Game two and the series to New Zealand. But did we expect anything less?
While it was a very good game to watch, and England were competitive throughout, it was New Zealand’s ability, post half time break, to raise and maintain the intensity for a 20 minute period that was the major difference.
Within those 20 minutes they gave one of the most clinical displays of attacking Rugby you are likely to see, but what struck me most was how simple it was.
There are endless attacking patterns and styles you can use to break down a defence but rugby is actually a very simple game and when it all boils down to it, like most sports, it’s about space, creating an imbalance in numbers that favour the attacking side, then exploiting it. New Zealand's ability to consistently do this simplest of things well mark them apart from the other teams, specifically the Northern Hemisphere teams.
Creating situations where they have a 2 vs1 or a 3 vs 2 is the whole focus of their game, be it a counter attack, or a classic backline move, the key to their clinical attack is:
- Identify space
- move the ball to that space
- isolate a defender
- support the ball carrier
It sounds so simple, so basic and in this day and age of video and analysis can it really be as simple as school boy rugby done well?
If you think back to last weeks game the All Blacks match winning try came from what was essentially a 2 vs 1. They identified that early and took it at the most opportune of moments. There is no luck involved it’s purely down to excellent decision making under extreme pressure.
England have received a lot of credit for their willingness to attack with the ball in hand, and they showed lots of promise in their ability to identify space and move the ball to it, but they had a tendency to make crucial mistakes at key moments – a bad or 50/50 pass or allowing themselves to be isolated and possession turned over or taken into touch.
Three minutes into the second half New Zealand’s Ben Smith scored an excellent counter attack try from the first phase of turn over ball (again an example of a try scored in under 5 phases). You'll be able to see it as part of our Anatomy of a Try category shortly.
It’s interesting in the context of this discussion because prior to the try England had been attacking for a sustained period of time. In the sequence they once failed to utilise a substantial overlap, and then gave possession away with a 50/50 pass that fails to go to hand. New Zealand pick the ball up and…..well the rest is history.
The two pictures below are from the start of this sequence the first of the two wasted opportunities.
We can see England have a 6 vs 4, (out of the first picture is Tuilagi hugging the touchline (he comes into view in the second grab) but a couple of things ruin this golden opportunity.
The first is no one fixes a defender, so the AB’s defence just carries on drifting.
The second is that by missing players out New Zealands transition defence is allowed to ignore them and work hard to get across and help the outside man. New Zealand play a drift defence and those big wide miss passes play into that by taking Englands own players out of the attack. Even then Burrell has two (good) options at his disposal (picture below), the wide pass and support to Tuilagi on the wing, or the even better switch to Yarde who you can see has a good 30 metre clear run ahead of him and Tuilagi, Parling and Twelvetrees in support.
He chooses neither and is tackled snuffing out a promising move and sucking the support runners in so they can recycle. It's wasteful, and at this level you just cannot afford to waste attacking opportunities like this.
I’m of the opinion that when running a scissor/switch the ball carrier must cede responsibility to the support runner, they have the better view point of what the defence is doing and I think here Burrell should have given the ball to Yarde on his call.
Running the sequence on, in the pictures below, England have again managed to retain possession and recycle until they create an overlap. They actually create an incredible 7 vs 3 (again out of shot is Tuilagi):
But they fail to simply fix and hold defenders before passing to the man in space, and Billy Twelvetrees indecision in attack allows New Zealand to stand off him, until he’s run down a blind alley isolating him from the other England players (picture below):
He then throws a 50/50 ball back inside and New Zealand turn it over. Quickly identify space, move the ball to it then exploit the advantage in numbers to create a 3vs2 leading to Crudens break, then a 2 vs 1 on the full back Brown.
These simple things are what New Zealand’s entire attacking ethos boils down to, simple things executed well under pressure, if England want to take next weeks test match they need better decision making on ball, and to take all opportunities that come their way.