What a game!
An advertisement for rugby, for sure.
The confidence and composure the AB showed after being totally bamboozled by the Wallabies and the referee in the first quarter was astonishing.
They looked done and out and then with persistent targeting of the Wallaby scrum and some help from the referee -in terms of blowing penalties at each scrum for infringements that I had a hard time to see (agreed I am not a Prop)- they were back in the game in the blink of an eye.
Just few turn arounds at scrums time and suddenly the AB were back and ahead with two quick tries.
Awesome rugby! Why the hell can’t the boks play like that?
Here are a couple of observations I had watching the game and afterwards while listening to Robbie Deans during the post match conference.
Deans calm relaxed exterior impressed me. When asked how big is this win for you his answer: “It’s got no more meaning other than the fact we got up. This is just a game along the way.” He is saying in effect it is no bigger than any other win. This is just part of a process.
I often see people shouting for change (and have been one myself) when their team lose but this remark by Deans made me think. Success in sport is a process it doesn’t come overnight no matter how talented you are.
Clearly Deans have a long term development strategy with his coaching. He knows where he wants to get with the team and he and the players have certain markers or criteria on which they evaluate each performance irrespective of whether they win or lose. It is hard to get the media and supporters to understand that, Deans admits: “I don’t live in a bubble and do feel the pressure but in the end it is a process and I am happy with the progress we’ve shown tonight.”
I think everyone outside Australia (and some in the country) can see that this Aussie team is improving game by game. This is still young team with an average age of just 25 (with the average bumped-up by some outliers which are in their early thirties) which Deans is developing with meticulous precision and patience.
How I wish I could have said the same of the Springbok side and coach where there is no evidence of a process; no evidence of a long term plan or proactive planning and development. The coaching and team selections all seem reactive.
Influence of the referee on the match
I got a distinct feeling that the referee went into the match with some preconceived plans to stamp out certain things in both teams. In the first quarter he targeted the All Blacks at the breakdown blowing them up repeatedly for just about everything they did at the breakdowns. This put the Wallabies right into the match producing two tries for the Wallabies because it allowed them to get flow and contingency on attack.
He then targeted the Wallaby scrum and for the next 10 to 15 minutes blew-up the Wallabies for everything they did in the scrum. This broke the Wallaby momentum and created turnover ball for the All Blacks putting them right back into the match. This for me was an extremely irritating part of the game and I am not sure whether there really was anything wrong in the scrum or whether the referee was just trying to establish his authority and set the operating procedures at the scrum.
The result of this was that the scrums became a very carefully orchestrated “non-contest” with the Wallabies too scared to do anything in the scrum other than just taking meticilous care to do nothing wrong. All credit to the ref that when the AB’s tried to push their luck at the scrums he pounded on them as well and that sorted out all the hassle and bustle at the scrum.
The result of all this was that the game only really started to become a “non-referee-trying-to-establish-his-authority-contest” -as it should be- in the last 30 minutes of the first half.
Aussie playing style
The Aussie style of playing was quite interesting. They have a significantly different approach than the AB. Deans is clearly not following the AB 2010 tri-nations style of hitting the gain line and blowing-over.
The Aussies played the ball wide on almost every occasion with the Cooper lying flat; receiving flat ball but then passed the ball behind a dummy runner -lying flat- to a runner coming from behind angling slightly sideways and running with speed onto the ball. This created space on the outside for the Aussie back line. Cooper scored the Aussies first try by being the deeper runner with somebody else acting at the first flat lying receiver. The second try came when they suddenly altered this practice (going flat and then deep behind a dummy runner) with Cooper sending a second flat pass to Gitau who left it for the Aussie No13 who run a clever line slightly against the traffic but straight into space between the two NZ centers. Like a hot knife through soft butter, he went before stepping past Corey Jane for a brilliant try.
The most important thing for me is that the Aussies showed that you don’t need to play like the AB’s to be successful in the modern game. The Aussies can of course do this because they have precision at the breakdowns; few teams in world rugby can recycle a ball and maintain phases like they do.
Kicking by the flyhalf’s
Kicking has become an art in the modern game. Kicking to re-arrange the back field and how the wingers defend is crucial to keeping the ball and attacking with purpose. The Kiwis initially in the Tri-nations basically ran everything. Then, tactically, they introduced the short kick – grubber and chip kick behind to push the wingers back and make the 9 defend out of the line. This reduced the front line to 11 defenders, creating space.
Then, they (the AB’s) started kicking long – forcing the wingers further back – and therefore taking 2 defenders right out of the line which meant the next time they receive the ball they can explore this space by running and passing. They kept the defence guessing allowing them to have various attacking options – run, pass or kick plays.
A kick or run philosophy in attack is now vital. Look at how the defence position, then use kicks or running, passing plays to manipulate the defence.
Both the Aussies and the All Blacks used the kick quite a lot this weekend; grubbers and long kicks to push the defenders back. It was not all just smash-up and blow-over. The latest tendency seems to be to play what is in front of you; read the defence and apply counter tactics to manipulate and change the defensive line-up in order to create space.
The role that Pocock played in this game was also for me quite fascinating, showing that the fetcher can still be influential towards the outcome of a game. Pocock had at least three crucial turnovers mostly arriving as the second man at the tackle. This allowed him to immediately go for the ball.
It seems to me that teams need to practice this namely hunting in pairs with the first player going for the tackle and withdrawing immediately allowing the next player to almost instantly graph the ball; the first player can then re-enter the contest by helping to stabilise the second player. If the tackler withdrew by charging over the player (tackle and then getting up by charging forward) on the ground he prevents the opposition from getting to the ball.
There were very few lineouts (so it seemed to me – I didn’t really count it) in the match. Furthermore, the lineouts were not used as an attacking platform; no driving mauls. In general the lineouts were avoided and those that did took place was a bit sloppy at times.
With the emphasis on keeping the ball alive the sideline is no longer the safety sanctuary of yesteryear but something that is avoided especially by teams –like Australia- who are not particularly strong in the set piece part of the game.
It will be interesting to see whether Australia will start using the lineout more often once their top locks like Vickerman returns.