14 Jul

by Rob Wallace
14 Jul 2003

Watch those Aussies whinge!

First of all we have Whining Eddie moaning about the All Blacks cheating. Oddly enough I actually agree with Whining Eddie in parts. He’s completely wrong of course to suggest that the All Blacks are cheating – they’ve just become very effective this year in the clean out, and it’s a strength he would like to negate. However I really don’t like the ‘blowing over’ law. It doesn’t make sense to me that you can ‘tackle’ any player without the ball simply because he is within a 1m circle of the breakdown.

While driving bound players is quite different, I can’t see how ‘blowing over’ fits in with the rest of the game. NZ took a while to get used to the concept and I remember other teams, especially Australia doing this much more effectively than us, and it’s taken us a while to catch up and get it right. Now that we have, and have a relatively dominant forward pack (and Australia don’t) Fast Eddie is having a moan about it to try and deflect the attention from his ineffectual forwards.

And they were ineffectual.

This was the most dominant display I’ve seen from an All Black pack for some time. It seems petty to criticise them, but they shouldn’t have given so much ball to the backs – they should have just kept driving for the line.

And if moaning Eddie isn’t enough I see the Australian papers are now saying how unfair it is that the Bledisloe is decided by the holders winning 1 test out of 2, and are calling for 1 or 3 test series. I can remember how disinterested they were in this concept when they held the Cup. It’s funny how things change when the boot is on the other foot!

I’m still troubled by this flat backline of ours. It often looks messy, and I think the reason it does is because of where the first phase often ends.

With a traditional deep backline, a ‘no progress’ move usually ends in midfield, with the centre or extra man tackled on or just ahead of the advantage line. This sets a midfield target for the forwards and 2nd phase starts here. If the move works properly, then the wing is in space wide, but there is often time for the cover defence to reach him due to the longer time it takes to run from deep.

With a flat backline a ‘no progress’ move often breaks down much closer in, at the 1st or 2nd5, and often behind the gain line. This looks messy and wrong to me, but in fact sets up the second phase closer to the forwards, which may reduce turnovers. If the ball does get wide, the wing gets the ball faster, and the cover is much less likely reach him (think of the angles and remember speed of pass beats speed of player), and hence the wing is more likely to score.

So I think the tradeoff is swapping classical backplay with few clean breaks, for fiddly backplay that often breaksdown in close but when they do clear the ball wide is much more effective, and likely to create tries.

I’m not wholly convinced but I do think Wayne Smith knows what he is doing and if he says it’s the way to go I’m willing to wait and see.

I guess the final question is who are the best players in close for this style. Carter is a beautifully balanced runner who seems to need a bit more space than he is getting. I don’t think Tuitupou would be an improvement as he doesn’t yet have the distribution skills but a fit Aaron Mauger would be interesting with this flat formation. And maybe Carter would find a bit more space and time one position in.

I suspect Spencer is actually doing a pretty good job with this novel formation, but it’s clearly not his preferred option either.

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