This years World Cup has got off to a scintillating start.
Argentina and France battered each other for 80 minutes, scoring a bunch of brilliant tries along the way. Russia were certainly no push over for a strong Japanese side in the opening game and Fiji nearly caused the upset of the tournament by running Australia closer than the score suggests (yes, I know there’d only been one game at the time but even so).
Fitness was always going to be a huge tell in this World Cup, the heat and humidity unlike that which many would have experienced playing a big part, but just the general game/match fitness and the ambition of the teams involved.
We saw it tell in Russia’s fade early in the second half, while Frances lack of structure in the first 40 saw them struggle to fight off a resurgent Argentinean side.
In the game we’re focused on here Fiji tried to keep the pace down except in broken play. Mainly to combat their relative lack of fitness compared to the Australians and I think we saw that play out when when around the 60 minute mark Australia started to take control and Fiji couldn’t wrestle the momentum back leading to a slew of penalties and a yellow card..
In truth Australia very much played into the Fijians hands, looking to move the ball around early on when they should have tightened up their game plan from the first kick off, played through the rucks and pulled the Fijian defence in. This would have allowed their outside backs to attack from a deep alignment, looking to pressure the outside shoulder. Instead they ended up taking those big shots which just gave the Fijians energy and momentum.
It was tactically naive from Australia.
Similarly their kicking game was also rushed and uncoordinated, coming across panicked, under pressure. The introduction of Will Genia very much changed the momentum of the game. Seeing the Fijians dropping deep to field his long territory finders (just knowing he kicks like that meant they had to drop back) and Australia looked to gain control through their line-out and structured play.
Ultimately 5 tries to 2 tells all the story you need to know and whilst the game threw up some absolute gems from both sides I want to have a look at Marika Koroibetes fantastic try on the 72 minute mark.
At 71 minutes Australia had worked their way back into the game, taken the lead and finally put Fiji away with a fantastic try from half way.
Anyone who follows me though will know I love a good strike move and key to this entire move is Hooper and Pocock getting into the midfield:
We can see that allows O’Conner to drop back into the pocket and create the extra runner coming from behind late.
It also allows Kerevi to set up very wide, within this group of runners flagged below:
Allowing James O’Connor to slide around behind Pocock and fix the final defender:
Once the move is under way, Hoopers ability to play right up on the gain line with Pocock as his carrying option and O’Connor as his slide option is fantastic:
That allows O’Connor to come onto the ball at pace and play right on the gain line allowing him to come around to fix the edge defender (Goneva) and then pick one of three options with a beautifully weighted pass.
When coaches talk about playing flat, this is what they mean. It’s not about standing flat (we can see from the set up they are relatively deep) it’s about coming onto the ball at pace so the defence have to set and then playing right on the tackle line and under pressure.
And that is demonstrated perfectly with the brilliant pass from Haylett-Petty, which we can see is right on the gain line:
That leaves it a straight footrace between Korobiete and Goneva :
It’s easy to criticise Fiji’s defence here, and statistically they were not great on defence.
76% vs Australias 70% doesn’t look too bad, in comparison but when you see that 24% of missed tackles actually adds up to 41 missed tackles compared to Asutralias 30% equaling 24 you can see the vast amount of tackles Fiji fell off compared to Australia.
But the truth is it’s a simple, yet effective move creating numbers that are able to flood the outside channel by simply bringing in two of the best ball handling forwards.
It was a brave loss to a wonderful Fijian side, and in it they Fiji showed that it’s ok to dream in a sport not designed for the minnows to succeed. They also showed the importance of being able to control the tempo of the game for 80 minutes and that at the very least at you need to be on top of your defensive game if you want to be in it at the end.
Author: The Dead Ball Area