After a somewhat wobbly beginning to the Bledisloe series, New Zealand coach Ian Foster and his new All Black coaching team have made some notable changes with positive outcomes.
1. Cohesion in the loose forwards
How anyone thought a loose forward trio of Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea and Kieran Read was going to do the job in a Rugby World Cup semi-final is beyond me, but the changes in the current grouping are clear.
Captain Sam Cane has licence to use his attacking skills in addition to his usual role of chief tackler and ruck cleaner to great effect. It has been noticeable that he now plays a key role in the transition from defence to attack.
But the main difference is they are playing as a unit. Ardie Savea played noticeably tighter in Bledisloe 2. While Shannon Frizzell has put in a huge shift in all three games, his lineout helps replace Read’s numbers. Perhaps the best compliment is that he is always where you expect an All Black No. 6 to be.
Hoskins Sotutu came into the side, focused on his core role and fit in really nicely with his Nos. 6 and 7.
Defensive and offensive breakdowns have been excellent, as has been gain-line tackling.
Back to basics and a big tick.
2. The much-maligned dual playmaker system at Nos. 10 and 15
This has worked really well for the primary reason that Beauden Barrett has played the fullback role like, well, a fullback. He hasn’t felt the need to constantly jump into first receiver, he hasn’t been looking to make things happen when they are not on; he has sat back and done his core role, and when the opportunity arises, he dives in with the rapier for a kill.
His chip kick for the Richie Mo’unga try in Sydney was wonderfully executed. This might just work after all, but let us consign the description of ‘dual playmakers’ to the bin.
3. The manipulation of space
One of the noticeable strategies of the Ian Foster All Blacks is the use of the blindside to compress the opposition defences before striking. This is not new – Steve Hansen’s side used it to great effect, but this side seems to be thinking about the manipulation of the opposition a little more than we have seen in recent years.
There are some really good examples of utilising space and moving opposition around in Bledisloe 3.
The first was Richie Mo’unga’s first try, the wraparound behind the maul. This comes from a lineout, the All Blacks very deliberately walk the maul infield, opening up a huge blind which is defended by a hooker and halfback in the first line.
You can see from this picture that when Aaron Smith calls Richie Mo’unga across – there is now a huge space to work in and big mismatch in pace has been created.
Smith’s identification of space and manipulation of the defence in this Test was next level.
The second was Richie Mo’ungas second try. After going to a short blind and compressing the Wallabies defence inside the 15-metre channel, Aaron Smith selected Beauden Barrett, who executed an excellent chip for Mo’unga to chase.
But look at the contest in the end on shot – that is the full Wallabies tight five in midfield up against Barrett, Mo’unga and Hoskins Sotutu. Noah Lolesio didn’t recognise the danger and staye too deep.
The third was when New Zealand again managed to find the Wallabies tight five all together with way too much real estate to try to defend. A quality short ball from the New Zealand No. 10 released a straight-running Jordie Barrett on a quality fullback line. Again, it is a pace mismatch and a no contest.
The end-on photo shows the Wallabies tight five stretched across the middle. They’re up against Barrett, Mo’unga, Frizzell, TJ Peranara and Dalton Papalii.
Another well-crafted mismatch.
So there were encouraging signs from the Darkness coaching box and some well-created attacking situations that were clinically taken. Roll on Bledisloe 4. What else you got, coach?