Wallabies v Lions Set Piece Contest - Green and Gold Rugby

Wallabies v Lions Set Piece Contest

Wallabies v Lions Set Piece Contest
Cat on Rollerskates

Cat on Rollerskates

At the start of the Lions tour I was expecting the Lions to have an advantage in the set piece contest against the Wallabies, particularly at scrum time.

With the loss of both Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins the Lions selected their loosehead prop for the first test from either Mako Vunipola who started the tour as the third choice or Alex Corbisiero who wasn’t even selected in the original touring party. They chose to go with Corbisiero because he’s considered a better scrummager that Vunipola. That still meant the Lions were going into the test with their third choice at loosehead which reduced the threat for the Wallabies even though the Lions still had Adam Jones at tighthead.

The Wallabies scrum held up really well in all except one scrum in the match and in the second half the Wallabies were actually the dominant scrum once the Lions replaced their starting props. When you watch the video you’ll see that both Dan Cole and Vunipola were dominated by the Wallabies. With Corbisiero out for the second test we’ll probably see Vunipola starting and that presents a good opportunity for the Wallabies at scrum time.

The Wallabies won all of their own scrums whilst the Lions lost three of theirs – one for engaging early, one a clean tighthead for the Wallabies and the final scrum of the match where they were penalised.

You would have seen Benn Robinson getting very agitated in the second half when he was penalised for going to ground where he claimed Adam Jones had actually rolled his shoulder to bring Robinson down. When you watch the video it’s obvious that Jones got away with one in that scrum but you’ll also see that James Slipper got away with one later too.

Both teams won all of their lineouts and it was a good performance from the Wallabies on their own throw. However, I was disappointed with the Wallabies performance in defending against the Lions lineout throw. Or I should say, not defending, because in the first half the Wallabies only contested two of the Lions eight lineout throws and only one of those was an effective challenge. In the second half the Wallabies improved their defensive work and competed on three of four throws by the Lions.

The Wallabies made a conscious decision in the match to focus their lineout defence on the middle and rear of the lineout, giving the Lions the front of the lineout unopposed, if they wanted it.

No contest

No contest

Why would any team offer the opposition an uncontested win at the front of the lineout? If you win the ball at the front of the lineout the opposition defenders at the rear of the lineout aren’t jumping and so are in position to start their run into the backline that little bit earlier. This combined with the extra time it takes the halfback to pass the ball from the front of the lineout to the #10 means that any attempt to play wide off a lineout is impaired by having the extra forward defenders reducing the space available for your backs to attack and increasing the risk that the opposition backrow can get to the first breakdown and force a turnover.

In Super Rugby earlier this year we saw the Brumbies give the Rebels the front of the lineout and that took away the Rebels ability to attack wide which they had shown was what they wanted to do in that match, so it can be an effective tactic if you force the opposition to change their attack plans.

However, if the team you’re defending against isn’t intending to play in the wide channels from first phase they don’t need to win the ball in the middle or at the back of the lineout and are quite happy with front ball. If that’s the case, giving the opposition the front of the lineout is just giving them easy lineout wins and has no effect on their attack plans.

We saw last week how the Brumbies attacked the Lions lineouts and disrupted their attack but also  took ball away from them at source denying them the opportunity to attack at all.

As the video below shows not only did the Wallabies tactic of giving the Lions the front of the lineout give them easy ball, it made no impact on how the Lions attacked. In fact when the Lions wanted to win ball at the middle or back of the lineout, they did exactly that, often without any competition from the Wallabies.

Yes, attacking into the #12 channel can benefit from ball delivered from the back of the lineout and off the top but you can still comfortably attack in that channel from front ball delivered cleanly off the top as was shown in this match. If the opposition contest the front throw and it’s delivered under pressure to the halfback then even attacking in the #12 channel is made harder.

I think this is an area the Wallabies need to make changes to their tactics in for the second test to increase pressure on the Lions. We know the Lions start many of their backline attacks with a punch in the #12 channel so let’s try and disrupt their ball at source like the Brumbies did.

Photos by Shane Sullivan.

  • seandking

    Scott, what’s the payoff the wallabies are looking for by not contesting the line out? Is it simply being in a better position to defend the gain line?

    Do you think they got that payoff?

    • Scott Allen

      That could be the only payoff – perhaps they were expecting the Lions to drive a lot so wanted players on the ground to defend a drive.

      To me that makes no sense – give them easy lineout ball so we can try and stop a driving maul or have more guys to tackle them!

      If that was the intended payoff, the Wallabies didn’t get any.

      • old weary

        Do you think that they didn’t spread the ball wide off the line out due to them always wanting to take the ‘easy’ option at the front? Made them potentially limit their game plan, or the 12 channel was as far as they would have sent it regardless?

        I remember Sharpie talking about how Victor and Bakies would always give them the front of the lineout around their 22 for exactly that reason.

        Also, thanks again for all the great analysis, I do hope you get paid for all this work, as can’t imagine how many hours this must take you + a day job.

        • Scott Allen

          The clue for this is that the Lions aren’t calling lineouts once they’re in the line. They are calling in a huddle, then walking in and throwing with no call unless there is an override. The calls are being made before the Lions even walk in and find the Wallabies leaving the front of the lineout unmarked.

          If the Lions were set up with say O’Driscoll standing in the #13 channel and the ball only got to the #12 channel before the Wallabies back pod got to the Lions, the Wallabies would have been forcing the Lions to play narrower than they want.

          But when the Lions start with their back pod dropping back ready to support North running close or O’Driscoll and Davies are standing together in the #12 channel that was called before they even went into the lineout – it wasn’t done as a last minute adjustment because the Wallabies had only left the front free.

          Same with the drives the Lions called – they would have been called in the huddle before the Lions even walked in.

          So the lineout plays were being determined by the Lions not in reaction to the Wallabies defensive shape in the lineout.

  • nick_bish

    Very good analysis of the lineout Scott!

    I don’t agree completely with your scrum analysis. The second Lions penalty for the Benn Robinson collapse looked like it was drawn by Adam Jones managing to take a couple of short steps through Robinson as the scrum went to ground. Refs will always favour the side going forward in these instances, and smart play by AJ. I also think you being a little harsh on Alexander – if you win the hit, you win the hit period, whatever your set-up looks like. Glad to see you’re coming round to the view that Slipper may be best suited at loose-head though, you really don’t need him at tight-head with BA, Kepu, Palmer and Ryan to choose from. He should be pushing Robinson for the starting 1 slot soon!

    • Scott Allen

      Nick, Slipper is a better tighthead than loosehead – I don’t share your view.

    • cay_t

      No kudos to Deans re Faingaa…. he couldn’t replace Moore, he’d made his 7 subs when Phipps on for Two Dads.

    • So if I get you right on that scrum pen Nick you’re agreeing that Jones rolled in, but by driving as he did so he fooled the ref?

      • nick_bish

        Hi Matt. Broadly ‘yes’. Robinson got himself into a good position so AJ decided to pull his shoulder down. As the scrum collapsed you can see him getting a nudge of a couple of feet so he is going forward as it goes to ground.

        The scrum is mostly about perception at this level. If I showed you, me or Scott a sequence of collapsed scrums from Test matches, end on end, none of us would be able to say with 100% conviction who was responsible for them. We conducted an experiment with the old Welsh Test prop Peter Rogers doing just that, and he gave up after 15 minutes!

        Most refs have bugger-all idea of what’s happening when a scrum collapses, so they tend to reward the side going forward when they don’t know. If you go forward even a short distance as a prop you give the ref the ‘out’ they’re seeking. Adam Jones did that, Robinson didn’t, so the Lions got the pen.

  • bill

    One of the pommy panels discussed the lineouts Sky? and were praising the Wallabies re the front ball only. I think they and you were right, as that effectively flooded the midfield with defenders AND shut down Phillips. So yay Robbie or Mowen. Although maybe that’s precisely the time Phillips needs to challenge the lineout defence now and then. That panel were also at pains to point out the Lions needed to go for the middle and back of the lineout in the second match to get a better platform to attack from. So as you say we need to try and challenge a bit more at source if they go for it. Until they get some midfield punch back though? To me it looked like this was one area our coaches got on top of theirs last saturday.

    • Scott Allen

      The panel may well have praised the Wallabies but they didn’t restrict the Lions to front ball – the Lions took what they needed all night.

      • bill

        I don’t recall a single drive from the lineout or Phillips threatening. Sounds like the wallabies were effective.

        • Scott Allen

          If you missed the drives, maybe you should watch again!

        • bill

          and this why you’re the coach not me! fair cop Scott.

  • Maxt

    Good analysis Scott. I remember a particular Bledisloe where Australia also had the plan of not contesting. Harrison ignored the directive, pinched a ball ….and the game. Compete boys!

  • Roundtree

    I believe Pollack missed two early engagements on scrums in the first half which aided the Wallaby scrum. I also wonder what was the impact on the Lions scrum in the last ten minutes to have a second row packing down with a broken arm? Granted, it was O’Connell who is harder than hard.

  • sph45

    Thanks for the analysis again Scott.

    Completely off topic, but been meaning to ask for some time: when the Lions series is over, do you think you could talk us through the box kick? What is the motivation behind the box kick, when is it best utilized, and what distinguishes a successful box kick from an unsuccessful one?

    • BOPSteamers

      The best box kick is a contestable one. One high enough for chasers to be able to compete for possession. The South Africans through Fourier Du Preez and Ruan Pienaar brought it back into vogue through sheer precision kicks. Because defences were strong the Saffas under Pieter De Villiers looked to this tactic get in behind and pressure wingers that despite being great attackers were not necessarily equipped to handle high kick reception. Say goodbye to Rockococo and Sivivatu and say hello to Corey Jane, Kahui, Drew Mitchell, Ben Smith and Israel Dagg. All fantastic under the highball. The Africans won a lot of games using this tactic aswell as there superior Lineout. The advent of these more rounded wingers however have seen less of this tactic being used offensively.

      • bill

        I don’t think they ever honestly competed on those box kicks. They were precise yes,but all their intent was in trying to force a knock on rather than take primary posession. It took the refs forever to wake up to it, from memory almost ? was it two seasons or one?

        • BOPSteamers

          I think they did intend to try and retrieve if the kick was good enough otherwise like you say pressure was the order of the day, and with wingers not good in the air like some of the afore mentioned they reaped a lot of field position and possession. It may have seemed longer because the Bulls, Sharks and Stormers used the tactic successfully. Argentina I believe made a quarter final in the 2007 World Cup was it??? Using this same tactic.

  • IS

    I think the lineout play where the pod backs off the line out @ about 2:26 is illegal as those players are leaving the lineout after it has formed and before it is over.

  • Chunderstruck

    Youngs shimmying to the side for the lineout throw is pretty funny. Is that his style or was he coached to do it?

    • Ian

      If driving straight is an issue, tee up toward the hazard, and aim away from it. Perhaps a habit.

  • Fatflanker

    Your highlights confirmed my impression that the Lions hooker got away with murder with that throw straight over the heads of his players, (get a look at that throw at 9.30). I wonder if the wallabies not contesting led to the ref letting some of these go?

  • Garry

    Not competing on opposition line outs has been a regular facet of the Deans era wallabies, so we can assume that it due to the wisdom of Robbie. And watching the Brumbies game, it should have been obvious that there was possibilities there.

    Clueless lay down mazaire?

    • Patrick

      It’s misere, but otherwise wholeheartedly agree.

  • Who?

    I’ve seen lots of whinging by Pommie refs on the Rugby Refs forum about the ref, and how he was lenient on the Aussies… In that package, there’s at least two penalties shown that he missed against the Lions. The Lineout at 22m, the Lions (both AWJ and POC) were beyond the 15m line before the ball was thrown. That’s offside, simple penalty. The other was the lineout at 29 minutes, in the lead up to North’s no try. There’s been much whining about how the double advantage should’ve meant someone got carded. However, in the maul off that lineout, the Lions had a clear moment of truck and trailer (at 29:37), with Youngs and POC being the truck, and A Jones, Warburton (ball carrier) and Corbesiero as the trailer. At 29:37, there’s no bind between the back three and front two. Corbesiero recognizes this, and binds onto them. Ref missed it.
    I still find it ludicrous that we’re starting the game with two LHP’s, and finishing it with two THP’s. Just insanity…

    • wannabprop

      Is it really that cut and dried re the props? Alexander is a converted loose head who I think most of us would agree is actually better at tight head (and under rated there). Kepu is also a converted loose head who also (IMHO) is better at tight head. Slipper appears to be the only one who can genuinely play both sides (which is a fairly recent phenomenon, probably thanks to Link), and Robinson is clearly a loose head only. Looks to me like they’ve finally got it right (as opposed to the WC with Alexander at LH and Kepu at TH). With the only decent specialist tight head (Palmer) injured, how would you have them line up?

      • Who?

        I think it’s that cut and dried. Alexander’s a converted LH who, at best, can pinch at TH. His technique – on both sides of the scrum – is questionable. As Scott points out, he’s a known hinger, because he starts with straight legs and hips above shoulders. So if he’s hinging at LH, why wouldn’t he hinge even more with the extra load that’s carried at THP? Plus, he plays more LH than TH for his province.

        Kepu has similar height issues, but is stronger, and uses that to his advantage in not hinging. I don’t have anywhere near the memories of Kepu hinging that I have of Alexander hinging.

        Al Baxter was much maligned, but at least we saw progress with his technique over the years he scrummaged with the Wallabies. I don’t believe we’ve seen that since Foley left as Forwards Coach. Not with Alexander.

        If I were picking them, with those four props, Robinson and Slipper to start, replaced by Alexander and Kepu. If I were picking across all Aussie props, with Palmer injured, I’d start with Robinson and Slipper, and inject Alexander and Paddy Ryan. Given a year’s experience, it’d be Sio instead of Alexander.

        • nick_bish

          I did a lot of research on the Aussie props last year. Frankly our dearest hope was that Alexander would turn up at loose-head! He cannot play there at this level – maybe at super rugby level he can get by, but not in Test matches, and certainly not against Adam Jones. Check out what happened when he came on as a sub in the Wales series last summer.

          The best next generation Wallaby front row [for an outsider like myself] would be Slipper/TPN/Kepu. I suspect Kepu had his eyes opened by the France match in November as to the requirements of scrummaging at this level, and I’ve seen a lot of improvement in him this season. He’s obviously the strongest bloke you have and he’s a ball-player too having been a no.8 in a previous life. At this level you can only get by as a tight-head by being either very big [like Adam Jones] or very awkward [like Nicolas Mas], and Kepu has the size and strength. All he needs is more experience.

          IMO Slipper is wasted at tight-head. Apart from being neither huge nor awkward, he’d be blocking Kepu. At loose-head he’d also have the opportunity to get into the offense more with his work-rate, ball-carrying and support play, which is excellent.

          Tight-head props do not simply stand straight and square in Test matches. The pressures are far too great, they would never survive! When they feel pressure they need to have some defensive method based on moving off-square or altering the height of the scrum. Take a look at Owen Franks and how he constantly manipulates the scrum height and angles. Alexander is the only tight-head you have who currently who understands this so IMO he has to play.

        • Who?

          I’ll more than give you that Adam Jones would eat Alexander for breakfast if Alexander packed against him at LH. Alexander’s body height isn’t good enough. But to be fair, I don’t think there’s many LHP’s who would out-scrummage Jones.

          I do have concerns about Alexander at LHP, too, but I just can’t see Robbie ignoring him… And as long as he’s facing Cole (or anyone similar, meaning not Jones), he’d not be near as much of a liability. I think he’s been around long enough at international level to have some street smarts, I just question his technique in executing them, and whether or not he’s been well supported by coaching.

          Kepu is definitely big and strong. I do question his body height when packing, and I find it concerning that he’s not always been first pick at TH this year for the Tahs. And, from what I can see, it’s not been for injury or rotation, it’s been on form. Paddy Ryan scrummed quite well against the Lions, too. If Kepu could fix his body height issues and improve his workrate round the park, he’d be nigh on impossible to overlook. But he can have a tendency to drift through games. I do think he’s got enormous potential – I wanted him at 3 back in 2010.

          I wouldn’t call Adam Jones huge. The Lions’ website says he’s 121kg and 6′. Slipper’s 6′ 1″, and listed at 117kg. That’s not a huge difference. Jones’ greatest strength is his body height. He does a fantastic job of getting his hips very low. So he rarely ends up hinging – he drives flat or up. Slipper’s improved that area of his game this year. Unlike Alexander, who spends much of his time at LH, Slipper’s spent the entire S15 at TH. And maligned as it is, the Reds scrum has actually performed pretty well this year. When they’ve had their first choice tight five (think Holmes/Fainga’a/Slipper, Simmons/Horwill).

          Something I think Slipper and Alexander have in common is that they’re emblematic of the problems our selectors give our props. Both were selected fairly young. At the end of his first season, Slipper had 100 minutes of Super Rugby and 10 Test caps! Alexander was picked from LH to replace Baxter at TH. And Baxter was the same – he learned his trade at international level. Since 2003, we’ve been picking our props too green, so they get found out at international level and spend the next 5+ years figuring out what they’re doing wrong by giving away penalties, rather than picking grizzled old heads and letting the young blokes – no matter how good they could be – learn their trade under a little less scrutiny.

        • nick_bish

          I wouldn’t read too much into published weights. AJ usually trots on to the field at around 130kgs and sometimes more!

        • Who?

          I knew that Aussie forwards had a history of embellishing their weights, I didn’t realize that Welshmen would understate their weights. Maybe he’s feeling a bit weight conscious? :-)

  • Patrick

    I noticed Tom Youngs, surely if there was any yellow card in the game it was that?? Moving back after the assistant has pushed you to the middle??

  • Thanks, Scott! I read Mr. Guscott wax lyrical about Tom Youngs at the BBC site. Now, I know the Pom don’t play by the rules!! Carry, on!!

  • finicky

    4th linout of match (7:30min on vid), back of lineout also illegally outside of 15m line on ball throw.


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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