Battle of the breakdown boys: A new benchmark set?

Highlander Roar Rookie

By Highlander, Highlander is a Roar Rookie

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    As we all know, rugby royalty lives in the back row and the June Tests are set up for a look at the best in the game under the new laws and with a variety of challenging situations for most sides.

    I write this without the knowledge of all the selections for this weekend’s game’s but the big issues are likely to remain.

    For we antipodeans, a first up-close look at new Irish wunderkind Dan Leavy is in the offing, Brad Shields parachutes in to try to stop an English loose forward trio in freefall, Siya Kolisi begins his welcomed captaincy reign, the French are without impressive Yacouba Camara, New Zealand remain Read-less and Australia will attempt to get Pooper to make six plus seven to add up to fourteen and not twelve.

    The application of the breakdown laws have, to date, provided something of a barbell picture in their application, on occasion up north we have seen the contest at the breakdown all but disappear, while in the southern hemisphere the application of the new law as written seems to have bypassed most of the officials completely.

    Expect to see World Rugby use these June Tests as the platform for the real launch of how they want this new law officiated. I heard a recent interview with Nigel Owens where he stated that at the latest international referee get-together in Australia, they were discussing what now constitutes a ruck.

    And so the conjecture about the skill-set of the modern openside will have some light shined upon it. Will the seven be a hybrid 6.5, can a smaller faster player make the bigger impact, is the legs tackle back, or will the blend of the back-row three be the magic outcome?

    For me, one of the most complete openside performances in recent years slipped quietly into the history books almost unanalysed as the end-of-year-tour matches petered out to a somewhat tired close, but Sam Cane’s outing for the All Blacks against Wales last year is well worth a review.

    In a match where New Zealand were restricted to 36 per cent possession and 33 per cent territory, Cane produced a performance of high impact across many of the key skill areas.

    25 tackles for two misses, six passes, seven runs for 18 metres sounds a decent return for any loosie but it is the impact of his involvements that is most impressive. Worth noting is the number of times Cane gets multiple involvements in the same phase.

    1. Openside flankers need to be tackling opposition backs
    For so many reasons this is a core skill of the modern seven. Getting off the openside from rucks and set piece and knocking over the quicker opposition players not only protects your own inside back tacklers but also stops attacks before they get started. Lateral foot speed is a key attribute.

    2. Tackling at the gain-line
    Lose the gain-line, lose the match – not an absolute but a pretty good rule.

    Ball runners need to be knocked over on the spot, as this allows your own side to constantly move forward into contact and not retreat to reload through the gate.

    3. The turnover tackle
    Being able to hit hard enough to jolt the ball free or put pressure on so the runner the ball goes loose is a bonus in a world where possession is increasingly hard to get back.

    4. Impact at rucks
    There is no greater waste of energy than arriving at the ruck just in time to lean on the back before following the ball and repeating the same thing at the next ruck. Loosies need to pick their moments and when they arrive at a ruck, opposition bodies need to be moved.

    5. Quality hands
    Almost a given now, but being to execute handling skills under pressure and seamlessly move the ball is a prerequisite for the modern openside. A lack of possession in this game restricted Cane’s involvement somewhat but what he did was well executed, as his passes from halfback demonstrate.

    His best involvement in this game was as a link in a right-side attack in the second half but for some reason, I cannot cut this from the footage – my apologies.

    The modern seven must be an offensive threat.

    If anyone can explain to me how Reiko Ioane walked off with the man of the match award in this game after watching these outtakes, it would be appreciated.

    The coming June series will provide us all with a good look at a real selection of world-class loosies and opensides over the coming months, and I hope these criteria included here provide some basis for assessment.

    Bring the Tests on!

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    The Crowd Says (48)

    • Roar Guru

      June 8th 2018 @ 9:41am
      Wal said | June 8th 2018 @ 9:41am | ! Report

      Great article Highlander,

      Cane has taken his game to another level over the last 12-18 months, brutal but very clever. Some of the lines he runs in defence have been learnt from years as Richie’s back up. That amazing instinct to know where the play is going and get there with not only the least amount of fuss but also the time to make a positive impact.

      • June 8th 2018 @ 10:45am
        Highlander said | June 8th 2018 @ 10:45am | ! Report

        When I look at loose forwards contributions I count the number of material impacts – in this game the counting stopped when he passed 40. He has a huge engine on him, the other thing to note in the clips is not only how hard he hits but the number of times he reloads an and has multiple involvements in a phase.

        Lets hope he can keep it up for the full international season, will be big plus.

    • June 8th 2018 @ 10:20am
      Ed said | June 8th 2018 @ 10:20am | ! Report

      Thanks for this Highlander.

      Your highlights package reinforces why Cane is ahead of Ardie with Hansen and co. I thought Sam played pretty well in the Lions series too.

      “If anyone can explain to me how Reiko Ioane walked off with the man of the match award in this game after watching these outtakes, it would be appreciated.”
      I can understand your frustration re this. If you look at the voting for the John Eales medal last year, the top 10 selected by their peers were backs and backrowers. No tight five forward was in it. I don’t know how TPN was not among the top 10. He was one of our more consistent players last year.

      • Roar Guru

        June 8th 2018 @ 10:26am
        Wal said | June 8th 2018 @ 10:26am | ! Report

        I think with the case of Cane, Pocock, you only get a true sense of what they do if you watch them exclusively.
        Guys like Folau, Ioane look impressive for 3-4 plays per match.
        For cane to make 25 tackles say volumes about how much ground he is covering to be in the right place to make 25 tackles. As highlanders videos show not all were in the tight channels many were out past the 2nd 5 when the ball is turned back in. Any lesser Openside and those lead to line breaks. Just doesn’t make the highlight reels.

        • June 8th 2018 @ 4:49pm
          MA said | June 8th 2018 @ 4:49pm | ! Report

          The same can be said if you watch Hooper exclusively but the outcome is the polar opposite. If you just watch the game Hooper looks busy because he shows up in one on one situations where he stands out and gets some stats. But watch him exclusively and you realise he doesn’t do very much at all and most of what he does is ineffective. Effectively he has the same work rate as an outside back rather than a genuine open side.

          • June 8th 2018 @ 5:30pm
            Reverse Wheel said | June 8th 2018 @ 5:30pm | ! Report

            Genuine question – if this is so obvious, why do coaches keep picking him?

            • June 8th 2018 @ 9:33pm
              MA said | June 8th 2018 @ 9:33pm | ! Report

              The same coach keeps picking the same core players and we keep loosing. What is the coaches and Hooper’s win loss record? It ain’t good. Perhaps if the coach started picking someone else we would start winning.

      • June 8th 2018 @ 10:46am
        Highlander said | June 8th 2018 @ 10:46am | ! Report

        Ed, While Ardie has an excellent skill set and is improving his tight defence, the gap between the two at international level has never really been in question.
        For those in the Akira Ioane camp this set of videos should be mandatory viewing to see what work rate really looks like.

        Wal, good spot on the inside out covering tackle he made, never clocks off and these are the small things that make a huge difference

    • Roar Guru

      June 8th 2018 @ 10:47am
      Hoy said | June 8th 2018 @ 10:47am | ! Report

      I just don’t see the breakdown laws really affecting GOOD breakaways.

      It’s been gone over before… the better opportunities are made by the second defensive player to arrive. Most time it would be rare for someone to tackle, rise and jackal straight away anyway. So now, they have to just go back through the gate… again, the second person there will be the one to do most of the on-ball stuff.

      For people to think Pocock won’t be any good at this aspect now, they are kidding.

      • June 8th 2018 @ 10:57am
        Highlander said | June 8th 2018 @ 10:57am | ! Report

        While I agree with you that the good jacklers will still be valuable, your own description is not how the law is written as I understand.

        If there is a ball carrier, tackler and one other from the attacking side the ruck is already formed- 3 guys make the ruck. The second defensive player to arrive cannot use their hands. This just hasn’t been refereed in Super Rugby this year.

        Watch how the Irish will a use a ball carrier with a support player already attached, as soon as a tackle is made defenders cant go for the turnover as ‘second man in’ – how many times have you heard this called by Super Rugby refs as justification at the breakdown.

        I am expecting to see a wave of penalties against that arriving defender in this series – OR they will need to change the law.

        • Roar Guru

          June 8th 2018 @ 11:21am
          jeznez said | June 8th 2018 @ 11:21am | ! Report

          As long as there was one man from the attacking side over the tackle area, you could never go for the ball, once you had a player from each team the ruck formed and hands were no longer allowed. You had to be in before an opponent.

          That hasn’t changed from the perspective of the defensive team having a man on their feet over the ball (be they the tackler regaining their feet or their next man arriving).

          Yes the timing of a ruck starting changes, and the tackler cannot just stand up. But I think the way Cheika looks to use the Pooper working off each other, one to tackle the other to have a crack at the ball the major issue you call out will be the Irish support player already attached – that would have been an issue under the old laws just as much as it is under this new one.

          The major impact of the law change is that an offside line is set for the defence as soon as the tackled player has a support player over them. That is the key that having the ruck commence without a player from the defensive team over the ball brings.

          • June 8th 2018 @ 11:25am
            Highlander said | June 8th 2018 @ 11:25am | ! Report

            Thanks Jez

            Think we are kind of saying the same thing.
            Lets hope the contest remains.

            • Roar Guru

              June 8th 2018 @ 11:56am
              jeznez said | June 8th 2018 @ 11:56am | ! Report

              I think we are in the same head space but saying slightly different things.

              I’m saying the second man on his feet has had no rights to the pill since they removed hands from the ruck (apart from the special case for a tackler returning to their feet).

              You said the referees haven’t been reffing that second man in Super Rugby but I haven’t noticed that and it should have been an issue under both the new and old laws.

              The biggest impact of the law change is the timing of the creation of the offside line, previously by not committing a defender on their feet it was a tackle with no offside line and we had defenders able to advance as far up the field as they wanted.

              Now once an attacker is on their feet at the tackle it becomes a ruck and defenders are held to the last feet.

              The biggest impact to an arriving defender contesting the ball with their hands is to be there before the attack can get someone over the ball – this is a tactical battle which you point out the Irish control by pre-attaching the support player.

              Is going to mean that turn overs will be more likely won by counter rucking players off the pill, rather than winning a race to the tackle area.

              Might be a key reason why for the Wallabies Simmons is on the bench – he isn’t the strongest cleaner and Rodda is better at shifting bodies.

              • June 8th 2018 @ 12:09pm
                Highlander said | June 8th 2018 @ 12:09pm | ! Report

                Thanks again Jez
                All clear – and good to have current coach’s clarifying
                ( might be worth editing a few if they come up in the June series – thanks for the thought)

                The second man in has been confusing this year, for me at least – thought it was an absolute no-no but have seen it on repeated occasions.
                The isolated runner has of course continued to be picked off and that doesn’t change.

              • June 8th 2018 @ 12:42pm
                Highlander said | June 8th 2018 @ 12:42pm | ! Report

                The Irish are easily the best side in the world at keeping the ball
                Posted elsewhere but will list it again, this is the number of tackles they made they opposition make in the 6N
                – France 253
                – Scotand 230
                – Wales 225
                – England 150

                Thats a lot!!
                Defensive applicaiton to makig gainline tackles and not conceding penalties in the face of this will likely be the Wallabies biggest issue on Saturday.

                Very different say than playing in the RC
                Three games vs Nz last year the Wallaby tackle counts were, 98, 140 and 90.

              • Roar Guru

                June 8th 2018 @ 1:03pm
                jeznez said | June 8th 2018 @ 1:03pm | ! Report

                Yeah – their ability to hold the pill is unmatched. Makes me very worried about some of our less than stellar defenders. A few too many blokes with question marks over them.

                Think we just have to back them in their channels but suspect Grey will ring the changes as has been his norm.

                The other big challenge for us is our questionable lineout throwing. Ireland should expect to win the kicking battle and would back themselves to turn over a few of our lineouts with pressure on the throw.

              • Roar Guru

                June 8th 2018 @ 1:08pm
                PeterK said | June 8th 2018 @ 1:08pm | ! Report

                I believe if the attached support player also leaves their feet when the ball carrier is tackled he is not deemed to be over the ball and so the jackal can steal the ball.

                What Ireland get away with though is the attached support player seals off the ball right away , belly on the tackled player and no penalty ensues.

              • June 8th 2018 @ 2:13pm
                Akari said | June 8th 2018 @ 2:13pm | ! Report

                The Irish belly flopping that BB was talking about last week, PK.

              • June 9th 2018 @ 4:12am
                Cuw said | June 9th 2018 @ 4:12am | ! Report

                @ Highlander / jeznez

                been watching the under 20s and it seems a free for all as far as this ruck LAW interpretation.

                seems each ref has his method!

                am curios of a certain play and maybe u guys can explain.

                when a tackler trys to keep a runner upright – in the hope of making it a maul , sometimes the runner manages to get a knee on the ground and make it a tackle.

                now my question is already there are more than 3 guys in that play ( coz they were trying to create a maul ).

                then what happens when it is a tackle? is it immediately a ruck as well?

              • Roar Guru

                June 9th 2018 @ 12:46pm
                jeznez said | June 9th 2018 @ 12:46pm | ! Report

                All depends on the ref, he calls maul when he is comfortable it isn’t going to deck.

                If the carrier gets a knee down before then it is a tackle and he must be released.

                If he gets a knee down after the call then it is a maul and he can continue to be held on the ground. Scrum to the defence

              • June 9th 2018 @ 1:28pm
                Fionn said | June 9th 2018 @ 1:28pm | ! Report

                But Jez, what you’ve got to remember that part of the reason that Ireland are able to hold the ball for so long is because they aren’t hugely enterprising with it. They won’t try very complex attacking moves as often as New Zealand or even Scotland, and so perhaps our defenders who sometimes struggle with decision-making like Kerevi and Koroibete will be alright. Haylett-Petty concerns me more because while he often makes good decisions he falls off quite a high percentage of tackles.

        • Roar Guru

          June 8th 2018 @ 1:35pm
          Hoy said | June 8th 2018 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

          Thanks everyone… all food for thought.

          I will say under the old laws, in theory, the player over the ball should have had to release once the third player arrived… they never did in practicality…

          and so that is how I see the current laws being enacted… otherwise, the tackle is made, both players on the ground, 2nd defensive person goes in and does what? Can’t touch the ball theoretically… so has to stand there and wait for another attacking player to arrive? I mean that isn’t practical, so they will surely be allowed to go for the ball if they are there first?

          Will be interesting otherwise, and the new laws make massive changes to how rucks are handled…

        • Columnist

          June 8th 2018 @ 5:50pm
          Nicholas Bishop said | June 8th 2018 @ 5:50pm | ! Report

          Very good article H’lander – thanks!

          The fact that the tackler can no longer influence play is a big factor – either by going for the ball directly from what is now an offside position (but permitted under the old law), or simply by getting up off the ground, and getting in the way of the cleanout.

          The question after that becomes, “When does the referee call a ruck formed?” and this Q currently has as many diff answers as there are refs!

          One specific problem is whether a ruck has been formed when the first cleanout player arrives and takes an opponent to ground. Some refs consider a ruck to have been formed even with the ball unprotected on the ground, others don’t without a man standing over the ball.

          It’s why coaches teach their players to ‘play the ref’ 😀

          • June 8th 2018 @ 5:58pm
            Highlander said | June 8th 2018 @ 5:58pm | ! Report

            Thanks Nick
            Are you hearing anything on greater clarity for international referees on the ‘ruck’.

            I have a horrible feeling it’s about to become front and centre of the June series

            • Columnist

              June 8th 2018 @ 7:21pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | June 8th 2018 @ 7:21pm | ! Report

              Not much idea I’m afraid H’lander – I guess we’ll find out more tomorrow!

              • June 9th 2018 @ 4:06am
                Cuw said | June 9th 2018 @ 4:06am | ! Report

                in the NZ v Aus under 20 match , there was several such cases.

                including the sending off NZ captain (the 7)

                i think even playing the ref is a little difficult , when they are not sure what exactly is a ruck and when exactly can they go for ball.

                hence u see most defences just standing back and tackling and hoping for an error.

              • Roar Guru

                June 9th 2018 @ 12:51pm
                jeznez said | June 9th 2018 @ 12:51pm | ! Report

                When I played 7 I always tested the ref early. Would really push the boundaries on how far from the ball I could ruck a player and how far from the side I could enter the breakdown.

                Refs are unlikely to card that type of play early (obviously rucking isn’t in the game anymore).

                But I would test the limits until he stopped penalising me, could usually find the line within one or two blows of the whistle.

                Created some early momentum against my teams but while we were fresh and done in the middle of the pitch it rarely cost us and once I had the limit I usually had an edge over the opposition and control of the ruck.

              • June 9th 2018 @ 1:29pm
                Fionn said | June 9th 2018 @ 1:29pm | ! Report

                I’ve got to say that I really don’t like the new ruck laws.

                The game is slowly being turned into a version of rugby league with unlimited tackles.

              • June 9th 2018 @ 3:37pm
                Highlander said | June 9th 2018 @ 3:37pm | ! Report

                Think I agree with you Fionn, if I knew what the law was intended for, I like NBs comment, its almost different by referee, and we can’t have that in the game.

    • Roar Guru

      June 8th 2018 @ 10:48am
      Ralph said | June 8th 2018 @ 10:48am | ! Report

      “.. they were discussing what now constitutes a ruck.”

      God help us all.

      Such a key aspect in a game that is a competition for the ball — and yet in huge flux one year out from a World Cup. How is any coach supposed to plan?

      • June 8th 2018 @ 10:58am
        Highlander said | June 8th 2018 @ 10:58am | ! Report

        Totally agree Ralph – our entire game is build on a constant contest for the ball and it should remain so.

        We will know before half time in the first international.

    • June 8th 2018 @ 11:50am
      Dave_S said | June 8th 2018 @ 11:50am | ! Report

      Nice work, Highlander.

      Good point about effective use of effort.

      I recall a great George Smith eg from some years ago. He arrived at the tackle and was about to jackal when he saw an opponent set to clear him out.

      Instead he took a step to the side, allowed the cleaner to sail ineffectually over the top of the ruck and duly hopped back in to win the ball, with a big grin showing on the ref’s face.

      Both ruthless efficiency and comedic brilliance!

      • June 8th 2018 @ 12:12pm
        Highlander said | June 8th 2018 @ 12:12pm | ! Report

        Thanks DaveS
        That ability to keep the fluid game picture in your head and act on it is what has always separated the greats like Smith from simply good players.

    • June 8th 2018 @ 2:25pm
      Akari said | June 8th 2018 @ 2:25pm | ! Report

      Thanks for this informative article, Highlander. TBH, I have found the application of the breakdown laws have, to date, been confusing and at times frustrating. Your article and posts from Roarers have clarified a lot of areas for me and that can only be great for watching the forth coming tests.

      Impressive stuff on Canes’ defensive work also, which I must admit, was taken for granted. Your snippets clearly shows his effectiveness and why he is still a cut above Ardie Savea and Todd. If you could, I’d very much appreciate your looking at either Poey or Hooper in an article before the RC this year.

      May I join you in saying, Bring the Tests on!

      • June 8th 2018 @ 3:05pm
        Highlander said | June 8th 2018 @ 3:05pm | ! Report

        Thanks Akari
        Cutting the game to isolate performance can be quite – its good fun too.

        I will have a look at the effectiveness of both Hooper and Pocock using the Irish tests so we have good up to date comparison data with a single opposition. The caveat here of course will be roles each of them play is asked to play but many is the time I have read ‘ignore the numbers on their backs’ so direct comparison may have some value. Interesting though because I would never evaluate say Read vs Cane in this manner, but maybe in the more melded word of the modern loose forward there is some worth in the exercise.

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