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How to target the All Blacks, Part 3: The 20-metre blind

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3rd July, 2019
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The smart rugby team want an opposition to read their systems and patterns. They’ll want them to monitor these patterns and what they do in certain areas, and then flummox them by launching something different.

The public, and a lot of the media, constantly call for the inclusion of players who will allow a way to beat the All Blacks by “Out-All Blacking” them, meaning numerous razzle-dazzle tries.

When we think plenty of tries, do we think of a tight game? Feeding off defence, playing territory and set-piece domination? No, no we don’.

We think of wide plays, offloads, and running the opposition of their feet. Mainly because the team scoring tries are the All Blacks, and this is how they do it. This, means wide-wide play.

New Zealand feed off this, their game is geared for teams who try to do this, without the required skill sets or fitness.

Mistakes happen, and New Zealand have equipped themselves with the exact dynamics needed to deal with these fancied views on how to beat them.

Dynamic’s that have manifested in the skillsets and fitness needed to perform their devastating counter.

A team that doesn’t give them these opportunities may not win, but may turn the game into a grind that increases your chances of winning drastically.

Run them off their feet? New Zealand are the fittest team in the world.

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Make it Offload central? Chances of a turnover and the lethal All Black counter are hugely exacerbated.

Go wide to get around them? They’re numbered out wide, the space isn’t out wide, it’s close.

Smash them in the set piece? Many try, few succeed.

All of these things, plus the world’s perception on the All Black style of play, can lead teams into playing the New Zealand game, without their skill sets or fitness.

A game which falls into the All Black hands. If you want to beat New Zealand, the last thing you should do is help them. Playing this way though, you do.

England, have stated with the very Australian mentality that winning is the priority, and if “unpopular rugby” is used to do it. So be it.

This, along with Joe Schmidt, who with his low offload policy, tight and physical game plan and kicking accuracy, succeeded in 2016 and 2018.

Both coaches know that they need to play their way to win, and if this becomes a trend across the top teams, this could be a nervous sign for New Zealand going forward.

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As always, lets get into it.

Weakness: Numbering on the blindside within 20
Tactics used for weakness: 31 Decoy, Switch Plays, Catch and Pass, Long Pass Off 9

A vulnerability for the All Blacks is the Blindside within 20 metres off the sideline.

The All Blacks have a knack in phase play to neglect the blindside in favour of manning the open, meaning the blindside can often be undermanned. This is quite evident when an opposition ruck reaches the 15-metre line. They are happy to generally give the opposition the overlap within the 20-metre blind, rarely placing men within five to ten metres of the sideline.

I suspect this is for two reasons.

1. The All Blacks like to use the touchline as an extra defender, hence they’ll shepherd this overlap towards the line.

2. With a Full openside available, a turnover is more likely to result in an overlap for their counter.

However In the cases of England, and notably Ireland, they’ve developed their threats to target New Zealand here.

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Their catch and pass has improved, they have 9s who can effectively miss pass to exploit the 10-metre free zone, they’re comfortable in
flat alignment to get round the last man, their wingers fancy themselves to beat the All Black wingers and they have developed specific plays to target the blind.

Targeting the All Black Blind

Time to look at where this has troubled the All Blacks.

Australia 2014
Australia let Ewen McKenzie go in 2014 and it was a mistake. Given time and support, he could’ve turned the Wallabies into something special. A blessing for us as I have a strange feeling he will be the next England coach.

He only had a year in total in charge of the team, and already the seeds of an intelligent, exciting brand of play was there. A part of which included a new concept in play that was criminally left undeveloped after he left.

This brand of rugby finally came to the forefront in the 29-28 loss to the All Blacks.

McKenzie tailored Australia’s attack to the opposition against New Zealand in Bledisloe 3, which meant a focus on the blindside and Brumby style runners, the result being a truly sensational performance which I feel is the only time in recent years the Wallabies have had the All Blacks number.

Even when they won in 2015, you feel that was down to the poor All Blacks performance rather than the Wallabies fully winning it. This style of play panicked the All Blacks.

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The Wallabies used the blindside in two main ways during this game.

  • To Score
  • To overload in preparation for the openside run

1. To score
This is one of two tries the Wallabies got from quick switches to the blind.

The targeting of a singular channel by Tevita Kuridrani leads to metres made, the openside run is made and Israel Folau floods through the ruck to draw in more men. The speed, the alignment, the targets, the numbers in one channel, its classic old school Brumby play. This gainline and speed results in a five on one and no defender is stopping that.

2. The overload
The Wallabies started just outside the 15-metre line, where they’d move the ball to the touchline and back twice, forcing the All Blacks to number on the blind in greater numbers, and due to the All Black defence remaining connected, this resulted in space out wide, with which the Wallabies could try to manipulate for line breaks.

They performed this action multiple times and we can see that there was space to work with as a result of the blindside attack.

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Ireland – Joe Schmidt’s Masterclass
Joe Schmidt is the Napoleon of rugby.

His Style is not expansive, it isnt’ tight, but it’s tailored rugby.

Every play is designed to target weak points in the opposition, and boy does he know how to find those.

Ireland targeted the blindside, and in doing so, used misdirection to hide the intended Target.

Knowing New Zealand would monitor their patterns, they baited them accordingly, and then rapidly changed with speed to flummox the opposition.

Ireland 2016

The Chicago game was a tactical masterclass by Schmidt. He broke from his patterns, which had New Zealand had prepared for sequences. A pod hit to the open followed by a loop or “twos” play.

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You can see the All Black defence on the open pointing, and marking up. Instead, Ireland switched to the blind, making ground. If they’d taken catch and pass on the overlap, this could’ve been a try.

Ireland also engineered this target from set piece, resulting in possibly the simplest try I have ever seen scored against New Zealand.

British and Irish Lions 1, 2017

This is after multiple power runs cross-field, as you’ll see with South Africa next.

Beauden Barrett is the last man. Jonathan Sexton has committed Sonny Bill Williams’s inside shoulder, opening the shoot or drift gap between him and Barrett, meaning Williams makes a hail mary tackle rather than a dominant hit.

This combines the overlap on an undermanned blind with the gap. However, this doesn’t make a huge gain, as Davies being caught, buys time for the inside defence to cover.

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The option that would’ve had New Zealand scrambling, is a miss pass at the line from Sexton to Felix Jones. Not many ten’s in the World can make that pass. Having one who can is a luxury that can’t be ignored.

South Africa 2018
This example is post three hard phases off nine across the field. We will see later, three phases off nine is a trend that is certainly arising when it comes to exploiting the Blind against the All Blacks.

Ben Smith, their last man in the line, started nearly on the 15-metre line. Much like Barrett in the previous example, who was further out but not by much.

If two incredibly experienced All Blacks leave so much space on the outside, its a systems issue. They allowed the Springboks the edge, and the number advantage, which with Franco Mostert’s essential decoy was a three on 2. The result is an easy run in.

Argentina 2018

This is a combination of two of the weaknesses listed in this series.

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Targeting of the shoot-drift, and the blindside exploit.

One weakness targeted quickly, in turn, making another more potent.

The Result? An easy, near walk-in try.

Opportunities multiply as they are seized

Australia 2018
This wasn’t a try, but like South Africa.

That Long, flat pass, along with the natural overlap, nearly made it one. Australia later got a try, using this exact target.

The “Pulley Wheel” concept
Some of you may have wondered for Ashtons’ try last year, why did the All Blacks’ move over to the open so easy?

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The reason is that New Zealand anticipated England’s’ use of the 31 Pattern, a pattern England have used often, who then feinted the Pulley in order to exploit their true target.

The 31 Pattern is comprising three hard phases off nine to the openside to drag defenders over, followed by a switch play off ten to exploit created space with catch and pass.

The team that best showed a dominant 31 Pattern combined with this dynamic against the All Blacks, were Namibia.

Below, we can see the third pod going into contact and the resulting off the ball action.

The switch at its best, works like a pulley rope. If you can pull them left, you move right, and vice versa. The Namibian front line forwards are accordingly realigning blind, pulling the All Blacks left. The Namibian back line are simultaneously moving right with speed, making ground on these defenders, and running into space, the result being quite clear.

The All Blacks have been wary of over-committing men to the 20-metre blind since Wayne Smith was head coach. The 31 Pattern cemented their wariness even more so.

Yet this had been noted by others.

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Twickenham 2018
“Everything we are doing now is about coming up with a game to beat New Zealand and to make them uncomfortable.” – Eddie Jones 2016

Chris Ashton’s try was a perfect case of deception.

England employed the 31 Pattern using their Brumby mode, and reached the third hit. Note Akira Ioane’s positioning at this point. Like Smith and Barrett, he kept the outside clear, so much so he never crossed the 15-metre line.

The next phase, by pattern, is the switch play to ten.

The All Blacks know this pattern, and England knew it. After three hits, we see how McKenzie as well as Brodie Retallick and Williams sprint to the open in anticipation via Aaron Smith.

England wanted this.

They actively encouraged it via Brad Shields’, Andy Farrell’s, Henry Slade’s, Elliot Daly’s and Jonny May’s feint to the open to convince the defence they’re running the 31. This movement was to achieve two aim’s.

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  • Primary: Pull McKenzie to centre field.
  • Secondary: Thin the Blind to keep Ioane close.

Ashton had acres of space per Ioane’s positioning, the five to ten metre overlap becoming 15 due to the repeated targeting of the All Black fringes. England needed two more things: A long flat pass so Ashton could get around Ioane, and a clear path to the line.

This feint pulled Retallick and Williams to the open, meaning Ioane couldn’t push out if he’d wanted to, as well as McKenzie. Both aims achieved, exactly how England intended.

Young’s didn’t look once to the open to sell the feint. England were Lucky the All Blacks bought it.

Dublin 2018
Ireland also feinted the 31 Pattern, and again significant gains are made.

Ireland launched their three hits using their three-three-one format, and feigned the switch to the playoff ten phase. By placing a three-pod to interest the openside fringe, and Sexton’s hands up run, Ireland managed to thin the blindside.

This means Ringroses’ late switch for the blindside play gains ground, showing Schmidt’s development of his options to attack this vulnerability.

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This play sets an agenda for the attack we can expect of Ireland at the World Cup. Schmidt is developing plays to strike the “trickle gap”, a concept introduced in Article 5 of this series.

The Trickle Gap is a hugely untapped weakness of the All Black defence, and this play, is a definite precursor to the plays that will exploit it. Knowing the intellect of Schmidt’s brain, these plays are going to be hard to spot, and hard to stop.

The thing to remember is that wide-wide play eliminates this space. Multiple hard phases off nine cross-field slows down the fold and maintains it.

It isn’t an exact science, but if you can make gainline near the 15-metre line, the already undermanned defence comes in from the blind. The result is a blind ripe for attack. The key to the future of this target, is creating new ways of masking your intention to strike here, combined with flat alignment, and the options you use in your respective deception and strike dynamics.

Use all well, and this could remain fruitful.