Pre-Match Analysis: How the Wallabies will beat England - Green and Gold Rugby

Pre-Match Analysis: How the Wallabies will beat England

Pre-Match Analysis: How the Wallabies will beat England

I’m pretty sure that after the frankly awful June series and the hit and miss Rugby Championship, Cheika and co. would have been quietly pleased with the prospect of being 3 for 1 heading into the final game against England.

Whilst the Grand Slam would have been nice, let’s be realistic – it was probably never an achievable objective for this developing Australian side and it was always likely they were going to struggle against one of England or Ireland, if not both.

So here it is. The final game of the year and it’s a biggie for both sides. A resurgent Australia meeting a confident in form England in their own backyard. A chance for revenge, a chance to right some wrongs.

For many people it’s all down to Australia’s attack against England’s defence, and while that does England’s attack and Australia’s defence a massive disservice it is true that when both sides find their rhythm they excel in those respective departments.

Dane Haylett-Petty - Photo by Keith McInnes

Dane Haylett-Petty – Photo by Keith McInnes

If, for example, England are allowed to, they will happily defend with rhythm. Go back to test two of the summer and their defence flows. They are completely in control both when coming forward and going backwards. They controlled the tempo of the Aussie attack and it was probably the key to England’s test series win. They will be desperate to again impose that control over the Australian attack.

The issue is that Australia have come a long way since June and issues we at G&GR highlighted way back then (here) have been addressed, allowing Chieka and Larkham to develop far more complex attacking formations that can adapt and cope with the rigours of test level footy.

The result is an Australian side playing with multiple layers of runners, providing depth, skill and the pace required to deal with the defensive systems of teams like Ireland, France and England.

There are still issues. For example a lot more accuracy would be nice. Against recent opposition they’ve left a lot of chances out there, chances you’d like to think would be finished by a team of the Wallabies’ caliber.

Their kicking game also leaves a fair bit to be desired but I think it’s fair to say it’s still a young side finding it’s feet in terms of attack but the signs are promising and they are rightfully in the top four off the back of a resurgent attack.

The Aussie pattern

Breaking down England is a slightly different prospect but by no means one that is beyond this Australian team. As Brian Smith pointed out, Australia are now building a pattern of play that can break down defences in two or three phases – no longer are they having to expend energy building 10-12.

The Dane Haylett-Petty try is a perfect example of that. For Wallaby fans it’s an oldie but a goody, punch it in the midfield dragging the opposition one way and then attack them through that transition zone using runners from blind to exploit the soft shoulders and split defence the punch has created.

In fact we’ve seen similar from the Wallabies before – oh, yeah that’s right against England in the World Cup Pool game and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the defensive coach on both those occasions was a certain Mr Andy Farrell. It’s an exploit we’ve seen the Wallabies use against his, and Shaun Edwards Rugby League style defences, on a number of occasions notably the World Cup and all the way back to the Lions tour in 2013.

But it’s more than just about a pattern of play, it’s about timing. Australia could have run this move at any point throughout that game, but when they choose to use it is key.

If we look below we can see that Ireland are starting to become slow on defence, we can see their pack is slow to wrap and then it’s a case of isolating Jackson by sending multiple options down his channel. Best is holding because his team mates are slow on the wrap and Australia are through.

England are different

The problem for Australia is that softness in the middle of the line is not an exploit that’s transitioned over to Gustard’s defensive systems. Saracens, where Gustard cut his teeth, defend the transition zone hard and it’s a similar case with England who fill the middle of the pitch with big hitters and numbers.

In Gustards own words, England’s defence is about two things:

  • creating superiority through numbers.
  • and then using that to attack and win back the ball.

Gustard wants his defenders on their feet, pressuring the ball and cutting down attacking space and options.

So while against Ireland (and specifically in that move) the punch up was about splitting the defence, against England it’s about preserving space.

Rugby coaches talk a lot about getting outside the 3rd man in defence. What they are usually referring to is traditionally the 13 channel. Australia’s use of lead runners and those passes out the back allow clever ball players, like Foley and Godwin to pressure that channel, which I think will be key to stressing England’s defensive line.

Below is a short sequence from England vs Argentina.

First up look at how narrow England are on first phase defence, this is exaggerated by the fact May sits incredibly deep on the 15m to cover the kick. When Argentina move the ball wide he comes in to shut down the space in front of him.

Joseph Jockeys off the tackle and tracks the ball. But also observe how May bites in on the ball – and that’s key to what Australia need to exploit. Because England’s back three are not good defensive decision makers. If Argentina had run straight and fixed the midfield May was stuffed, but by drifting they allow Joseph back into the play.

But the damage is done and as we see them recycle we can see bags of space again on the opposite side and the last defender is a second row. A very good defensive second row granted but still, you’d want to fancy Folau or Foley coming around that corner into that space.

If Australia can fix that heavy set midfield defence with one or two punch groups or lead runners and play out the back they’ll be able to create indecision in the wider defenders. Create indecision and you’ve got chances to exploit that indecision.

Another example in the Argentina game was Cordero’s try just after half time – in their own 22 Argentina move the ball from left to right, using a screen from Creevy to Hernandez to buy the time to get the ball into that wide channel.

England’s cover defenders fall off the tackle and Argentina have the English turned they scramble but that leaves enough space for Argentina to exploit back on the left and some beautiful inter passing gets Cordero on the score sheet.

So it’s about boxing clever and I believe Australia’s best chance is to keeping the ball in hand and continually asking England’s outside defenders to make decisions in defence.

If they do then it’s likely we’ll see them pull the England defence out of shape and keep it moving around the park at speed. People think of Gustard’s defence as being an out and out Blitz defence it is in actual fact highly reactive to what the opposition is doing. If you have the numbers on them they’ll forget that space wide and look to push hard in that wider channel closing the gate early and drive the attacking side back in.

But if you can get to the gain line before them, or into that 13 channel they’ll back off and trust they’ll be able to jockey in defence buying time. If they are lucky they can isolate the attacker and look for their turnover or setting up ready to get off the line early this time..

If Australia can fix that midfield and stop it from drifting I think we’ll see guys like DHP and Kuridrani taking advantage of the space it creates.

Fearless prediction: Aussie to upset Eddie Jones Apple cart by less then 10.

  • RugbyReg
    • Brisneyland Local

      Pure gold RR.
      Tip of the hat!

    • I’m just building your hopes up so they can be cruelly crushed in public :)

      • Graeme

        I meant to down its that, pressed the upvote by accident :-) great analysis.

    • astamax

      Great meme

    • SABart

      Really didn’t work that well love the fact they analyse the argie try when they had 13 players on the field

      • the analysis did more than look at cordero’s try – it showed that this is where I felt the Aussie team would attack England and get a lot of reward – if you watched the game you will have seen that Australia attacked England down the 15 m channel a lot using the exact pattern of play i predicted.

        Happily the result went our way (I’m english btw) but my analysis was spot on.

  • Keith Butler

    An excellent analysis as usual. I happen to think that England will also have more in attack than they did in the June series now that the 10/12 axis has had more game time. Ford may not be the complete package yet but his passing game has really improved imo. Another important factor for me is that the England forwards are now more comfortable will ball in hand which open up the attacking options. Should be a great game between two teams on the up. Very hard to call but I hope England shade it.

    • They will be a lot better in attack than in June. But defensively they regressed a bit, conceding a fair few tries. The Question is can they outscore the Aussies with ball in Hand – perhaps. But (sadly) I think they will just nick it.

      • Haz

        Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t think you can bring 100% defensive intensity to every game. The defence against Argentina was incredible and SA wasn’t too bad. The final try SA scored was just a combination of laziness and Attwood not making it round in time because he was injured.

  • Simon

    Gee, it’s amazing what can happen to a defensive line when players are in two minds about whether they have to stand back to cover the kick, isn’t it?

    Use more attacking kicking, Wallabies! You only need to do it once or twice to create that split second of uncertainty for the rest for the rest of the match!

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      The trouble with this is Foley has a really crap kicking game. I hope the Wallabies pull this off, it will make the break between now and Super rugby so much better.

  • Fatflanker

    Great analysis Graeme. Of course the other side of the equation is that the English attack is looking pretty good courtesy of some slick dummy running, (wonder how old Sir Clive feels about that?).

  • Alex

    Go the Wallabies, smash the English. You have all of us from New Zealand supporting you for this game. The Wallabies must win.

  • Grins

    Interesting analysis but fails to mention England were down to 14 men so had shifted defensive pattern. In the video clip Argentina were also down to 14 so maybe that evens it up. The Cordero try came when England were 13 vs Argentina’s full complement so not the best example to pick of a defensive system failure – if you can’t stretch and stress a 13 man defence then there is something very wrong with your attack. That said, looking forward to a close game on Saturday, suspect it will be very close. As a Pom, I fear a Wallabies team looking much better than they did in June, so it will be interesting to see if we can apply sufficient pressure to force errors (the Gustard plan)

    • England didn’t shift defensive patterns due to being a man down – in that clip they are defending from left to right off 1st phase the defensive line is intact and functioning as normal because the blindside winger or 9 would be sweeping into 15 from there not defending in the line. The defensive width remains the same 14 or 15, hence the reference points from the summer.

      • adastra32

        It’s shame it is not available to everyone (it’s paid-for ‘Premium’ content), but Charlie Morgan in the Daily Telegraph published an in-depth analysis of how England adapted their defensive patterns to cope with being men down. You can get the words only here (not the same as with pics though):

        • Charlies point is that that others step in to fill the work Daley would have done right?

          Ergo they actually work to maintain their defensive structure/pattern and not abandon it. England routinely defend with 13 in the line Youngs or Ford slot in behind with Brown slightly deeper or opposite side of the field. All England did was lose a sweeper not a front line defender which is where the space i’m flagging is – watch the Fiji game, compare it to vs Argentina, or against the summer internationals against Australia.

          I guess ultimately on Saturday we’ll see if Australia exploit attack it or not.

        • adastra32

          Absolutely right – semantics around what changes: the players have to be able to adjust what they do to maintain the pattern. They didn’t do too badly with 14 players; 13 really compromised it. It’s going to be interesting…

        • think it’s going to be a very very good game. both sides out to prove a point, I have a feeling Aussies will nick it but I’m crossing fingers we can make it 4/4

      • Grins

        and when they swept back to the other side there was a mismatch with two locks on the end of the line (which was the point of the attacking opportunity the article was analysing.). The missing England winger would have stepped up into the line there.

        • no, that sequences point was the identification of SPACE and to show how indecisive the English wingers are in defending it – May biting in.

          That space didn’t change due to them being one man down as the blind side winger wasn’t a consideration in that opening play as he would have merely dropped into 15.

          Additionally the fact Lawes ends up there is no more important than if Yarde had been there – it’s merely an observation, an aside it’s not the focal point of that short part of the article.

          England defend with numbers in the middle of the park leaving a lot of space in the 15m channel –
          And ultimately as we saw, my point was proven as the Australians repeatedly attacked using a punch and then a screen into that 15m channel I flagged up.

          Have a good one.

        • Grins

          Thanks for replying. Have a good one too.

    • Haz

      Both Argentina tries were against 13 men.

  • Dorothy Ball

    Really enjoyed that analysis, thanks. I was tipping an England win until I watched the game against Argentina. I think the Pumas have really regressed since the RC, and we all know the Boks have. And then there’s poor old Fiji. So really the last good team England faced was… Australia, though we weren’t very good at all in that series and have come a long way since then. I think Graeme’s prediction is a good one.

    • SABart

      How’s that feel now

      • Dorothy Ball

        Not good. Pretty indicative of a Pom’s desire to troll that you come back to the pre-game analysis to have a crack. Australia were awful, but I stand by my assertion that England are pedestrian. They deserved to win this one – great composure and discipline – but they’d be no match for the ABs, and Ireland look far better for mine.

  • Stin

    Yes!!! – All well and good if we win ball.

  • C’mon Oz – New Zealand expects!

  • Tropical Sauce

    Great read and some awesome analysis. Let hope the forward bring their A game tonight and the GAGR favourites Simmons and Mummy take their mongrel pills before they run out.

    Question for you all , has Lopeti Timani taken a dump in Cheika’s CornFlakes ? Why was he dropped ? Now Coleman is injured he was the only hard ball carrier we had …

    • Tropical Sauce

      Sorry just have seen that Lopeti is in the starting XV . Must of stopped dumping in Cheika’s CornFlakes !!! LOL

  • UncleTighthead

    “Another example in the Argentina game was Cordero’s try just after half time” – you’re using a 15 v 13 scenario as an example of how to split England’s defence? LOL

    • are you saying the analysis was wrong because of one example used? because if you watch the game you’ll have seen Australia continually attack England’s wings with ball in hand, and make a lot of ground, just as my analysis showed.

  • Bada_bing8

    Does G&G get tired of getting their predictions wrong? 4 zip in 2016 – Suck it up boys.


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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