Breaking defences through smart coaching
What special ability do Victor Vito, Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Dan Carter, Aaron Cruden, Richard Kahui and Rene Ranger all possess? An uncanny ability to offload the ball in the tackle.
Defensive systems have become such an integral part of international rugby – and in recent years, teams have been remarkable in how well they can defend, whether in the middle of the park, scrambling or holding the line.
Rule changes and stronger defences almost spelled the end of the rolling maul. And even now, a series of rolling mauls are more an anomaly than the rule.
Traditionally, going wide to the wings created the space for penetration, but nowadays floating defences manage to drift across and counter these movements.
So coaches look towards line breakers. But this is more likely to occur towards the end of a game when the oppositions tire.
Peter DeVilliers, the Springbok coach, found a nugget by reaching for the skies and the up and under became fashionable in 2009. But once anticipated this tactic wore thin and the Boks ended their year with several cringe worthy performances and exposed their lack of penetration through ground warfare.
Nevertheless, those that rule the skies win the ground war – so we can expect more of the same for the 2010 internationals.
As a tactic, we need more in the mix – particularly as now the larger slower pack need to retreat rather than stand in midfield while a rushing winger puts them all onside.
So the enforcers will be slower in hitting the catcher of high balls with less turnover ball occurring.
This also leads to more counterattacking – so coaches have looked towards counterattacking players – the likes of Drew Mitchell, Habana and Siviatu are well suited for this.
Yet, when counterattacks occur, everyone is aware where the ball is.
A number of years ago, the All Blacks demonstrated an ill-conceived and bizarre set piece when they packed together, tapped and ran the ball –after hiding the ball so the opposition had no idea where the ball was (or did I dream that? I seem to recall that it was under the Taine Randell era).
When a player offloads a ball in the tackle, not only are they typically right on the advantage line, but there is a moment of time when the ball is momentarily in “another place”.
Opposition players are either looking on the ground for a non-existent ball to scavenge, throwing themselves on top of the tackled player to stop the now gone ball from being feed backwards, or looking at the wrong player thinking that they may have the ball.
Or support players expecting an offload in the tackle are there amidst the advantage line, ready to take the ball behind the opposition’s defensive positions.
In many respects, the offload in the tackle is the most unpredictable of plays – and it outperforms the up and under because the attacking team still retains the ball.
The pop pass from the ground, while effective, is a poor man’s version of the tackle offload, yet even this brings good gains in territory.
Is it a coincidence that the All Blacks are gathering and nurturing a core of players that excel at this penetration tactic? And is this why we see the grand overtures towards Sonny Bill Williams?
How do you defend against multiple players executing offloads in the tackle with running support expecting this to occur? And finally, is this the masterplan Henry and Co are deviously plotting behind closed doors?
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