Bledisloe failure a lesson in detail
James Horwill of the Wallabies tries to escape a tackle from Conrad Smith of the All Blacks. Photo: Paul Barkley/LookPro
I wrote an article last week on five KPIs that needed to be met for a Wallaby victory.
They concerned technical aspects of the game that betrayed preparation, focus, and repetition, and had nothing to do with raw talent or X Factor.
They had a lot to do with selections, tactics and coaching.
My premise was that Test matches typically aren’t won by teams that run the ball the most, and that running the ball does not have to equate to attacking rugby.
Illustrating this point once again, the All Blacks scored six tries on Saturday night, but kicked 29 times, to Australia’s 20.
However, 13 of the Kiwi kicks were contestable (mostly mid-field bombs), while the majority of ours were intended to be touch finders/distance gainers.
We simply did not use attacking kicks (exception was Toomua’s cross field attempt to Folau which was inaccurate and not contested), however touch finders were still a positive tactic because our lineout was working so well.
Ewen chose to employ a predominantly running/passing game, and starve the All Blacks of possession.
To this end, the Wallabies ran 121 times to NZ’s 82; made 180 passes to 76; and ran for 512m to the All Black’s 362m. We also had 60% of the possession, and 56% of the territory.
This is a team that had an attacking mindset, and beating 20 defenders (ABs beat 15 defenders) while scoring 29 points against the All Blacks probably backs that up.
In Super Rugby this year, the teams who ran/passed the most were middle to bottom rung performers (think Highlanders and Waratahs), while the top teams were more weighted to kicking (Bulls, Brumbies, Crusaders).
The Crusaders started the season as a passing team, and had poor results. They switched tactics to become a kicking team and turned their season around. No one would say they are not an attacking team, though.
Ewan’s Reds were a passing team who used some kicking, and scored far fewer tries than in previous years with this mix. That is largely what we saw from the Wallabies on the weekend, while the All Blacks game plan looked a lot like the Crusaders shape.
Anyway, back to Saturday’s game. In defence, we let in six tries.
Surprisingly, we only missed 15 tackles to NZs 20, and had a tackle completion rate of 84% to their 86%. We forced them to make 121 tackles to our 78. This does not do justice to the final score.
So, how did we lose? Simply, we were destroyed in the details.
Repeating the assertion from last week, winning sides who play attacking rugby first work hard at the details of the game to create the conditions to attack, and then recognise when the opportunities to attack present themselves and bravely take them.
That’s when individual talent and flair become the icing on the cake.
This, in a nutshell, is what the All Blacks did.
With that in mind, here is how the Wallabies measured up to the KPIs that were set for them.
1. Catch 100% of our kick-off receptions, and aim to win 50% of our kick-off chases
This was not met. It did not cost us any points, or lead to any points for us.
We won 70% of receptions, and 33% of chases. There were a whopping 19 kick-offs/22m drop outs in that game, so this is a huge source of primary possession.
While we did not meet this KPI, this was a good result as compared to our recent past, and indicates that we broke even with the All Blacks on this one. Tentative thumbs up to the coaching staff.
2. We must win 100% of our line out throws, and we must have 50% of those throws being cleanly won from the back of the lineout (obviously dependent on what part of the field the lineout is set)
This was met and netted us 17 of our points.
We won 100% of our throws, and 56% of those were from the back. We kicked one penalty goal as a direct result of the possession gained.
In addition, we won/badly disrupted 42% of All Black ball, and scored two tries as a result.
This was just about our only weapon, as you would hope it would be when you choose four jumpers in your pack.
The ball from the back of the lineout was our most reliable source of front ball, and it got us over the advantage line on each occasion.
Only poor execution in possession stopped us scoring more tries as a result of lineout wins at 14:41 and 67:31. Overall, another win for the coaches.
3. We must cleanly catch every kick in general play put up by the All Blacks
This was not met and cost us three points.
We caught or regained possession on 85% of kicks. Failure to catch all kicks ultimately only resulted in one successful penalty goal to NZ. After the shockers we produced in this aspect of play over the last few years, this was a failed KPI but a massive step forward.
4. Have an effective strategy for exiting our defensive 22m that the players all understand and can execute consistently
This was not met and cost us 28 points.
We managed to successfully exit our 22m zone 50% of the time that we were in possession there, and conceded four tries as direct results of failing to clear the 22m. Tries conceded were as follows:
28:14 Cruden charges down clearing kick from Lealiifano
30:34 Mogg’s kick doesn’t find touch, ABs get possession 40m out, and eight phases later McCaw scores in corner.
55:50 our scrum feed, ball not hooked and rolls through tunnel, picked up by New Zealand #6, two phases later Ben Smith scores in corner.
71.09 we attempt to pass it wide in our 22m, Kuridrani tackled, can’t control his ball presentation, Ben Smith swoops on the rolling ball and races 22m to score in corner.
5. Kick our penalties and conversions at better than 80% success rate
This was met. We kicked at 88%, CL kicked 100%, for 19 points. What a pleasure to have a reliable goal kicker again.
To beat the All Blacks, though, near enough is not good enough.
On the positive side, we controlled overall possession and territory, missed a similar proportion of tackles, nailed the lineouts, kicked our goals, broke even in the scrum, improved our kick offs and mainly defused the aerial threats.
Australia’s Achilles heal was our inefficiency in getting out of the danger zone, and poor support play/option taking, which squandered line breaks that should have led to more points.
We did not scramble well in defence, and this largely reflects that many of the tries were from turnover ball where we were still in attacking shapes and were slow to respond.
The overall impression I have after analysing the game is as follows:
1. The poor support play and scrambling defence are symptoms of the Wallabies not knowing or trusting one another, or the systems, yet. I hope this improves with time.
2. The poor exits from our 22m are a coaching/tactics/selection issue, and can be addressed by Ewen and co.
3. The All Blacks will not stand by and accept being trounced in the line outs again. They will respond.
4. The scrum could re-emerge as a decisive factor, and I fear not in our favour.
5. The coaches have started to get some of the detail right, but have they chosen the right tactics? Should we employ more tactical kicking? Or should we narrow the attacking channels and focus on offloads and support in depth rather than swinging it from side to side?
Both sides will improve, but I am hoping that the Wallabies make the bigger strides this week.
They will make changes, but despite the wonderful crisp passing and more threatening attacking shape we saw when Cooper came on, I hope they stick with Toomua and allow his attack to develop.
He just seems worth pursuing to me.
I also think Fardy needs to be in there from the kickoff to add grunt to the breakdown battle.