It is often said that defence wins big games. The fact of the matter is that a whole combination of factors wins big games, but defence is certainly a crucial component.
Wallabies Michael Cheika’s foolishness in making six changes for the Bledisloe Cup in Auckland, after his side’s magnificent defeat of the All Blacks in Sydney, is self-evident. However it is irrelevant in terms of another deficiency exposed at Eden Park – defence.
Now I realise that locks do a lot of pushing in the scrum and jumping in the lineout, but there really is no excuse for failing to make tackles at international level.
After all, this is what results in tries is it not?
The belief that it is somehow acceptable for locks not to be able to make front-on, first-up tackles on any member of the opposition, and backs in particular, due to the fact that there may be a disparity in speed or sidestepping capability simply doesn’t wash.
If we look back to the recent Bledisloe Cup Test at Eden Park in Auckland, there were two gaping errors made resulting in tries that should never have occurred.
Both involved Wallaby locks.
After 21 minutes and with the scores locked at 3-3, with New Zealand in possession and a ruck in progress, New Zealand flyhalf Dan Carter was opposing Wallaby lock James Horwill. Horwill was positioned defensively on Carter’s outside shoulder with his shoulders turned towards the ruck, rather than square.
The area close to the ruck in today’s terms is defended in a ‘Pillar, Post, Key’ format where the pillar is the first man either side of the ruck. The post is the second man either side and the key is the third man on the open side. The Pillar takes anyone driving off the ruck, and the Post takes the No 9 if he runs. The key defends the opposition No 10 i.e. the Key player or first receiver in the backline.
Stephen Moore and Michael Hooper were in the Pillar and Post position leaving Horwill in the key position to face Carter. While certainly not ideal, the tackle should have been made.
The fact that Carter was able to receive the ball and then sidestep Horwill on the latter’s outside shoulder to send Dane Coles away on a scorching run to the line revealed a significant deficiency in defence.
Much has been made of Horwill’s omission in the 2015 Rugby World Cup squad and while I genuinely feel sorry for him – as other aspects of his game were improving – this aspect of his game would not have helped his cause.
This try gave the All Blacks the spring in their step they needed after their defeat in Sydney and erased any doubt that might have been starting to enter into the minds of one or more of their players.
Having said that, Dean Mumm‘s effort in the second half wasn’t any better.
In the 47th minute, with the score at 13-6 to New Zealand, All Black winger Milner-Scudder stepped inside Mumm in midfield to launch the attack and find Aaron Smith. This saw Quade Cooper sin-binned and the All Blacks were awarded a penalty try, taking the score to 20-6.
While poor old Cooper bore the brunt of the public and media backlash to his sinbinning, during which the All Blacks scored two more times, the reality is that the damage was already done.
It seems that some of the Wallabies have forgotten that it is best to stay on the inside shoulder of their attacking opponent.
It is this defensive area just wide of the ruck where the Wallabies need to improve significantly if we are to leave the UK with the silverware.