to play field position. It can be an attacking option where you seek to recover the ball.

The chip kick in behind the line is one option that can be used with the aim of recovering the ball, not kicking possession away. Once the Lions move to cover that option with their fullback holding closer to mid-field the Wallabies will have the opportunity to put a cross field kick in behind the open side winger for Israel Folau to soar high and score.

Long kicks to the corners don’t have to just be about gaining territory. Aim to keep the ball in play and rely on your back three winning the chase against the Lions back three who will be at a disadvantage having to turn and chase.

Watch the video to see some examples of the three spaces I’ve talked about, to see how the Lions defensive system opens up these spaces and how the pendulum defensive system that other team use works to reduce these spaces.

Keep an eye out in the Brumbies match against the Lions tonight to see if these spaces are apparent.

  • dave

    great analysis Scott! Scott Allen for a Wallabies gig I say.

    • Scott Allen


      • Spectator

        nice video.

        Also, it is not ball in hand that matters as much as who is under pressure. attacking kicks also speed up the pace of the game, & even though not executed with a lot of polish, this was a factor in the win against a very good Bok team last year as their next game showed they were, but who eventually faded in the second half against Wallabies. Am not saying the Lions are like the Boks, they are different teams.

        But opposing teams for a while now havn’t wanted the Wallaby backs to have space and time against their defenses, so the backs need both type of game approachs to ensure that they do. Rush defence is very high risk in that it can be quickly punished ‘if’ a team is adept & importantly good enough to target it’s weakness, which Wallabies have the talent to do if needed and prepared to do so.

  • JimmyC

    Izzy in space. Game over

    • Scott Allen

      I’d like to see that!

      • JimmyC

        It’s on now. Get excited

  • You just keep getting better and better Scott! We need GAGR TV!

    • rebelpirate

      i second that!!!

      • Dave

        Likewise – great stuff

    • Scott Allen

      Thanks – tried to put together a short video to cater for shorter attention spans on the Internet but there was too much to show so gave up and took my time to explain and demonstrate it adequately.

      It turned out to be so long that it ended up a bit like an episode of GAGR TV anyway.

      • Jonty

        Don’t think you need to apologise for length around here, I could watch videos like these all day. Keep up the awesome work Scott!

      • mxyzptlk

        Yeah, no need to be sorry — these videos are a service.

  • Ian

    Big fan of your work, Love this stuff!

  • John Eales

    You’ve done it again mate, top notch effort.
    Ealesy approves.

  • justtacklehim

    We’ve got the cattle to pull of this attacking game plan. Do we have this as our plan? I am not so sure.

  • Mart

    Great work Scott. I’m only 3minutes in and it screams of a 5/8 with a good long pass……..

  • Josh Macy

    I think this play exhibits some of the space Scott is talking about as well. Winger up in the line and the wiper kick is on. Commentators said it was a shocker but the ball position showed the kicker’s intention. (2:24)

    • Scott Allen

      That space is a little different as it opened up from a quick lineout, with Sexton on the ground injured after the hit from Skelton and no real defensive line set.

      It’s a fourth space that is created from playing on quickly – quick lineouts, quick taps etc and the Lions have shown a bit of a weakness in getting organised quickly when teams have played on – Tahs showed it here, Force showed it with some quick taps and the Reds showed lots of it.

  • Saus

    Brilliant analysis. Unfortunately though Dingo won’t need to watch this as he has Pat McCabe to punch through their backline all day ;-)

    • Saus

      Oh Deans must have watched your video – Lealiifano in at 12

  • Jay

    Good analysis Scott. However if the starting XV is what we are all expecting I really don’t think JOC or KB are good enough tactical kickers (especially JOC) to make use of that space the lions will offer. And we know JOC isn’t going to be throwing long passes out wide for our wingers too often cause that’s not what Robbie will want.

    • Scott Allen

      However if Lealiifano gets the nod at #12 (I’m still hoping) it could be on.

      • bill

        won’t 12 kicking instead of 10 telegraph it, he’ll have to be quick to get it away to beat the line getting to him.
        Hate to point it out but Cooper really worked on a late disguised chip kick this year. The chip, chase and counter ruck turnover for Davies? vs the Shorks this year.

        • Scott Allen

          If #10 holds on to the ball too long before giving it to #12, the pressure would be too great and it could be a disaster.

          But if #12 stands a little closer to #10 to reduce the time the ball takes to get to him and #10 distributes early, the defence will come forward even further than if #10 had been kicking and there is still time for #12 to get the kick in.

          In that scenario the kick can be even more effective as it makes it harder for the defenders to turn and chase given they’ve come up further.

        • Mr Red

          A nice little eg of this Scott was in Test 1 of the ’89 series. Lynagh did a little rapid half step chip kick in behind that Lloyd Walker picked up over the try line to score. ABC iView is showing all 3 ’89 tests for those not in the know. Defensive effort not the same in those days but the WBs knew how to move the ball as shown in Test 1.

  • MM

    Beale was the master of the chip kick and has put it away for a number of years. Perhaps his time has come again.

    Great analysis, thanks Scott.

    • Who?

      He used it plenty of times last year for the Wallabies, the only time it came off being the England game…

  • Dingodeansatemywallabies

    Good thing James O’connor has flawless long passes to take advantage of the space out wide.

    If only there was a fit number 10 who could throw 50m no look triple cut out passes…

  • Pedro

    It’s revelations like these that make you wish the Wallabies would play inside backs with good kicking skills. Also a shame we couldn’t have White’s Howitzer of a boot to come on off the bench to exploit those areas.

  • Blinky Bill of Bellingen NSW

    Thanks Scott for a beautifully put together video that allows slow minds like myself to enjoy those ‘doh’ moments. It seems so obvious when it’s pointed out as clearly as you managed to do. And I can’t help but wonder IF the Tahs played into the Lions hands by revealing their intent of ‘ball in hand’ Rugby early.

    I’d have liked to have seen Cheika mix his game a little more to keep the Lions guessing. Mind you it probably wouldn’t have made a lot of difference.

    Hopefully the Wallabies will be an entirely different proposition and I’ve no doubt that many of us are willing Robbie on to try something different and grab that first test.

  • AB

    Funny, I know a 10 with a great passing game who can hit a ten cent piece on the wing, currently not in the squad…

  • nick_bish

    Hi Scott.

    Yes, I think it will be interesting to see whether

    1. The spaces you describe turnout to be real or theoretical.

    2. The Wallabies have the will to attack them throughout the game.

    The spaces you describe are actually quite common in NH defensive patterns. Wales are even more extreme, playing Phillips in the line and often leaving their 15 to cover the width of the field in a one-man zone.

    As antidote to anyone who believes it’s easy to unlock this pattern out wide, take a look at England’s game against the All Blacks in the autumn particularly the game time incidents at 60:55 and 63:43. The compressed defence with wing up produces an interception try and snuffs out an AB attack in midfield even after a pass from the 1st line into the second! In the second example there are four AB attackers unmarked outside.

    The point is that line-speed takes away the overlap, and even if there’s a line-break there will be second-tier defence because the line-break often occurs well behind the advantage line.

    A fascinating chess match in view!

    • Who?

      Line speed does take away the overlap, if you don’t have a 10 like Cooper who can throw the ball behind the winger, as he did quite a few times against the Lions. For me, that was the most fascinating part of those long breaks – the winger had overrun the play, to ensure that the ball couldn’t get outside him through the hands. So instead, Cooper threw the long ball behind the charging winger, and the Reds were downfield.

      I believe the spaces Scott’s defined are real. And I believe another November International shows them. The Wallabies/England Test. The Wallabies had been putting in mindless short kicks all year (they chipped/grubbered from their own 22 more than once!), but against England, they paid off. For two reasons. One was that Tapuai and Hooper decided to chase the kicks, which no one else had done all year. The other was that the kicks weren’t being gathered on the full by the cover defense, as they had been the rest of the year.

      Of course, that doesn’t mean that the Wallabies will do anything to attack that space, or force the Lions to change their structure to fill that space and thereby weaken other spaces.

      And the incidents you’ve specified, Nick, don’t show the advantages of the wingers being in the line anymore than they show the advantages of great line speed and a bull horn defensive system. Having the winger on the end of the line didn’t stop the overlap, the overlap was thwarted by the defenders getting to their opponents before the ball did. South Africa have run that system for years, but still retain their wingers in a more traditional sweeping role, reducing the options for chip kicks to the space behind the line. There’s space out wide, but, as you say, the line speed takes away the option of going there through the hands.

      • nick_bish

        Some good points in there. Personnel will make a lot of difference. I think Leigh Halfpenny is the outstanding defensive full-back in world rugby, bar none, and the Lions will be expecting him [and Mike Phillips in some instances] to fill some of the spaces Scott mentions. Also I think it’s fair to point out the huge difference between club/provincial rugby and Test level. Decisions have to be made a lot quicker because the game is far faster and more intense. So I guess we’ll see just how quickly and accurately that new aussie 10/12 combo can react!

        • Spectator

          One way to deal with line rush defense would be this formation:

          Not so much at 10, but in the mid-field start very deep. Another words let the rush over extend itself & draw their flanks deep also. But you keep your outsides flatter. You use your running full back as your on-sider, either in leading the chase into the space created by the rush D where the ball has been put, or if the opposing outsides have not over extended themselves, as the ball carrying link angling into that space for the outsides & putting them back on side. You have your opposite winger swinging round covering the full back space as defensive insurance. So in the mid-field deep, the choice is made which situation is the go, but one of those situations has to be it. It would require good timing & understandings between the mid-field guy and fullback, but if that has held up, you are away into space with the rush defense exploited.

        • nick_bish

          Rush defence is generally not as vulnerable as is generally believed. A few years ago the All Black coaches who had been preparing for South Africa found it hard to equate the impressive number of line- and tackle breaks with the small number of points generated. They found that the answer was this: the linebreaks were being made so deep because of their steep attacking alignment that the scramble or second-tier defence was still picking up the break around the gain-line! So all is not as it seems!

          A small example here at 4:30 game time. Although technically the All Blacks are using an up & out not a blitz D, the ‘up’ is a very hard push with a shortened line [the wing is playing way off making Nonu the end man] that creates a tackle line about 17m behind the original lineout. The Wallabies look like they have an overlap,but the truth is that even a sideline break at this depth would get swept up by the folding defenders – 10, 7 and 12. This would apply even if the AB 11 had been playing in line rather than off. So as I say, theoretical opportunities do not always amount to much in real time at this level…

        • Who?

          I think you’ve got me on Habana. Then again, it’s usually been the 13 who’s been the lynchpin for the Boks, the player who stops the spread of the ball by getting past it. Habana loves to rush up (he gifted Folau a try the other week doing it in the middle of the line), but on most occasions the ball’s been trapped before it gets to the Boks’ defensive wings.

          Read’s pass was uncharacteristic for an AB forward. You don’t expect an AB forward to be worried about the contact. It was never on, I’d be cranky if our Under 9’s tried that on. And if he wanted the pass, he needed to float it to the winger, not throw it short to the 13. The wing was unmarked. It’s also interesting, on second/third/fourth viewing, to look at the defensive line. There wasn’t actually any linespeed on it at that point. Not compared to what we’ve seen from the Lions in the last few weeks.

          I do get the theory about the tighter spacing of the line, at the same time, you can get almost the same effect with rushed line speed, a compressed line and preparedness to drift if line speed is beaten by the speed of pass. That’s not a HUGE concern, because there’s not that many 10’s out there with the speed and accuracy of pass required to get past the line speed. And having maybe 10 across the field rather than 9 (assuming a few stuck in the last ruck, 15 back, and maybe the 9 joining him) isn’t a huge difference in space across a field. It’s 7m per player to cover, against 7.8m. If equally spread. Compress the line, maintain line speed, and you don’t have to maintain such relatively wide spacings.

          I think you’re right that personnel make a huge difference to running this form of defense, and attacking the empty spaces effectively. I’m not confident that O’Connor has the vision to attack it. I see him as having great footwork, but not the game management or the vision you want in a 10. Lealiifano’s closer, but he’s a 12, not a 10. And Beale (who can revert to schoolboy days and chip kick when under pressure) is on the bench. Plus, Halfpenny is the best NH 15 (don’t want to cause dramas with our Kiwi neighbours, who think that Dagg > everyone, for everything), and he’ll do a great job. If anyone’s going to exploit the space, then perhaps it’ll be Genia.

          And to me, the greatest weakness of a rush defense is fitness. The tactic is sound, providing everyone can consistently execute it. The question is how consistently you can last, executing it at 50 minutes, 60 minutes, 75 minutes. Line speed is never a bad thing. Even moreso if you’ve got cover for the short kick, which is the most common means of attempting to reshape the defense. I’ve honestly long thought about the tactic of trying to get the ball through the rushed end of the bullhorn before, but I’ve never seen it done as consistently and clinically as Cooper did in that Reds game. If you can do that, it’s another big option to join short kicks, but I’ve not seen anyone else ever do it that well. Maybe that’s just my limited viewing. :)
          And the example you’ve picked of Wallabies/AB’s 2012? I’m very sad to say that’s a constant under Robbie Deans… Throw ball into lineout one side, pass very deep to try and get around the defense, then get bundled into touch directly opposite where you started. We’ve done it many times against the ABs over the past 5 years (I can remember seeing it in 2009 and 2010 as well). The issue there isn’t line speed, the issue there is that the attackers failed to fix a defender. Everyone was running the same line, no one threatened the defensive line, there was nothing to halt the slide of the defense, so it was never an opportunity and we were always easily covered. :( That sort of play is the reason many of us doubt the Wallabies’ ability to come out and both find and exploit the Lions’ weaknesses. Every team has a weakness. Ours isn’t heart, commitment, or even necessarily talent…

  • Deacon

    Another intelligent analysis Scott. So what is the advantage of this defensive system that the Lions and England are using? It would appear the pendulum structure is a better system?

British & Irish Lions

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

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