Wallabies, All Blacks, and the use of the boot
New Zealand All Blacks fly-half Daniel Carter, right, blocks a kick from his counterpart Australia's Berrick Barnes during their Bledisloe Cup rugby match(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
The conclusion on The Rugby Championship provided a welcome window for some contemplation. With the prizes handed out time could be given to assessing where the teams stand, and how they were playing.
Statistics provided by ruckingoodstats.com also offered the chance to see if perceptions were married with reality. We all watch the games emotionally, and objectivity can be a casualty.
The echo-chamber elements of the internet can further impede balance.
One the storylines of the Wallabies’ year so far has been supporters’ angst at ‘too much kicking’. Overlay that with a wayward five-eighth’s claims that their style is ‘boring’ and you could be excused for thinking that the side has been piloted by Rob Andrew for the past six months.
With that in mind, weigh up the following statistic: New Zealand kick the ball more frequently than Australia.
The All Blacks are putting boot to ball every 40 seconds, compared to the Wallabies’ 44 seconds.
In fact, of The Rugby Championship and Six Nations teams combined in 2012, the Wallabies are the second-least likely team to kick away possession. In addition, the Wallabies are more likely than any other side to use the running option from five-eighth.
But what has been missing from the Wallabies, in The Rugby Championship at least, has been the accuracy. The “dribbly” kicks identified by Robbie Deans during the Argentina Test at the Gold Coast is a case in point. There is nothing wrong in putting boot to ball from those positions, but the type of kick, and the execution, left a lot to be desired.
By contrast, during the first half of Los Pumas against New Zealand, there were three kicks by Dan Carter that would initially have had Wallabies fans turning to profanities, yet two of them produced wonderful outcomes. They were – and Michael Foley might feel a little vindicated here – contestable kicks.
One was a chip kick that turned the defence but was regathered by Argentina. But the other two were midfield bombs that were brilliantly regathered by Cory Jane and Kieran Read. The reason that sides do them is that, if recollected, they are a nightmare for defences: most of the pack is running towards their own try line when the attacker gathers the ball.
Such tactics require class – is there a more complete aerial forward in the world than Read? – and this is where the Wallabies have been found wanting. It is a familiar lament, of course, but it is still holds true. The general skill levels between the two sides has been significant, again, in 2012. It has been an Achilles for the past five years, at least.
The directors of the All Blacks’ play – Carter, Israel Dagg and Aaron Smith – all have kicking games that have been superior to their opposites. Smith, in particular, has been a surprise. His passing was known to be excellent but his box kicking, and low, raking kicks from scrum moves, have been excellent.
The Wallabies have been harder to get a handle on.
They actually kicked well in the series against Wales, when Berrick Barnes and Will Genia outplayed Rhys Priestland and Mike Phillips in this area, but things went backwards quickly in the Bledisloe Tests.
Barnes, and then Quade Cooper, had poor games against the All Blacks, and it wasn’t until Kurtley Beale took charge against Argentina in Rosario that things turned around. His tactical kicking was superior to Juan Martin Hernandez – a handy achievement – from restarts and general play. Finally, there was some distance in the clearances.
Plainly, the Wallabies have not set the world on fire in 2012. A lack of physicality and creativity at the gain line has stifled their attacking play.
But when it comes the boot, it is not the frequency of its use that is hurting them, it is the quality.
Paul Cully is a freelance journalist who was born in New Zealand, raised in Northern Ireland, but spent most of his working life in Australia. He is a former Sun-Herald sports editor, rugby tragic, and current Roar and RugbyHeaven contributor.
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