How the All Blacks sidestepped the Lions rush defence in the first Test Posted almost 2 years ago

Photo: The Independent

How the All Blacks sidestepped the Lions rush defence in the first Test

One of the great questions in the build-up to the Test series between New Zealand and the British & Irish Lions was: How will the All Blacks attack the Lions’ rush defence? – masterminded by Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell.

That defence had some notable successes in three of the four matches leading into the game at Eden Park, conceding only one try in three games against the Maori All Blacks, the Crusaders and the Chiefs. That sole try was also the result of an individual error rather than a breakdown in the system itself.

During the first half of the tour, the Lions’ opponents did not have much success with the variations of the short attacking kicking game I explored in these two articles:

Unlock the press defence and

Unlock the press defence part 2, despite persistent efforts on their part.

The All Blacks’ brains trust, mindful of the pressure the Lions were able to bring when the ball was spun beyond first receiver, chose instead to take on the tourists where they believed they were strongest – in the very physical area patrolled by the first three defenders nearest the edge of the breakdown.

They played primarily off their #9 Aaron Smith in those short channels, and when they moved the ball as far as #10 Beauden Barrett, the play of choice was more often than not a switch or inside pass.

Another crucial element of their success was the willingness to introduce an outstanding aspect of their attacking game, the offload, into a scenario where they do not typically use it. Usually the All Blacks only offload in the wide channels or after a line-break, but against the Lions they surprised their opponents by offloading in the heavy traffic close to the ruck.

So New Zealand decided to attack their opposition both in a place he did not expect, and in a way he could not have foreseen. This enabled the All Blacks to control the football, and build almost twice as many rucks in the course of the game than the Lions (131 to 76).

Let’s take a look at one of the early examples through which New Zealand developed their momentum. It comes from an attacking scrum in midfield and the sequence has been divided into two parts.

Watch it here

First phase flags up the All Blacks’ ultimate intention. With Owen Farrell hard up on Barrett at first receiver, and the next key defender (#13 Jonathan Davies in the grey hat) ready to press up on Ryan Crotty outside him, Barrett releases Sonny-Bill Williams on a switch underneath the rush. And Sonny-Bill does not die with the ball, he offloads it instead to Crotty, who has come down short in support.

On the next phase, the screenshot at 6:29 is a telling one:

All fifteen All Blacks are condensed into one half of the field, and the two wide forwards who would typically be playing in the near 15 metre zone (#6 Jerome Kaino and #2 Codie Taylor) are far further infield, close to the centre spot. The attacking focus is far narrower than normal for New Zealand, and the All Blacks have a local 5-on4 advantage as Barrett goes to make the in-pass to Kieran Read.

The same principles are at work on next phase after Read’s carry:

View it here

The All Black ball-carrier off 9 (#4 Brodie Retallick) once again chooses to cut back inside the pressure brought by the Lions’ hooker Jamie George:

Retallick’s inside move opens up some possibilities on the interior of the defence in the second frame. With George already on the wrong side of the ball, suddenly all of Aaron Smith (1), Sam Cane (2) and Joe Moody (3) are in play against one defender – the Lions’ play-side guard Tadgh Furlong. Looking at their eyes, they understand the opportunities presented very well.

As soon as Retallick manages to free up his right arm in the tackle, all of his support runners come alive:

The target area is exposed with both Furlong and George committed to tackling Retallick, the Lions’ defensive half-back Conor Murray on the far side of the ruck, and four All Black support runners flooding the zone.

In the event, Retallick picks out Smith in the hole with three other All Blacks still running in support:

The French general and master strategist, Napoleon Bonaparte, once said, “The art of war consists of always being able (even with an inferior army) to mobilize stronger forces than the enemy at the point of attack – at the local point of attack.”

The All Black policy against the Lions’ rush defence in the first Test at Eden Park certainly brought that maxim to life.

New Zealand concentrated their attacking resources rather than spreading them across the field as per their typical strategy, looking for the opportunity to gain a local advantage against the Lions’ defenders closest to the breakdown.

Once that advantage became manifest, they used their superior offloading abilities to exploit it and prevent the defence from resetting effectively. It was an object lesson in confounding expectation and playing ‘against pattern’ in order to achieve success.

The Rugby site is the only online coaching resource to offer a truly global perspective, subscribe for 12 months – now at a lower price point.

Enter your email address to continue reading

We frequently post interesting articles and comment from our world class content providers so please provide us with your email address and we will notify you when new articles are available.

We'll also get in touch with various news and updates that we think will interest you. We promise to not spam, sell, or otherwise abuse your address (you can unsubscribe at any time).


comments powered by Disqus

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. "He is currently writing articles for The Roar and The Rugby Site, and working as a strategy consultant to Stuart Lancaster and the Leinster coaching staff for their European matches."

Topic News & Opinions
Applicable to Coaches   Players   Others   Supporters and fans  

Related articles

How to mix backs and forwards at the set-piece!

Backs can help the forwards in the tasks that used to belong solely to the pack – but only if they understand what their roles are and how best to apply their power. Analyst Nick Bishop investigate how that overlapping understanding is evident at the driving maul.

How to find mismatches against the single-line defence

Arguably the biggest change in Rugby’s professional era occurred when the game started to import defensive coaches from League. Analyst Nick Bishop looks at how modern professional sides are looking to break through increasingly tighter rugby league style defences.

How Warren Gatland won the preparation war in Cardiff

Warren Gatland’s knowledge of the game in the UK and Ireland is anything but one-sided. He has coached in Ireland, Wales and with Wasps in England and more importantly, he has coached on three consecutive British & Irish Lions tours. Analyst Nick Bishop details how that ‘inside knowledge’ gave him and Wales a priceless advantage against England in Cardiff.

How to play the ‘libero’ like Faf de Klerk

The ‘libero’ is an evocative term in the Soccer vocabulary. It describes the free role played from a defensive position occupied by outstanding players like Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer, Ronald Koeman from the Netherlands, and Gaetano Scirea and Franco Baresi of Italy. Eventually the libero died out of the professional arm of the game with the demise of man-marking. However as Analyst Nick Bishop illustrates in the use of the scrum-half as the free man on defence have occurred recently in rugby through players like South African Faf de Klerk.

What attention to detail at the cleanout really means

Ireland’s Joe Schmidt already coaches with the same values as his All Black counterparts, Sir Graham Henry and Steve Hansen. He insists on high standards of behaviour both on and off the field, on the need to ‘sweep the sheds’ and take responsibility for every individual action. I believe this makes him a New Zealand head coach-in-waiting. Analyst Nick Bishop explores the attention to detail from Joe Schmidt’s Irish team in his latest article.