10 Sep

The BASICS: How to beat Australia
by Tracey Nelson
10 Sep 2008

The ledger so far in 2008 is one win each between the All Blacks and Wallabies. The Wallabies won the first match in Sydney 34-19, the next week being a total reversal in Auckland with the All Blacks emerging 39-10 victors. With both the TriNations and the Bledisloe Cup on the line in Brisbane this weekend, what do the All Blacks need to do in order to beat Australia and put both trophies in the cupboard until next year?

Possibly the most vital part of the modern game, particularly under the ELVs. The All Blacks were without Richie McCaw in Sydney, and in his absence they were beaten in the loose forward battle for domination at the breakdown by George Smith and Rocky Elsom. In Auckland the All Blacks had their captain back while the Wallabies were without an injured Rocky Elsom, and the tables were turned. McCaw turned on a text-book display of openside flanker play, and led his team to a resounding victory seven days on from their loss in Sydney. There is no doubt that when the All Blacks are minus McCaw and the Wallabies minus Elsom, both sides struggled to dominate at the breakdown. This weekend will be the first test in 2008 where both players will meet, so all eyes will be on the breakdown. It will be imperative for McCaw to have support at the breakdown and not be operating alone, for without that support the combination of Smith and Elsom could dominate.

The reason I was underwhelmed by the All Blacks’ 101-14 win over Samoa last week was that despite the cricket score they managed to clock up, the accuracy of their game in doing so was well below what will be needed to beat Australia. Passes need to be infront of players so they can run on to it, instead of stopping to grasp at a ball going behind them. If space is created, players need to run into the gap and not at the defender. Lineout throws need to be pinpoint, pick and go’s must be supported, mauls need to be well-formed and the ball available to the halfback. Most importantly, kicks in general play must be chased and pressure put on the receiver.

In theory the All Blacks have the upper hand here. Without a doubt our scrum is better, but whether the Wallabies can put pressure on via their halfback as Samoa did to such good effect remains the question. Under the ELVs with defensive backlines required to be 5m back, it is the perfect platform from which to launch a set-piece move if you have the dominant scrum. So far this TriNations it has been the All Blacks on the receiving end of set piece moves from scrums resulting in tries, hopefully this can be rectified this weekend. Both sides have scored tries from lineouts, in Auckland the All Blacks scored a set-move try from a 5m lineout while the Wallabies scored from a scintillating backline move from a lineout on half way.

This game is about as much as what is happening inside the players’ heads as it is what happens out on the field. While you cannot control the bounce of the ball or the direction of the wind, everything else is controllable. At this level it only takes a momentary drop in intensity and concentration to allow the opposition a chance, the gap, the loose pass or lineout throw. Brisbane’s test match will discover which team can dig deepest, which team can apply tactics and pressure the best, and which team can keep their cool under fire.

The one thing that has stood out in this year’s TriNations is that all three sides’ lineouts have been vulnerable when contested. The All Blacks have historically not contested many opposition throws but in the last two test matchs in Auckland and Capetown they upped the number they were contesting, with excellent results. Australia and South Africa have long benefitted from contesting on New Zealand’s throws, but at long last the worm appears to be turning. It would be disappointing not to mention a foolish strategy not to see the All Blacks put pressure on the Wallaby lineout this weekend, particularly inside the Wallaby 22.

If there has been one glaring defect in the All Blacks’ game this year, it has been their inability to scramble on defence. This has only shown slow signs of improvement as the season has gone on, but as the scramble defence improved inexplicably the set piece defence started to stagger. No doubt Graham Henry has been working hard on his defensive patterns after the All Blacks were exposed from a 5m attacking lineout by Samoa last week, but it will be the scrambling abilities of our defence that will most likely be called into action against Australia this weekend.

A win or draw against Australia in Brisbane this weekend will not only give the All Blacks the title of TriNations champions for 2008 but will also guarantee the retention of the Bledisloe Cup for another year. A loss however, will give the TriNations mantle to the Wallabies and put the Bledisloe Cup on the line in the one-off test match to be played between the two sides in Hong Kong in November.

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