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Lessons from Eden Park - Conrad Smith Posted 6 months ago

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Lessons from Eden Park (1st Test New Zealand vs. Wales) – Conrad Smith series

The ability to perform the fundamental skills of Rugby Union, and repeat them consistently well under pressure, is usually the decisive factor in high-level games.

The second part of Conrad Smith’s excellent series examines the use of basic hands and the miss-pass, and both had a key role to play in two of the All Blacks’ tries against Wales at Eden Park.

The four elements in a successful ‘basic hands’ recipe in Conrad Smith’s module are as follows:

• Receiver’s hands out in front
• Staying square (North-South)
• Outside foot ahead (facing the passer)
• Flattening up and ‘leaving late’

What do we mean when we say that we want to repeat basic skills consistently well? Those skills need to be repeated as well in final quarter with energy levels low, as they are in the first twenty minutes when energy is at its peak; and they need to be repeatable by every position on the field.

So in the following example, all of Conrad Smith’s criteria for ‘basic hands’ are satisfied by three All Black forwards in the 68th minute of the match against Wales:

Watch it now

At 67:26, both 5 Brodie Retallick and 8 Kieran Read have been on the field since the start of the game, with replacement lock Patrick Tuipolutu (#19) in between them.

The mental energy and attention to detail of all three forwards is still high. As the ball leaves the hands of New Zealand #9 Aaron Smith, all three have their hands out in front and their right or outside foot ahead, so that they are looking in at the passer. The hands out-in-front allows them to transfer the ball quicker across the body with fewer adjustments in possession, while the outside foot planted ahead naturally straightens the angle of attack.

The die-straight angle of the attack can be illustrated by a snapshot from behind the posts:

The shoulders of Read and Retallick are ‘North-South’ or square to the goal-line as Tuipolutu delivers the pass, so that the first back outside (Aaron Cruden) is pulled in naturally on the same angle beyond them. It is a shortcut to the goal-line.

Moreover their flat positioning, no more than one metre behind the passer, enables all three to hit the advantage line early. After Tuipolutu receives the pass from Smith, only two steps are needed before he is through the Wales defensive line and able to offload to Kieran Read in the clear. Read is flat to him and ‘leaves late’ in order to maintain an accurate support position, rather than making his run from deep on to the ball.

The second part of Conrad Smith’s module deals with the techniques involved with accurate miss-passing, and this was an aspect of the attack New Zealand used with profit throughout the game.

One of the best examples of the All Blacks’ ability to use the miss-pass effectively occurred in the build-up to their first try:

See it here

In this example the Welsh defence looks well set. There is a full back-line out to their left composed of numbers 10, 12, 13 and 11 and only one attacker over for the All Blacks. This is a situation they would be expecting to defend quite comfortably, and New Zealand has to be extremely accurate to squeeze an advantage out of the overlap.

Aaron Cruden throws the first miss-pass to 13 Malakai Fekitoa at 13:30. With Wales tending to push hard on their defensive 13 Jonathan Davies in these scenarios, Cruden’s pass is probably as flat as it can afford to be, without giving Davies the opportunity to blitz up on Fekitoa before he can move the ball on to the next receiver.

It is at this point (13:30) that the pinpoint accuracy of the play becomes clear.

• Fekitoa only takes one step out of the ball before swinging the pass across his body to 14 Waisake Naholo.
• Naholo starts flat (at 13:29 he is actually ahead of Fekitoa) then ‘leaves late’ from a position less than one metre behind the passer.
• Fekitoa really ‘punches’ the pass from left-to-right, with the entire left side of his body chasing around towards the target to impart some real zip on the delivery.

There is little or no recovery time for the last defender (11 Hallam Amos) to push off towards Naholo once the miss-pass has been made. He is a full 10 metres adrift of the Kiwi wing and committed to trying to make a tackle with his body squared directly towards the side-line at 13:32. Naholo can even afford to stop and assess the situation before deciding to take the space on the outside for the clean break!

Both these examples provide excellent illustrations of the criteria for success explained in Conrad Smith’s module. Whether it is from forwards or backs, there is a consistent desire and ability

1. to stay square,
2. to move the ball through the hands with minimal adjustments (no more than one or two steps in possession)
3. to punch the pass away to the next receiver
4. to flatten up and leave late in support
5. to minimise recovery time for the defence

What impresses most is the number of successful repetitions deep into a match with a high ball-in-play time and a correspondingly deep oxygen burn. Somehow, the skills and accuracy survive both the pressure and the fatigue!

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Nick has worked as a rugby analyst and advisor to Graham Henry (1999-2002), Mike Ruddock (2004-2006) and latterly Stuart Lancaster (2011-2015). He also worked on the 2001 British & Irish Lions tour to Australia and produced his first rugby book with Graham Henry at the end of the tour. Since then, three more rugby books have followed, all of which of have either been nominated for, or won national sports book awards. The latest is a biography of Phil Larder, the first top Rugby League coach to successfully transfer over to Union. It is entitled “The Iron Curtain”. Nick has also written or contributed to four other books on literature and psychology.

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