All Blacks attack 2.0: How New Zealand are priming themselves for 2019

Tipsy McStagger Roar Rookie

By Tipsy McStagger, Tipsy McStagger is a Roar Rookie

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    Prior to the incoming June Test series against the French, Steven Hansen spoke of the All Blacks tweaking their attack to deal with the rush defences that are in vogue at the moment, especially with the Northern Hemisphere teams.

    Ironically, it was New Zealand who really lead the way with this defensive system on the international stage. The rest of the world has now caught up, with the Lions paving the way for it last year as a template with which to restrict the All Blacks.

    That Lions series really was the international catalyst for the rush defence – and the Northern Hemisphere especially took note.

    It is no secret that next year’s world cup will be the best defensive cup on record. All the top tier teams will be employing the rush defence in a bid to cut down time, keep play on the inside and cut off the opportunity for the ball to go out wide.

    This is really why Steven Hansen was mentioning the tweak to the All Blacks attack prior to the French series – the All Blacks have to tweak how they attack in order to negate this defensive system at next year’s World Cup. While the rest of the world has now caught up defensively, the All Blacks will be experimenting this year to be one step ahead at next year’s World Cup.

    The French use the rush defence and were the best defensive team in this year’s Six Nations – that is why this was the best possible series for the All Blacks in which to experiment with their attack.

    The Argentines
    Before I jump into the article, I want to mention the Argentinians. In 2016 the Argentines gave the All Blacks’ new-found rush defensive system some real headaches.

    The basis of the All Blacks’ rush defence system was that they didn’t really commit players to the breakdown – they needed players to fan out into the defensive line in order to make the rush defence work. They would only commit one or two players at the most. One player would always keep his sticky and well-educated fingers on the ball for that extra second in order to slow down the ball, thus allowing the All Blacks’ defenders that extra second to realign in the defensive line.

    The Argentines came up with a very simple solution to counter this and I was amazed that Australia and South Africa didn’t replicate it ASAP. They just decided to run straight “up the guts” by picking and driving and running off the scrumhalf. It was so obvious – in their bid to get defenders back into the defensive line and for their defence to span the width of the field, the All Blacks left the fringes of the ruck undermanned.

    Beauden Barrett All Blacks New Zealand Rugby Union Test Championship 2016

    Beauden Barrett took home the 2016 World Rugby Player of the Year Award. (AAP Image/SNPA, Ross Setford)

    The Argentines made some big metres through the middle and really gave the All Blacks some headaches in the first halves of those matches. Only their usual ill-discipline, lack of fitness and skills ended up costing them those games – the All Blacks, as expected, ran away with the games in the last 20 minutes or so.

    The All Blacks adopted this exact same tactic against the Lions’ much vaunted rush defence a year later.

    The attack in close
    It is in these close quarters that Steve Hansen and co. have really experimented with their attack against the French.

    The All Blacks use the 1-3-3-1 attacking system to get out of their own half (and even a little bit into enemy territory) and to build their attack. But as soon as identify the moment, usually in the opposition half, they transition to their more adventurous 2-4-2 system.

    Against the French, the two middle pods of the All Balcks’ 1-3-3-1 attacking system were standing much closer together than usual – almost setting up a 1-6-1. The two middle pods were constantly looking to wrap around one another, either way and at speed, in order the punch around the fringes of the ruck.

    There were also a few experimental decoy plays within and between the two pods, designed to create and exploit space around the ruck. This is definitely a step up from the traditional ‘one man hit up (with or without the offload)’ or ‘the latch’ method used by them last year, and the Argentines the year before that.

    The end result of this ‘up the guts’ attack against a rush defensive system is that it forces the defending team to send personnel in close – if they don’t, they give up metres through the middle. Once the defenders are forced to come in, the All Blacks then attack out wide. Pretty simple stuff.

    The timing of this is also perfect because by the time the 1-3-3-1 is set up and the point is reached where the defending team has to send personnel closer to rucks, the All Blacks are usually already into enemy territory and ready to transition to their 2-4-2 to exploit the space left out wide.

    Aaron Smith Ben Smith

    Aaron Smith and Ben Smith of the All Blacks (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

    Looking to the World Cup
    This method of having the two middle three-man pods standing so close together, and interlinking with each other, creates more safety and options in creating/exploiting space around the rucks.

    This safety and variation will be invaluable at next year’s World Cup where pressure games will be won or lost on ball retention while setting up your attack and an ability to break down the rush defence. It is also common sense – tie your new method of breaking down the rush defence in with the structure you are already using to exit your half and set up your attack.

    The All Blacks coaching staff would also have come to realise that keeping on running higher in close quarters in an attempt to get the much-desired offload (as they did the last two years) will increasingly come at a cost against improving physical teams – teams that are powerful at tackling up high and wrapping up the attacking runner. These teams include England, Ireland (their likely quarter-final opponents), the South Africans (whom they are pooled with at the World Cup) and now increasingly the Australians (who they may well face in the final again).

    There wasn’t too much opportunity during the French series for this ‘close middle pods’ play to keep going at length but the All Blacks have started experimenting and I am sure they will do so for the rest of 2018 in a bid to perfect their method for breaking down the rush defence for next year’s World Cup.

    Kicking
    The All Blacks tactical attacking kicking also changed in the series against the French. While Beauden Barret put a few chips, and the odd cross-kick, over the defensive line early on in matches to make the rush defence rethink their speed, the real change was out wider.

    They experimented with putting low and grubber kicks through from around the outside centre channel down and towards the sideline with a good set chase by at least two players (usually the speedier wing and fullback).

    The one weakness of the rush defence is that it leaves space out wide, especially off set pieces. The rush defence needs its defenders to stand closer together so the space between the ruck/set piece and (roughly around) the outside centre is clogged up with defenders, making it very hard to get through. Although, this space out wide is usually fool’s gold and the defending team usually wants the attacking team to try an attack that wide space.

    Trying to attack that wide space requires excellent passing skills under immense pressure and the pass that finds its way out wide is usually lobbed, which gives extra seconds for the designated sweeping defenders to cut down the receiving winger once he gets the ball. Often, the designated sweeping defenders just bundle the receiving winger into touch thereby creating a lineout for the defending team.

    More often than not, the ‘miracle ball’ out wide is a poor one and it either creates a turnover or puts more pressure on the attacking team. Getting a ball to an isolated winger out wide also means that he is farther away from his support, especially when he has two designated sweeping defenders zooming in on him at speed.

    Hansen and co. have identified a way of getting the ball to that outside channel and ultimately pulling off a ‘check mate’ play: (1) execute the above-mentioned low or grubber kick down and toward the touch line with the two set chasing players (2) either let the two chasers contest for and regather the ball or (3) let the defending sweeper player gather the ball and be bundled into touch by the chasers so it becomes an All Black lineout around 30m down the field.

    It becomes a win-win situation and another tool (in addition to a cross field kick for Ioane, Smith or Barrett to contest) to utilise when trying to breakdown the rush defence.

    All Blacks coach Steve Hansen

    All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

    Transition time
    Another area of the All Blacks’ attack which keeps improving is the fluidity with which they alternate between their 1-3-3-1 and their 2-4-2. Their players aren’t scared to move between the pods and they aren’t programmed to stick hard and fast to their 1-3-3-1 or 2-4-2 (as with most international teams).

    The two players standing on the outside of the respective middle three-man pods move out to the wide pods at will to form the 2-4-2 when it is sensed that it’s time to attack. Even when it is realised that it is not on, they just move back inwards to reform the 1-3-3-1 again and keep setting up their attack.

    Even the 2-4-2 gets tweaked, but this is not new. The middle 4-man pod regularly splits into a pod of 3 with the extra player roaming just diagonally behind to provide another option for the passer, or the 3-man pod, to hit.

    Positional movements
    The inside centre is now used to take the place of the openside flanker in the outside pod while the 1-3-3-1 is being set up. The seven (Sam Cane) tracks across the field as the 1-3-3-1 gets set up and provides extra safety, if needed, at each of the breakdowns. This is a departure from previous years where the 12 was expected to do his fair share of breakdown work, especially while the 1-3-3-1 was being set up.

    I guess they realised that you would rather have your breakdown specialist perform this role than the 12. This is also why there has been such an obvious emphasis put on Sam Cane’s playmaking skills recently.

    If an unexpected gap does get identified while the 1-3-3-1 is being set up, and the 12 is stuck in the wide channels, Cane has the skillset to at least get the ball to the where the gap is identified.

    Once the 1-3-3-1 is set up, the inside centre stays out wide but now takes the left winger’s spot instead. The left winger (Rieko Ioane) moves in field to take the inside centre’s spot (the Hurricanes have been doing this all season with Ben Lam and Ngani Laumape).

    This is done to give the most dangerous strike weapon on the park (i.e. Ioane) more opportunity and freedom to get his hands on the ball, or to get the ball passed to him, in unstructured space filled with slower forwards. It also moves him out of the ‘fool’s gold’ wide channel where he will just get closed in and cut down if he gets the ball.

    It also means that you leave the 12 to his traditional role of running the ball into contact in the ‘fool’s gold’ wider channels which very quickly gets cut down in time and space by the designated sweeping defenders (Crotty was doing this ably in the absence of Sonny Bill Williams but Ngani Laumape’s barnstorming try down the sideline late in the first Test is why this switch is made).

    It also protects your most valuable attacking asset (i.e. Ioane) from having to deal with this direct physicality out wide on a regular basis.

    Rieko Ioane New Zealand Rugby Union Championship Bledisloe Cup 2017 tall

    Rieko Ioane of New Zealand (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    These are the little tweaks that end up making the difference in pressure Test matches, especially at World Cups.

    Defence
    While this article is really about the All Blacks attack, there has also been a noticeable change to the All Blacks defence I outlined in a previous article. Not so much in the system they employ but more in the method of its execution. All their tackles between the ruck and about the third/fourth man out are low… very low.

    The first defender’s body shape is very deliberate in going low in this area. While this is probably also done to stop the attacking forwards in their tracks with a traditional low tackle, they are more likely wary of the recent infestation of high tackle (or deemed high tackle) penalties and are trying to cut down on these for the World Cup where penalties will win or lose matches.

    Summary
    Now that the rest of the world has caught up with the rush defence, the All Blacks are already looking at ways to break it down in preparation for next year’s World Cup. They will be using their existing middle three-man pods by standing them much closer together (to almost form a 1-6-1) while safely and creatively attacking around the ruck to suck defenders in.

    They will combine this with their cross kicks and new low kicks toward the sideline in order to slowly break down the rush defence before they then open up and transition into their 2-4-2 attack structure. T

    his, coupled with their well nurtured counter attack and seamless transition between their two attacking patterns will prove a tough nut to crack. We will no doubt see more attacking experiments from Steven Hansen and co. during the 2018 season.

    The old saying goes that defence wins World Cups but I think that at next year’s World Cup, where every team will be looking to employ the same rush defence, it will be All Blacks’ new attack to counter that rush defence that proves to be the difference.

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    The Crowd Says (50)

    • July 10th 2018 @ 5:19am
      Buddyboy said | July 10th 2018 @ 5:19am | ! Report

      One step ahead, very interesting analysis.

    • Roar Guru

      July 10th 2018 @ 7:47am
      Sam Taulelei said | July 10th 2018 @ 7:47am | ! Report

      It will take time for the revised strategies to be embedded in the players.

      The French, particularly in the second test were able to exploit the defensive seams on either side of the breakdown.

      They would attack the same side of the field to create momentum and then quickly switch to the opposite side of the ruck with the halfback attacking the pillar and passing or offloading to a player running into the gap.

      The French are very good at going to ground and popping the ball up to a support player or offloading in contact to maintain continuity. With no breakdown it forces the opposition to make lots of tackles and concede territory at the same time. In Super rugby, the Sharks and Jaguares are closest match to this style of play.

      The All Blacks linespeed was working against them as they were conceding offside penalties, exposing their thin defence around the ruck and inviting greater scrutiny with the height of contact from the second tackler.

      In the third test, the All Blacks sacrificed linespeed with mixed success. They conceded fewer penalties, the point of contact in tackles was much lower but the French offloading game and quick switches of direction at the ruck was still problematic in the first half.

      Once the All Blacks increased their tempo, which became possible when they won and retained more possession the French couldn’t keep up and run with them.

      The All Blacks attacking strategies are designed to provide Barrett and McKenzie with more second touches receiving the ball in motion when they can use their acceleration to exploit the extra space, mismatches or attract defenders to release the strike runners into space.

      There’s some similarities to how Scotland attack and use Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg.

      They haven’t kicked as much on attack as they have done previously but not sure if this is deliberate or a case of playing what’s in front of them.

      • Roar Guru

        July 10th 2018 @ 9:26am
        Ralph said | July 10th 2018 @ 9:26am | ! Report

        It is easier to exploit that close in space for those teams used to playing off their halfback.

    • July 10th 2018 @ 7:54am
      Electronic Swagman said | July 10th 2018 @ 7:54am | ! Report

      Now I know why Steve Hansen looks like he’s strategising and anaylsing for the entire game. He is.

    • July 10th 2018 @ 9:12am
      jimbo81 said | July 10th 2018 @ 9:12am | ! Report

      Good analysis. Good article.

      I just can’t take any positive news story about NZ seriously because it’s not a fair fight to begin with due to the overwhelming referee advantages they receive every game, as well as the behind the scenes citing officer warnings.

      It’s not an even playing field and since SANZAAR and World Rugby have no interest in addressing the problem of referee bias, I can’t generate any real enthusiasm to watch them. The battle for 2nd place in the world is the real contest and is where it get’s interesting – instead of just the establishment wheeling out their referees pets every game for a free ride to unscrutinised tries while acting as the last line of defence when they need to deny any opposition try.

      NZ Vs France would have been interesting but for the farcical red card – especially given their head high skull attack shoulder combo nearly killed the French winger was a red card offence as per world rugby protocol dangerous play involving the head or neck. Play on though because it’s NZ… and don;t worry about a citing – have another warning.

      • July 10th 2018 @ 1:56am
        Johnny Boy said | July 10th 2018 @ 1:56am | ! Report

        I think you should stop watching rugby all together, jimbo. The game doesn’t need followers like you.

        • July 10th 2018 @ 12:33pm
          jimbo81 said | July 10th 2018 @ 12:33pm | ! Report

          Ad hominem attack there. There’s nothing wrong with any of my comments. Defence of fair comment.

          We need a full inquiry of the referees to restore confidence in their impartiality when refereeing NZ teams. Until then it’s just not worth watching NZ teams play anyone else because the outcome is so heavily slanted in their favor. They’re good. They’re 80% Vs other nations good. They’re definitely not 97% win ratio Vs all opponents good – that extra 17% is the referee bias.

          • July 10th 2018 @ 2:36pm
            Johnny Boy said | July 10th 2018 @ 2:36pm | ! Report

            You must be the only one on the planet who thinks they win 97% of their games. Until you have some quantifiable evidence that the refs favour NZ, most objective people will continue to be dismissive of your rants.

            • July 10th 2018 @ 3:35pm
              jimbo81 said | July 10th 2018 @ 3:35pm | ! Report

              Hard to get the evidence because we would need to interrogate test referees starting with Nigel Owens and former test referee (now head of referee training) Craig Joubert. I doubt they wil submit to this.

              Isn’t it enough that all top ten nations concede a yellow card every 12 penalties, but for NZ it’s 57? How about their first red card in 50 years was in the lions series for a blatant shoulder charge to head from SBW – yet the Wallabies record red cards for things like Drew Mitchell throwing the ball behind him at the lineout.

              You could look at citings and see that NZ are the only nation afforded warnings. Or second shots at goal after they miss, twice (Ireland “running early” and Argentina “lazer in eyes of kicker”. It’s strange because no other nation ever gets a second shot. There’s been cases where the Aussie kicker has lazers in his eyes on every kick. In the world cup, the runner was even allowed to run through and pick the ball up before the Wallaby kicker could advance.

              Consider that very few NZ tries are scrutinized – all awarded immediately. NZ are also able to kick quickly to remove the TMO intervening, whereas all Aussie tries are scrutinized back 30+ phases and if we attempt to copy the kick it quickly method, we are instructed not to proceed. Very strange indeed.

              Also – every 50:50 decision is always ruled in favor of NZ. They simply don’t get calls against them. Take a good LONG look at the last two world cup finals. France definitely deserves a kickable shot at goal for the McCaw bastardy of the rules and NZ’s chronic infringement at the ruck. He explained, “The occasion got the better of me.” BS! Not good enough!

              The first half of the 2015 RWC final was beyond a joke and I am pleased to see Nigel Owens’ book sales doing very well in NZ – he is wined and dined by the rugby fraternity the week before every Bledisloe – as a key note speaker and Author or a new hard-cover book. On sale now.

              It’s an absolute joke. That’s why number 2 is the real number 1.

              • Roar Guru

                July 10th 2018 @ 4:45pm
                taylorman said | July 10th 2018 @ 4:45pm | ! Report

                Geez, what a sook.

              • July 10th 2018 @ 4:57pm
                Mapu said | July 10th 2018 @ 4:57pm | ! Report

                He has the best blinkers ever.Even passionate about his deluded narrow sighted views

              • July 10th 2018 @ 5:08pm
                Mapu said | July 10th 2018 @ 5:08pm | ! Report

                And number 2 (at the time)you say.Well they should never of been in the last World Cup finale.Forgotten that little bit of history have you?Waratahs title against a Ritchie team.Remember that last play?

              • July 10th 2018 @ 5:09pm
                Johnny Boy said | July 10th 2018 @ 5:09pm | ! Report

                ‘nations concede a yellow card every 12 penalties, but for NZ it’s 57?”

                Do you have a link to that stat? Per the NZ Herald, the ABs were carded more than their opponents relative to the penalties conceded in 2017. Here’s an excerpt from that article.

                https://www.nzherald.co.nz/sport/news/article.cfm?c_id=4&objectid=11945763

                ” The All Blacks’ tally of cards in 2017 sits at seven yellow and one red through 13 tests, roughly on par with the eight yellow cards over 14 tests last year. Opponents have received four yellow cards and one red against the All Blacks this year. Despite the high number of cards, the All Blacks have conceded 113 penalties this year while their opposition have given away 117.”

                As for your ridiculous claim that every 50:50 call goes the ABs way, did you no not watch the Lions series last year or the 07 RWC quarters? The 2015 RWC final that you bring up saw Kepu attack Carter’s head twice and McCaw’s once and didn’t even get a yellow for it. I think the Wallabies were extremely fortunate to not play a good chunk of that final with only 14 men.

                Thta’s why number 1 is the real number 1.

              • July 10th 2018 @ 5:10pm
                Mapu said | July 10th 2018 @ 5:10pm | ! Report

                Or am I being played and your fishing and I’m hooked?

              • Roar Rookie

                July 10th 2018 @ 5:40pm
                Kirky said | July 10th 2018 @ 5:40pm | ! Report

                Jimbo! Try getting a life mate, yours at the moment seems to need an uplift, go and see a Psychiatrist it’ll do your twisted senses a hell of a lot of good Flower!

                Your theoretical ideas of the All Blacks and the favouritism toward them by Referees and pretty much everyone and everything else, is a defunct exercise as those very twisted theories have been going around for as long as anyone cares to remember and the very reason it happens all the time is that people like yourself just absolutely abhor the fact that they can beat any old International Rugby Team anywhere and at anytime!

                Perhaps it may be a bit more logical to just admit how brilliantly good at the game of rugby those New Zealanders really are and always have been, instead of putting up the unmitigated and senseless garbage you just have!

                Smile you Ray of Sunshine, it isn’t that difficult!

              • Roar Guru

                July 10th 2018 @ 5:57pm
                taylorman said | July 10th 2018 @ 5:57pm | ! Report

                Yeah it just has no place here. The ABs potential attack systems should not be entertained because they get favoured by refs anyway? I mean what sort of logic is that? Then its follwed up by some unfounded stats?

                Its the same logic used in saying Oz rugby shouldnt be discussed cos Quade isnt playing…a relationship to the topic of zero.

              • July 10th 2018 @ 9:34pm
                Kiwi4lyfe said | July 10th 2018 @ 9:34pm | ! Report

                Jeepers you’re one really sourpuss. Jump in a pool and cool of boy.

              • Roar Guru

                July 12th 2018 @ 5:58pm
                Jokerman said | July 12th 2018 @ 5:58pm | ! Report

                Sounds to me like you’re having a bad trip, Jimbo. Do the All Blacks look like Dementors? With Nigel Owens flying on a stick?

                As I thought, it’s just a bad trip. You’ll be fine, just see your doctor about getting that serotonin back up. Get some Valium while you’re there also.

            • July 11th 2018 @ 10:40am
              jimbo81 said | July 11th 2018 @ 10:40am | ! Report

              Teflon NZ again then – nothing to see here – walks off hands in pockets whistling

              • July 13th 2018 @ 9:51am
                The Cheat said | July 13th 2018 @ 9:51am | ! Report

                Couldn’t agree more Jimbo, these kiwis can only respond by attacking you. NZ is the primary cashcow of world rugby, they simply must keep the juggernaut rolling on for the greater good of their bank account.

      • July 10th 2018 @ 2:43pm
        Mapu said | July 10th 2018 @ 2:43pm | ! Report

        The Lions tour provides proof that you are nothing but a sore loser or maybe just an egg

        • July 11th 2018 @ 2:53pm
          jimbo81 said | July 11th 2018 @ 2:53pm | ! Report

          so the one card in 50 years proves years of chronic favouritism are undone? How about the recent farcical France series? As for the Lions Series – it should have been won by the Lions but for some reason every scrum collapse before and after the one right in front of the posts that was a full arm penalty for some unexplainable reason. Without that one kick, NZ lose the lions series. Every other scrum was a reset except that one… No consistency – report directly to rigged.

    • Roar Guru

      July 10th 2018 @ 9:26am
      Ralph said | July 10th 2018 @ 9:26am | ! Report

      Top work Tipsy!

      Going to be very interesting RC. Not many tests left to bed everything in, what with no June tests next year.

    • Roar Rookie

      July 10th 2018 @ 9:57am
      Paulo said | July 10th 2018 @ 9:57am | ! Report

      Great breakdown and explanation of the systems. Really highlights the arms race that is international rugby.

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