Video Analysis: Waratahs New Style

Scott Allen February 27, 2013 31

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I’m a great fan of attacking rugby but attacking rugby is about more than playing running rugby and scoring tries. I have been enthralled by plenty of matches where defences dominate and there are limited tries scored.

New Style
  • Fewer numbers committed to breakdown
  • Forward support runners maintain distance from ball carrier
  • Run it out of their own 22
  • Lack of 1st phase attack plays so far

You can attack through your set piece play as the Brumbies have done so effectively in the first two weeks of the Super Rugby competition, you can attack in defence as France did so well against the Wallabies last year and you can attack the breakdown to secure clean ball to attack with or to disrupt the opposition’s flow in attack. You can even attack through a kicking strategy as the Wallabies did against England last year with short kicks in behind the rushing defensive line.

If you play attacking rugby in all aspects of the game, you’ll win a fair share of possession and will be able to play running rugby, although you still may not score tries because the opposition’s defence is too good. The important thing for me is that a team shows the intent to attack in all areas of the game for the majority of the match. Of course when a team doesn’t have an attacking intent it makes it very hard to get in position to score tries as we saw with the Wallabies last year.

On Friday night we saw a magnificent game of attacking rugby between the Highlanders and Chiefs. The skills, the pace and the attacking intent from both teams were superb and were not matched by the Australian teams over the weekend – it provided something to aspire to.

The new way

The new way

When Michael Cheika was appointed as the Waratahs new coach he made it clear that he would insist on his team playing attacking rugby. There have been numerous reports from the Waratahs trial matches that suggested that the team has embraced the attacking philosophy of Cheika but against the Reds last Saturday we had the first opportunity to see this new style in a match where the points mattered.

I was of course interested to see whether Cheika’s attacking rugby just meant running rugby and keeping the ball in hand or something more. Watching the match live it was apparent that the Waratahs weren’t going to attack the breakdown – it was noticeable that the Waratahs wanted to commit limited numbers to rucks both in attack and defence presumably so that they had extra players available away from the ruck to help in defence or attack on the next phase.

In the opening round match of Super Rugby between the Brumbies and Reds the contest at the breakdown was a real feature with both teams committing large numbers in attacking rucks to aid in retaining their ball and to try and ensure it was available quickly. When we interviewed Laurie Fisher on the Podslam after that match he made no secret of the fact that the Brumbies view was to try and get three players into each ruck in addition to the ball carrier.

In that match against the Brumbies the Reds seemed to have a similar view and with the Waratahs committing less numbers in this match the Reds had a platform for their own attack and the opportunity to disrupt the flow of quick ball from the ruck that would allow the Waratahs to play running rugby. Too often the Waratahs had to commit numbers to the breakdown late to try and stop the Reds from stealing their ball.

Having now had the chance to look at the match in more detail the reason the Waratahs were not committing numbers to the breakdown in attack was largely a result of their forward attack structure. Clearly the Waratahs don’t want to get bogged down in trench warfare by keeping the ball close to the ruck and want their forwards carrying the ball much wider. The second element of this strategy appears to be having the support runners maintain some distance from the ball carrier, presumably so that they are available as a wider running option for the ball carrier to distribute to.

In this match this attack structure meant that if the ball carrier took the ball into contact they were isolated and the support runners had to come from a fair distance away to get into the ruck. Often there was only one support runner which made it very difficult to secure quick, clean ball.

By contrast the Reds and Brumbies attack pattern is to run their forwards much closer to the ruck and with plenty of close support. Both of those teams can change up their attack from time to time and attack through wider running forwards.

Of course the lack of close support runners for the Waratahs getting into the breakdown early may be a result of a lack of fitness early in the season but given that it was in use right from the start of the match and was used in the vast majority of phases where the Waratahs had the ball suggests it is a clear strategy.

Examples are included in part one of the video below.

The other noticeable element of the Waratahs attack was that they were prepared to retain the ball and try and run it out of their own 22. Over the last few seasons the Waratahs have certainly alienated a lot of fans with their kick first strategies but there is a place for kicking, particularly when it is from deep within your own territory. There are not many teams in professional rugby that take the option of running from deep unless they are behind and chasing a result.

On four occasions in the match against the Reds the Waratahs tried to run the ball out of their own 22 and all failed. Two of those attempts failed due to the ball being dropped and both came at crucial times giving the Reds good field position to attack from. The first was from the kickoff after halftime when the ball was dropped on the second phase by Tom Carter. The second was from the kickoff after the Waratahs had levelled the scores when the ball was again dropped on the second phase by Wycliff Palu.

In his post game interview a clearly frustrated Cheika said “We showed that we’re prepared to play a new style of game even maybe sometimes to our own detriment but we’re committed to doing that because we believe it’s the way to teach ourselves to go forward and be successful.”

Whilst those two dropped balls within their own 22 were detrimental to the Waratahs even on the other two occasions when they were able to retain the ball the strategy failed. On the first occasion the Waratahs held the ball within their own 22 for seven phases, lost 10 metres and then ended up kicking the ball away to give the Reds a lineout 10 metres outside the 22. On the second occasion the Waratahs held the ball in their 22 for 3 phases, again lost 10 metres and again then kicked the ball away to give the Reds a lineout just outside the 22.

Obviously players are still getting used to the new style of game Cheika has introduced. On the four occasions I’ve just discussed, it would have been better to kick the ball to improve field position. However on a number of other occasions when there were genuine opportunities to run the ball rather than kick it, the Waratahs chose to kick the ball and ignore the opportunity to keep the ball in hand in scenes reminiscent of last season.

Examples are included in part two of the video below.

One thing I didn’t see from the Waratahs, which disappointed me, was any first phase attack plays. Given that Alan Gaffney is now in charge of first phase attack I was looking for some of his signature plays. Hopefully that’s on the menu next week.

It will be interesting to see whether the wide ranging attack structure for the forwards and the run the ball from deep strategies can work at this level of the game or whether Cheika will need to tweak his plans as the season progresses.

If he does stay the course, as he’s suggested he will, I expect teams will be targeting the Waratahs breakdown and rushing up in defence whenever the Waratahs have the ball in their own 22. Playing two open side flankers may become a real option against the Waratahs so maybe we will see David Pocock and George Smith operating in tandem in round 4!

Discussion

  • Johnno

    Thats what i said yesterday using soccer as an example. Most soccer games only get 2 or 3 goals per game, and that is entertaining often.

    Australia VS Uruguay 2005 soccer world cup qualifier in sydney, after extra time 120 minutes had been played, only 1 goal. The soccer’s winning 1-0. Yet that was exciting.

    Soccer’s pinnacle the most populate team sport in the world, one of it’s leading comps, the English Premier League EPL, in 2012-13 its averaging 2.86 goals per game. Hardly a point’s fest.

    You want sheer point as your definition of entertainment, watch AFL and Basketball , not Rugby League, Rugby Union, and soccer.

    Key is Ball in play percentage over 80 minutes, the line-out laws, and 5 second shot clock at the ruck is fixing that.

    • Johnny-boy

      How cares about soccer on a rugby site ? Soccer is boring as shit. The reason soccer fans get so frustrated and go ape is the lack of climax scoring. Tah booing is bad enough, now you want them to start rioting ?

  • D

    “The players are still adjusting to Michael Cheika’s stratagey” could also be written as The Tahs still suck.

  • http://twitter.com/martyaskew Marty Askew

    Geez hate to say but it’s like watching the Wallabies of 2012. Kicking at the wrong times, one out runners, lack of general direction and poor decisions. This will just give fuel to the whole too many Waratahs in the Wallabies debate.

    Lets hope it clicks better this week.

    I’m not a Tom Carter hater But there’s gotta be a better inside centre in this state. Poor handling, wrong decisions in running/ kicking, and no general threat to the opposition at all.

  • Johnny-boy

    The Tahs are to be applauded for trying to run it. Cheika knows that they have to go thru this difficult forced learning phase to undo previous years bad habits and develop the confidence to use the ball properly when there is half a chance. He’s on the right track.
    It wasnt that Tom Carter dropped the ball surprisingly, it was Foleys appalling pass way too far in front of Carter.
    It seems Cheika has a bit to learn but the Tahs are going to be no fun to play in a year or two, including Folau. He might have to find some more new talent tho.

    • D

      No fun to play in a year or two? I seriously got sick of hearing all the promises of “this season is our year”. Has it gotten so bad in Tah land that it is now “2 years from now”? I don’t think I can listen that cop out.

      Let’s be honest. It seems that the waratahs are mostly a team of over rated players. I believe this to be true because there are a lot of the same players that have been wearing the gold jersey and the Wallaby reputation is in the same boat as the Tahs.

      Is Cheika’s the right man for the job? I believe so. I also believe that a lot of the team needs to be put out to pasture and a young energetic group from the third tier need a shot. Look at all the young guys who surprisingly “stepped up to the plate” last year for the Wallabies. I’m a little surprised that people doubted they could. The team I thought actually played better with them.

      These young men have the heart and will to succeed on half the paycheck. A lot of these guys are from the 7’s program 2 years ago. McCutchin, Foley, Quirk, Gill, Shipperley and Coleman to name a few. I don’t know why Brackin Karauria-Henry was let go, but I’d put him on the pitch before Carter any day and I can’t wait to see Kimami Sitauti take the field for the Rebels. Michael O’Conner is doing his job well grooming these guys, it just seems that some of the Australian franchises are not using this great talent that is coming through.

      • Blinky Bill of Bellingen NSW

        I’m assuming Cheika inherited the majority of his team and will phase out some of the guys, that he considers not up to it, when the chance presents itself. Meantime he needs to work smart with who he’s got. Good luck with that!

        Which players would you ‘put out to pasture’?

        • D

          Barnes, Carter, Robinson, Palu, Turner, Kepu, Dennis, Horne and possibly Mitchell & TPN just to see him try and get his fire back. He’s turned in a 50 minute man.

        • Blinky Bill of Bellingen NSW

          That’s a lot of experience right there.

          But of course a coach needs to sometimes be ruthless and if a player is clearly unable to deliver, then it’s time for a conversation and ‘see ya later mate’. Otherwise what message does it send to the rest of the team and those trying to get selected?

        • D

          “That’s a lot of experience right there.” Yes it is, but with that comment you’ve highlighted my point.

          For instance, Barnes does not know a winning culture. He came from a Reds team that were whipping boys only 4 years ago. He moved to the Tahs and they made the quarters once. Let’s be honest, he was a polished turd back when the Reds sucked. The Wallabies winning culture (oxymoron there) is roughly the same as what he’s experienced at Super level. His first WC they were booted out in the semis, this last one they didn’t top their pool. Why does he have the nickname Sookface? It would be different if he was winning. He’d be Happy Face!!! His frustration and screaming during games shows that he is extremely frustrated. I can appreciate that but by doing this on the field, what message does that give your team mates? It doesn’t help the fact.

          A different attitude with and a better team culture would maybe produce a different result. My point being, you see the AB’s down by 15+ and you don’t see them stressing and watching the scoreboard. They stick to the plan they believe in and 99% of the time it pays off and they win. The one time I haven’t seen them do this was in the WC final. Piri Wepu was a bumbling nervous wreck and he almost lost the game for the AB’s. Graham Henry did the right thing and yanked him from the field. How many times have the Reds won when the clock has passed 80? Quite a few. It’s not just a game plan, it’s a mind set as well.

          I’m not denying Barnes has talent. He showed glimpses of that last year in gold. I think that if you are trying to change a culture of a team into a winning one, how can you start fresh when you have this tumor of a losing culture in a lot of your players. It’s just like most of us here on this site. We love the game, we watch every game and we can comment on everything and argue with each other until we’re blue in the face about every game. It makes us experienced but doesn’t give us the credentials it takes to make us great coaches, journalists or commentators. Just because you have been doing it for a long time doesn’t make you great.

          Having said all this you could argue that this philosophy hasn’t worked for the Force or Rebels. You need a GREAT coach, not a good coach. McKenzie and White have turned their teams around in a short period of time and I believe Cheika has that ability to do so as well. I hope I’m wrong for the sake of Australian Rugby that Cheika can turn these guys into winning machines……as long as they don’t win back the Templeton Cup.

        • Graeme

          Have i been whooshed. Surely this was a piss-take. That is their Wallabie squad (+ Carter).

        • D

          No piss taking. Did you not see the correlation of shit performances between the Tahs and Wallabies last year? More of the same again this year if every incumbent wallaby retains their spot. It’s almost all of thèir wallabies not all of them.

  • Wheatman01

    Scott, from the first two examples of playing it within the 22, why isn’t the lineout from where the kicker kicked it? Both times the ‘tahs brought it back in from outside and then kicked it out on the full (after numerous phases). From my viewing they couldn’t kick it out on the full due to the newish rule about bringing it back inside the 22. Does this lapse after a number of phases? Or simply the touchies/ref didn’t pick it up?

    • Wheatman01

      Also I have to give a big thumbs up for Quade’s accuracy from the restart putting the ball just outside the 22. Very smart. Tah’s seem to leave the catcher isolated a couple of times too.

    • JimmyC

      One phaze mate

      • Wheatman01

        Thanks JimmyC

  • http://twitter.com/SmithStinsmith Justin Smith

    Not much positive there Scott. Hopefully they read this. Barnes may help with a more mature reading of situations than T Carter…. Dennis was nowhere to be seen, wide or closer to the ruck. Thoughts on his performance?

    • Blinky Bill of Bellingen NSW

      I can’t figure out why TC doesn’t blow a gasket pumping the legs trying to break the line, backing up in support or chasing down a player.

      He wasn’t the only one who looked sloooow in Brisbane but crikey the guy plays centre for cripes sake, so surely he must have some pace. No?

      • http://twitter.com/SmithStinsmith Justin Smith

        No.

  • http://twitter.com/SmithStinsmith Justin Smith

    Barnes is out again and chapman in for Timani.

  • http://twitter.com/SmithStinsmith Justin Smith

    And Robbo back in.

  • ooaahh

    I’d rather the Tah’s lose playing this style of footy than win playing the crap served up last year.

    • Blinky Bill of Bellingen NSW

      Shouldn’t that read ‘………than lose playing the crap served up last year’?

      Their biggest problem in past years was that it wasn’t even win ugly. Instead it was lose gross.

      Here’s hoping Tah fans show some patience and allow the boys to develop, gain confidence in their patters and structures, and get on a roll. I’m not saying it’s okay to keep fluffing games, but I am much happier in what I’m seeing thus far with the trials & Brisbane.

      The Brisbane my thoughts were ‘in front of a rabid Red’s crowd & 2011 winners’ versus ‘new coach, new approach, Izzy at 15 and new combinations’. And despite loads of spilled pill and missed tackles galore, we still looked a decent chance for most of the game.

  • Gibbo

    My thoughts:
    Lack of Numbers at attacking breakdowns = counter Rucking opportunities late in the game. This happened way too often for the wallabies in 2012. Like you said – classic opportunity for 2 fetchers.

    Running from the 22. If a professional player (namely forwards) can’t catch the ball and truck it up in to the middle of the field on the 22 there are problems. Moving to the middle of the field gives left/right kicking options that are often over looked. The Reds have been doing this with Cooper/Taps for a while and it WORKS.

    The second phase should provide the option to kick or keep going. Player skill levels should support this. If you don’t have the confidence to catch the ball and run 10 metres (at a defence standing a long way away from lineouts and scrums) you shouldn’t be out there. I applaud this tactic.

  • JJJ

    If Cheika is coaching against forwards running in close support perhaps it’s because there aren’t many quality pilfering opensides in the NH where he’s obviously spent the last few years. Or maybe he just thought it’d catch the reds off-guard for the tahs to play wider.

  • sph45

    Hey Scott, Great piece. Learning heaps as always. Can you just expand a bit on the advantages of the Waratah’s attack pattern? When is the lack of close support runners expected to work? Why couldn’t the Waratahs make the most of those advantages against the Reds?

    • Scott Allen

      If you could be sure of securing the ball at the breakdown the pattern would allow you to play a much wider game and wider support runners would allow them more flexibility as to which hole to run into – they could come in towards the ball carrier to hit the short hole or stay wide to hit the wide hole – also allows you to attack the whole width of the field so an expanded version of the Crusaders pattern.

      Nice if you can achieve but depends on winning the breakdown with minimal numbers in, which I don’t think teams will allow to happen at Super Rugby level. Crusaders don’t try to run their pattern without still committing numbers to the breakdown – in fact can’t think of any other team that does.

      Waratahs couldn’t do it against the Reds because the support runners kept having to come into the breakdown to help save the ball as Reds attacked the breakdown.

      It will be interesting to see if a) that pattern continues to be used in future games b) was just a specific game plan against the Reds c) players weren’t following the real pattern and we’ll see that emerge or d) whether Cheika has to modify the pattern,

      Keep an eye to see if it is used against the Rebels.

  • Red man

    Go the Reds!! Haha

  • NCartertatahs

    Carter is a vestige of Waratahs gone by. Invest in, and believe in the younger player – give Volavola a go at 12! Even in these video examples you can clearly see the pedestrian game Carter plays – giving Foley no options. Chieka cant commit to a new game plan and then play plonkers like that.

  • Parra

    What happens at 12:14 in the mash-up video highlights what Scott is saying: http://www.greenandgoldrugby.com/video-awesome-super-rugby-round-2-video-mashup/

    The play leading up to this point is good with strong surges up the middle but when Kepu gets isolated and is forced to pop to no-one, Tapuai pounces.

    There’s a fair bit of bad luck here but it does illustrate the effect of wider ball carriers and supporting players who are much further away.

    Let’s hope it’s just a matter of fine tuning and that the new attack structure starts to pay dividends.

    • Johnny-boy

      Not many Tah fans are remembering that Folau’s try was a complete fluke, the ball ricocheting from a smashing Digby tackle

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