David and Goliath is perhaps the most celebrated and well known story of winning against all odds.
Goliath is gigantic, ruthless, used to winning and All Black. David (Rennie) has a slim chance of usurping this monster that has haunted and tortured Wallabies fans for this 17-year-long winter.
Rennie will have to be deadly accurate with his strategy. Miss and another professional corpse will be added to the brimful Australian rugby union morgue. So who is David Rennie’s sling shot capable of slaying this biblical giant?
Ben Darwin’s GAIN LINE Analytics talks about the importance of combinations and chemistry. It cites a good example of cohesion was when Iceland beat England at Euro 2016. On one hand you’ve got this magnificent set-up in England, with over 90 professional clubs, thousands of professional players, exorbitant facilities at St George’s Park, yet they could be beaten by a squad assembled at one tenth of the cost. Iceland’s resource limitations created a tight pathway that enabled them to have very high levels of cohesion.
It argues that cohesion empowered them with the capacity to compete at a reasonable level. If they played ten times, maybe Iceland would win twice but they’ve got the capacity to win. We last held the Bledisloe in 2002. Think about the chemistry of the Wallabies teams around this time. They were held together by a strong Brumbies back line.
So how do we apply this data? Start with your automatic back-line picks – these are Nic White and Jordan Petaia. Our halves need to be familiar with each other so how about Matt To’omua with White, who played a lot together at the Brumbies.
Alternatively you could consider Tate McDermott with James O’Connor but Aaron Smith could exploit the green McDermott.
In the centres, you need to pair Petaia with a familiar face. How about O’Connor at inside centre and Hunter Paisami of the bench?
An all-Brumbies front row would give you that cohesion advantage. Alternatively you could argue Taniela Tupou and Brandon Paenga-Amosa are an option. The Queensland back row are all viable options however with Michael Hooper at captain it is unlikely all three will feature at the same time.
Following on the theme of cohesion, its important that Rennie show loyalty to whatever team he picks. The frequency with which Michael Cheika changed his team inhibited combination development.
The Wallabies’ last selection strategy was flawed. They picked Marika Koroibete for his damaging ball-running. However in an attempt to hide the defensively weak Bernard Foley, they defended with Koroibete at ten. Then he had to sprint back to cover the opposition kicks. He had no petrol left to do the one thing he was strongest at: run hard. His strength was nullified. Players defend in their position. All rugby players must attack and defend. That is non-negotiable.
My suggestion to Rennie would have been to pick the team first rather than the captain. It only serves to limit your options.
When picking the Wallabies, there are safe options or there are riskier (Filipo Daugunu and Noah Lolesio). All players have trade-offs in what they bring. We’ve seen what the safe option looks like and how it ends up. Be brave.
When you’ve established a sustained period of dominance it can be hard to motivate yourself to keep on winning. The Wallabies players should give them no added motivation during media exchanges. Be respectful of the All Blacks in the press conferences. Don’t’ be overly complimentary, especially to the junior players.
It’s a different story for the media. They need to garner interest in the matches. Build animosity and tap into that tribalism. The media should recruit great hype merchants such as Rupert McCall or Matt Nable from the NRL to generate interest.
Please provide spider cam over the scrums. Have it live on the big screen at the ground for the refereeing team to be able to see. It has badly exposed foreign teams before for not pushing straight. If it were to expose Australia, then I’m happy for us to be penalised rather than have the referee guessing.
Wear the Indigenous jersey. Celebrate our heritage and tap into our tribalism. It gives the players a lift that the regular jersey doesn’t.
This is a controversial suggestion. In this COVID-restricted crowd size world we live in, why not take a day game to hot and humid Cairns? It would maximise our home-ground advantage. It is just a provocative thought.
Black has the advantage of being a more fashionable colour than gold. Therefore Wallabies fans may appear at a glance to be wearing All Blacks colours if they haven’t dressed up in gold. We must wear gold. Can Rugby Australia please cover empty seats in Wallabies flags?
Don’t have the players quietly walk out with kids. It’s boring. They should be running out with gusto. After the All Blacks have run out, have Australian music over the PA system to emphasise it’s a home game.
Get families to write letters about what playing rugby for Australia means to them. Put them up in the change room on game day.
Body language is important. Facing the haka provides an early opportunity to set the tone. Who can forget the famous French spear led by Thierry Dusautoir or the inverse English interpretation last year? While being respectful it may be worth a thought.
Body language is also evident following tries scored or conceded. Don’t overreact to tries either way. It sends the wrong message.
Don’t get over-pumped before the game. Good preparation is key.
The All Blacks don’t have a lot of weaknesses. They have a rich talent pool to choose from. They are fit, strong and well drilled. Many teams have tried to identify weaknesses. Most of the time it hasn’t worked. So what can you do?
A key basic principal to offensive strategy is to create mismatches. Due to their impressive talent pool and genetics it is hard to create favourable mismatches either in size or speed.
Here are a few simplistic examples:
• One effective tactic the Brumbies use to create a mismatch is to flood the rolling maul with your backs. It is very hard for even a well-drilled team to combat an overwhelming mismatch in numbers.
• Isolate the wingers with aerial raids. When we had Lote Tuqiri and then Israel Folau, we underutilised this tactic. The All Blacks absolutely scrambled when we did this. If executed well, it creates a 50-50 try opportunity. Against the All Blacks, these are very favourable odds. If we score tries every second time we reach the All Blacks’ 22, we are scoring lots of points. Tom Wright and Koroibete have rugby league backgrounds and could be catching options. Alternatively you could consider another rugby league tactic of the messy grubber kick. A non-end-over-end grubber kick is a defensive winger’s nightmare in greasy conditions. When the outcome is dependent on the bounce of a ball, these odds are favourable against the All Blacks.
• Midfield scrums are an opportunity to create mismatches. Have all the players line up behind the scrum. The All Blacks will do a three-two split with a floating fullback. Alternatively, stack one side bar the winger. I guarantee the All Blacks won’t mark up man for man.
• Nail the re-starts. This is the most obvious chance to create mismatches. Look at how the All Blacks set up. Pick their worst pod catcher and send it his way. If you can’t identify one, then go deep. Pressure the exit and aim to have an offensive lineout in their half. This would still be a very positive re-start result.
• Send the defence the wrong way. I guarantee when the All Blacks see Tupou hovering behind the back line, they will be looking for him as he is our most damaging ball runner. Let them look. Don’t use him, at least initially. Make them wait. His most effective use early may be as a decoy. Engage him once they start to tire. You could even consider starting him on the bench to exacerbate this advantage.
What can we learn from England’s last victory? England took away the All Blacks’ strengths. It can be quite unsettling for a team when their default get-out-of-jail plays fail to save them. Just like any other team in that position, they started to panic and looked clueless. The All Blacks made unusual interchanges ensuring their demise. They combusted and became completely paralysed.
But how did England do it? The All Blacks have for some time now adopted Phil Jackson’s Chicago Bulls fast break strategy. This is where a team attempts to move the ball up the court and into scoring position as quickly as possible, so that the defence is outnumbered and does not have time to set up. The All Blacks rapidly mobilise their troops in periods of unstructured play such as turnovers or kick returns. England denied them this platform. The Wallabies must keep a straight unbroken line in kick chase and minimise turnovers.
England dominated the set piece and impact zones. In attack, the English forwards used short, high percentage inside balls to obviate the All Blacks’ triangle defence pods. England attacked off nine and penetrated the gain line, which forced the All Blacks to condense their defence. Then, England went wide. We must establish dominance in and around the ruck. If we give our players gain-line dominance and clean front foot ball, they are good enough to cause serious problems for the scrambling All Blacks defence.
The All Blacks’ lifeblood is fast first-phase play getting over the gain line with big boppers. To’omua has steel in his defence and he is the perfect guy for the job. Our drift defence must ably assist. The Wallabies must push them backwards and deny them momentum.
We must be accurate at the breakdown. Protect the ball. An effective example of this was how the Brumbies nullified Fraser McReight in the Super Rugby final.
Don’t be afraid to kick but kicking must be accurate and purposeful. There needs to be no meaningless box kicks as the odds aren’t in your favour. You are gambling possession and an unstructured opportunity for All Blacks attack. All you stand to gain is the benefit of a possible 30-metre gain. This is a bad deal.
The Wallabies’ ten must stay square and run straight to the line. It stops the All Blacks’ defensive drift and retains space for the outside backs. When the ten offensively kicks, it puts the defence in two minds and slows down their line speed. It is important to kick early and show that kick, pass and run are all arrows in the quiver.
Against the All Blacks, you must never stop playing. If you manage to establish a lead over the All Blacks, you must keep attacking. Once you go on the defensive, you become the hunted. It is only a matter of time until you succumb. Keep your big guns on the pitch.
You must establish set piece dominance early. “Painting the correct picture” is a bastardised phrase but it matters. The set piece can provide a bottomless well of penalties for a team. All Blacks props have established a set piece dominance over Australia. The oft marginal decisions made at set piece are heavily influenced by early dominance. It’s very hard to change the referee’s mind mid match. Hence you must win the early exchanges.
Play intelligent rugby
This is easier said than done.
Commit selective infringements. Only commit penalties when foreseeable direct advantage is to be gained. An example of this may be a 50-50 pass in the opposition 22 where execution may result in a try. Don’t spear tackle. Eliminate lazy offsides. Don’t backchat. Red cards are forbidden. Creating the illusion of a law-abiding team may help on the numerous inevitable 50-50 penalty calls during the match.
Aaron Smith is the premier scrumhalf in world rugby. You could set your watch to his crisp passing. Pressure him. He is the key. If he has an off day, the All Blacks’ vulnerability increases ten fold. He seems to often get it both ways, putting extreme pressure on opposition teams yet he gets no pressure in return. Lobby the referees beforehand to monitor his blockers and lazy runners. Find the offside boundaries early and exert the maximum legal pressure.
We need to employ game management techniques. Cameron Smith is excellent at judging when to speed up and slow down the tempo of the match. An example of this is when they have a man in the bin, we must retain possession. Make strategic decisions based on circumstance rather than preconceived notions of always going for the try .
The question of playing territory versus possession must be made on the ground. If the referee is blowing lots of penalties and is rewarding contesting the ruck, then play territory. If he is favouring the team in possession and punishing defensive pilfering and counter-rucking, then keep the pill.
The Wallabies’ coaching staff needs to identify early who is appointed to officiate the match. Are they from the northern or southern hemisphere? What style of rugby do they favour? How do they police the breakdown?
This can influence selection and strategy. Previously we had this predetermined rigid mantra of running rugby that was often incompatible with the match context.
Please tolerate minimal injury breaks. It’s always the same players feigning injuries around the 60-minute mark, especially when momentum is against them.
Please encourage fast TMO decisions a la Super Rugby Australia this year. I don’t want endless replays. The TMO is to eliminate the howler so if it’s not apparent quickly, stay with the on-field decision. Please check your referee microphones and comms extensively pre-game. There’s nothing more frustrating for a fan than when they have technical issues at the first opportunity.
Turn up. Wear gold. Be respectful of the All Blacks as they are a wonderful team.
The All Blacks are coming off a loss and have a new coach. They have lost players overseas. They are undeniably more vulnerable than they usually are. We have a new generation of Wallabies and a fresh coaching team who aren’t scarred by previous losses. Let’s dare to dream.