With days until till the first test we take our final look at the two teams, focusing on New Zealand’s attack pattern, how England can defend it and how Lancaster’s men must approach the game.
Most teams in the modern game play a similar attack pattern, generally a flow pattern with punch groups (Pods) moving forward and getting over the gain line. They will flow from one side of the pitch to the other looking to get forward momentum with their punch groups, or trying to cause a fracture in the defensive line. If they can send a defence backwards they’ll tend to isolate a channel and work it hoping to truncate the defensive line and then use their backs.
But New Zealand play a quite different attack pattern – for a start they aren’t looking to build massive numbers of phases, at least not outside the opposition 22. They tend not to flow from one side to the other in lots of phases, instead favouring to recycle in the wide channels (around the tram lines either side of the pitch) getting there in one maybe two recycles.
It’s fast, and they’ll look to do this off first phase so as not to let the defence settle. On subsequent phases they sit very deep when transferring the ball and then hit that channel wide and in numbers.
They also leave one forward very wide, usually Read wherever it is they came from. If they do revert to a flow pattern then it’s nearly always outside the 10 to maintain momentum, and the primary receiver of the pods is always looking to offload before contact. It’s pretty standard, move the point of contact, but throughout the team every player can do it perfectly.
They are looking to suck the backs into the tackle area, and then get backs on forwards early on before a defence has settled in. Once a line break is made, they isolate the channel they just came from and flood it with runners.
Essentially they back their fitness, decision making and rugby skills to get them to the breakdown quickly, the backs will ruck as effectively as the forwards so there is no need for strictly defined punch groups such as teams like South Africa and Wales use.
So how do you defend this?
Well you do a few things.
First, England need to get off the line, and with good line speed try and shut them down behind the advantage line.
That’s the first thing. The Second is that, because when they start doing this, the AB’s will sit deeper and pass behind the man, they absolutely cannot play the blitz defence. As we saw last autumn when England push up on the outside channel in that umbrella formation they had a tendency to get exposed by skilful players who are able to read a rushing defence and offload under pressure.
England need to defend in a more traditional manner, simple up and out style drift defence so that when the tackle finally comes the ball carrier is meeting numbers and there is the prospect of sealing the ball off.
Having said all that, we found out this week that New Zealand are now without Read, most likely replaced by Jerome Kaino or Victor Vito – this means New Zealand may well adopt a more traditional punch and spread pattern through the middle, in which case point one becomes more important than point two.
Key to all this is England’s approach to the tests, they absolutely cannot look to contain New Zealand. they have to go on the attack. New Zealand average around 20-25 points per game, so England have to live with achieving at least that to even be in with a chance, they cannot put the defensive wall up without an attack to back it up. They need to play at pace and physically attack the advantage line – but they need to do that without sacrificing their shape and becoming loose in defence. They cannot stand off the All Blacks and hope to keep the scoreboard close, they need to pressure the AB’s at every opportunity without over selling themselves and keep the scoreboard ticking over.
Can they do it? Yes, absolutely. Will they do it? Now that’s another question, my heart says England to grab one win, my head says Black Wash – but the tests to be close fought affairs.