Wales versus Australia – halfway there on attack!

Nicholas Bishop Columnist

By , Nicholas Bishop is a Roar Expert

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    Dane Haylett-Petty goes over for a try. (David Davies/PA via AP)

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    In the event, it was not even close. Australia had the game won by half-time. In those first 40 minutes, they played probably their best half of attacking football in 2016 – at least in terms of creating chances through the slickness of their attacking structure.

    The finishing was not always of the same high standard, if it had been the Wallabies could easily have passed the 50-point milestone for the first time in a Test match at Cardiff.

    The Wales side was missing some of its foundation stones in the shape of defensive captain Jonathan Davies, their best attacker Liam Williams, and their three most influential forwards in Sam Warburton, no.8 Taulupe Faletau and lock Alun-Wyn Jones.

    However that should not detract from the outstanding attacking build-up play of the Wallabies in the first half. They full earned their tries and the conclusive final score-line.

    The two most prominent features of Australia’s attack were:
    1. Their accuracy in using the attacking techniques against a press defence I described in my article last week and,
    2. The physical domination in phase play exercised by their three main forward ball-carriers – Adam Coleman, Rory Arnold and Lopeti Timani.

    So let’s take a look at how these two features worked out in practice.

    One of Australia’s best early opportunities from set-piece came from an exact replica of the lineout move that earned them a try against Argentina in the fourth round of the Rugby Championship. In both cases,
    • Adam Coleman wins premium back ball from the lineout, with David Pocock rolling the ball around end with the scrum-half (Will Genia against the Pumas, Nick Phipps versus Wales) outside him.
    • The Wallaby #13 (Samu Kerevi against Argentina, Tevita Kuridrani versus Wales) crashes down on a hard decoy line towards the inside shoulder of the defending 10.
    • The Australian 10 (Quade Cooper against the Pumas, Bernard Foley versus Wales) and blind-side wing (Dane Haylett-Petty in both instances) both run an ‘overs’ line towards the far corner flag, with the wing trailing the outside-half as the inside pass option.

    The two examples illustrate the different philosophies of the Wales and Argentine defences nicely. As soon as the Argentine #12 sees Quade Cooper fading away, he follows him outwards on the drift.

    The Wales #12 Jamie Roberts by contrast, is set up to make a frontal or outside shoulder tackle so he goes the other way – on to the decoy Kuridrani. Perhaps Roberts was influenced by the presence of his open-side flanker Justin Tipuric in the 10 channel with Dan Biggar off the field on a yellow card, but it has to be said the Wales D on this occasion gifted Australia a very easy scoring chance.

    Tevita Kuridrani’s try at 34:25 was a great example of Australia’s ability to out-manoeuvre the Wales defensive press up on the second receiver. As I noted last week, if you can get that defender to ‘bite’ on an inside runner, the space on the edge will be available. Here the Wales #9 Rhys Webb bites on the threat of Folau and Foley makes an accurate long skip pass to release Kuridrani on the outside.

    Australia also made full use of the kick-pass, and backline depth to draw the press even further upfield and create spaces in the Welsh defence.

    There were two excellent early examples of Foley’s use of the kick-pass to unlock the defensive pattern, at 2:03 with Israel Folau as the breaking receiver, and at 7:44 with Haylett-Petty on the end of the kick. In both cases the kicks are beautifully-weighted by the Wallaby #10, and momentum is sustained by offloads in contact after the receiver regathers the ball.

    Both examples also demonstrate good tactical appreciation by Bernard Foley in picking the right moment to make the kick across field. As I pointed out in last week’s article,

    “With the last defender following (Jonathan) Davies in and upfield, it gives the full-back an awful lot of work to do cover the space to the wide open side.”

    As the end-on shot from behind the posts shows at 3:28, Foley clearly identified those situations where the end defender on the line was flying straight upfield and there was only one player in the backfield (Leigh Halfpenny in the first instance) trying to cover the whole width of the field.

    On other occasions, Australia increased the depth of their alignment in order to give the second receiver more time to beat the rush, at 8:03 (with quick hands by Foley); at 14:52, with a nice decoy run by Sekope Kepu giving Reece Hodge more time and space to work the ball wide; and at 25:49, with Foley’s deeper alignment pulling the Wales D upfield and creating a gap on the inside between #4 Bradley Davies and #3 Samson Lee for Hodge to make the break.

    In all these examples, Bernard Foley’s excellent positioning and execution is quite clear. A special mention (after last week’s article) should also go to Nick Phipps, whose passing showed signs of improvement from Bledisloe III. There were some good deliveries off his left hand at 2:02, 14:45, 14:51 and 25:36 in these sequences.

    The bedrock of Australia’s first half performance however, was set further forward than either 9 or 10, in the ball-carrying work of Adam Coleman, Rory Arnold and Lopeti Timani. Last week I said:

    Australia will want to keep ball and establish their big men on the advantage line, their Adam Colemans and Rory Arnolds and Lopeti Timanis. Wales will do everything in their power to deny them with the most aggressive press defence in the Northern Hemisphere.

    In the event, Wales’ inside defence was unexpectedly passive, and the Wallabies three big men looked extremely good!
    There are a couple of ways to measure the ball-carrying contributions of your big men –

    1. Whether they fall forward in the collision for extra yardage, or are stopped dead or knocked backwards, and
    2. The speed of their ball presentations at the ruck.

    In both respects Coleman, Arnold and Timani were outstanding in the first period:

     

    Ball-carrier # carries Quick 1-2’ delivery Collision wins Negative outcomes
    Arnold 7 5 4 1
    (turnover)
    Coleman 9 7 6 3 (slow or stopped)
    Timani 6 5 4 3 (turnover or stopped)

    With success rates of anywhere between 75-90% in heavy contact, all three players were dominant forces on the advantage line.

    One of the forward pods in Australia’s attacking set-up typically includes both locks and a back-rower (see 7:40, 7:59 and 25:44 in the second reel) and it is a big advantage to have three such physically-imposing units in the same group. They can spread the work-load around (as the above stats indicate) and feed off each other’s momentum.

    Going back to the first reel of clips, it is the strength of first Coleman, then Timani close-in which generates two very quick ruck deliveries and sets up Foley for his attack on the Wales short-side defence at 34:19.

    It is the long attacking sequence from 36:40-37:27 (end of the first reel) which best encapsulates the power of the Wallaby numbers 4, 5 and 8 on the carry.

    Starting at their own 40m line, the Wallabies move 30 metres upfield in seven effortless phases and 50 seconds. Five of those phases are carries by Arnold (twice), Coleman (twice) and Timani (once) – the others are one carry by Stephen Moore and a back-line move out to the right.

    All five carries are collision wins which generate sub-two-second ball from the breakdown. As we know from previous articles examining Stephen Larkham’s basic attack pattern, for the shape to work it is necessary for forwards to dominate contact with their opposite numbers because mismatches are not produced in significant numbers.

    With Arnold, Coleman and Timani playing in the same back-five (and often in the same pod) you can look forward to that kind of domination and your halves can play care-free!

    Summary
    Wales lacked leadership and were unexpectedly soft on Saturday, but nonetheless the Wallabies were excellent with ball in hand in the first half.

    Progressively stiffer tests await in the form of Scotland, France, giant-killing Ireland and the Wallabies’ bête noir from the summer, England. Ireland and England at the end especially, will give a much more accurate feel for how far Australia have come. They will test the Coleman-led lineout and contest the collisions far more strongly than Wales were able to do in Cardiff.

    In the mean-time, we can expect Will Genia to be restored at #9 for the Scotland game, and that will probably be the only change to the run-on side which beat Wales.

    Nicholas Bishop
    Nicholas Bishop

    Nick Bishop has worked as a rugby analyst and advisor to Graham Henry (1999-2003), Mike Ruddock (2004-2005) and most recently Stuart Lancaster (2011-2015). He also worked on the 2001 British & Irish Lions tour to Australia and produced his first rugby book with Graham Henry at the end of the tour. Three more rugby books have followed, all of which of have either been nominated for or won national sports book awards. Nick’s latest is a biography of Phil Larder, the first top Rugby League coach to successfully transfer over to Union, entitled “The Iron Curtain”.

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