Gold shades Black

wallabies.jpgChris Sheil’s match preview ended up being pretty well spot on. The All Blacks tried to play the grinding, possession-based rugby they’ve reverted to this season with such success. However, except for the first 20 minutes, the Wallabies matched and then outpointed them 23-15. As Chris observed:

If Eddie Jones hasn’t worked out how to counter this style by now, he should hand back half his pay packet.

Well, Eddie’s family won’t be living on dog food this week, because he had worked it out. The Australian forwards had the technique as well as the passion and commitment that Troppo comment box pundit Peter Ransen feared Jones couldn’t instil. They controlled possession even better than the All Blacks in the second half. George Smith and Nathan Sharp would be my standout picks, but the entire pack did well.

Chris Sheil will be doubly happy that his ageing hero Matt Burke got a run in the centres in his last test on Australian soil, after Stirling Mortlock got crunched a couple of times and had to leave the field. Burkie had his usual workmanline game, thankfully wasn’t shown up in defence (as he had been a few times over the last year or so), and displayed his customary radar boot.

5/8 Stephen Larkham would be my pick in the backs, and for man of the match generally … not quite in Andrew Johns’ league yet, but not far off. CS’s bete noire fullback Chris Latham even played well, and Wendell did a couple of good things when he came on as a late replacement. All in all a great night for the Wallabies, and a vintage Bledisloe clash.

I can’t help having a whinge about the referee though. The South African ref (whose name slips my mind) let the NZ backs camp offside in the Wallabies’ faces all night, and even had the gall to reverse a penalty to Australia when Gregan politely (by his standards anyway) pointed out that they’d been infringing repeatedly in exactly the same way. He eventually walked Ali Williams for it, but well after the Blacks’ tactic had become a complete joke.

Of course, the Boks do exactly the same only worse. Referees are going to have to start enforcing the offside rule much more strictly, or international rugby is likely to degenerate into a dour defensive game and lose some of the massive popularity it’s deservedly achieved over the last few seasons. Fans want to see great attacking rugby, not a boring, in-your-face arm wrestle. Then again, I was an outside back so you’d expect that’s what I’d think. Wayne Wood loves nothing better than watching a bunch of big dumb meathead forwards mixing it.

* The photo adorning this story shows big dumb meathead forwards Ali Williams and Justin Harrison mixing it, and was copied from the News Online website. What with my renewed enthusiasm for the blog’s appearance, I’ll take the copyright breach risk. I don’t imagine my rugby reports pose a massive commercial threat to Rupert.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Peter Ransen
Peter Ransen
2022 years ago

How good was that! Is there any other game?

Our forwards went exceptionally well. Once they found their play they took control and kept it. They provided an excellent platform, and when they got that rolling maul going a couple of times they looked like the winners we have long wanted of them. Shades of the old gold. My comment box pundit fears remain, however, until they combine like that continually, home and away. Tonight they showed they had it.

All players were deserving.

But to choose one, this little black duck damn nearly fell in love tonight.. what can be said of George Smith!

What can be said of New Zealand rugby now.. strange style of play, and appears cynical to me.

No matter. When our national rugby team strive and soar, it is evocative of nothing less than reason alone to be alive.

Brian Bahnisch
Brian Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Cynical is right, Peter. Deliberately playing outside the rules. I recall one of the Hockeyroos saying once they’d rather not win if they had to win that way. I’d like to think it is not the Australian way.

Peter Ransen
Peter Ransen
2022 years ago

Isn’t a source of (the good type of) pride, Brian, to be secure in knowing how the Wallabies maintain that quality sportsmanship. The All Blacks use of the offside stuff lately is not their normal way, and a bit disconcerting. More, though, what is strange about their game, and happens with the SA style as well lately, is this tendency to choose away from standing deep in attack. We do it too, where we stand a forward out there in the centres and set up phase play from that point, but at least we still maintain enough of the deep attacking backline play to keep the game somewhat recognisable. It’s almost a rugby laug laeiug leigie lahg hell, never could say it, style; not that I’ve ever watched it properly to know. (However, I’ve seen the bits accidentally in the evening news, and heard that species when programs to choose to have them interviewed. On the latter point there is great mystery. Why?!! I ask myself!)

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Peter

I reckon rugby followers’ knowledge could be enhanced by familiarising themselves with the various rugby league attacking patterns (not so much defence; rugby union studied and adapted league defensive patterns and tackling techniques some years ago – that was part of the reason for Australia’s first two World Cups).

In terms of attack, teams like Sydney City Roosters (formerly Easts) and Canterbury Bulldogs exemplify the sort of pattern the All Blacks and South Africa currently employ: – flat attacking line with big forwards mostly taking the ball up to the “advantage line”, ensuring a territorial gain with minimal risk. The ball is only tossed wide to the outside backs occasionally, when the opponent’s big forwards are tired or have been sucked into the middle by the relentless safety-first forward-based shallow attack.

This style requires (a) big powerful forwards (the Bulldogs’ Willie Mason is the classic example); (b) a 5/8 with a good (but not necessarily superb) kicking game; and big, fast centres and wingers (to capitalise on the few occasions when the ball is tossed wide).

This sort of attacking pattern is easily adaptable to rugby union, and works even better in that context. Rugby league only has 6 tackles to grind the oppoenent down and create openings to toss the ball out wide. Union has unlimited tackles, as long as you can retain second phase possession. Hence the current All Black/Bok obsession with shallow straight-line attack with little initial attempt to break the line, and using the breakdown and second phase play after repeated retention of ruck and maul ball as the main opportunity to launch attacks.

All league teams use this pattern to some extent, and so do all union teams (including Australia). However, there’s a more expansive style of rugby league attack exemplified by teams like Newcastle and Brisbane (and St. George-Illawarra). It involves a much greater willingness to toss the ball wide, and launch counter-attacking raids at a moment’s notice from anywhere on the field. It involves a flat front attacking line, but successive waves of attacking players behind that, so that a play-making half or 5/8 can choose either to give the ball to a flat attacking player in the first line, or use the first line as a decoy and throw it to a player coming through from deeper in the second or third attacking wave.

This attacking style requires a brilliant playmaker at half or 5/8 (and preferably both so it’s harder to bottle him up), and fast running forwards (not to mention fullback and blindside winger) who can fan out across the field to create the second and third attacking waves.

This style is potentially much more dangerous and attractive to watch than the dour Canterbury/Easts style, but quite a lot harder to implement successfully on a consistent basis. You need to be able to revert to the grinding style when necessary. It’s this more expansive style that the more successful NZ Sper Twelve teams deploy, and that the All Blacks employed when they beat Australia 51-10 (or thereabouts) around July last year. However, they’ve since reverted to the safety-first grinding style after failing at the World Cup.

Australia, on the other hand, continues to experiment with trying to achieve the optimal blend between grinding, flat-line attack and the more adventurous, attacking waves, tossing it wide style. So far it’s paying dividends, because we beat England and the Boks and are one-all with the All Blacks this season. I hope Eddie Jones continues to do so.

However, it will only work if referees enforce the offside rule. It would work even better if rugby implemented (say) a 5 metre rule for both attacking and defending teams (i.e. both attacking and defending teams must stand 5 metres back from scrums, rucks and mauls). That would give much greater scope for developing constructive attacks and make for a much more attractive, open running game. Of course, the 5 metre rule would have to be enforced mostly by touch judges, because the referee is necessarily focused on ensuring that the amazingly complex rucking and mauling rules are followed. But I don’t see that as a major problem. What do others think?

Peter Ransen
Peter Ransen
2022 years ago

Fascinating, Ken. I’ve taken it on board. Thanks for highlighting the different rl teams; clearly I’m not up to speed with that and it’s interesting as well to know different attacking styles exist in laughe, legge, leuge…

Much of what we are talking here depends on the general mood of the game. That is to say, if one team decided to adopt an entirely different style of attack, others would adapt. That all teams have gravitated towards this style of play, which you’ve excellently detailed, has been, I believe, due to the influence of money in the game. So, my first response is to the general mood.

As you’d know, in the amateur days, players played for the love of the game. The game represented a purist style where forwards and backs, the halves, and each actual position was enshrined in its own unique style, and how we knew so well the game to be played from that postional uniqueness. As a forward, you loved the purity of forward play. As a back, you loved its uniqueness as well. With this focus on that purity (not saying it’s lost, just essentially changed), players had also more freedom to show flare.

When money came into it, the business need came also. Business is about strategy, risk assessment and minimisation, capitalising on opportunity and so on. Your comment highlights the essential change to the game: minimising risk. When big money is on the line out there, the natural gravitation must inevitably move towards playing the game more like a business.

This is an observation, not criticism.

In regards to actual attacking moves, let’s take your suggestion further. I agree it’s well considered, and I’m not against it by any means. Let’s see where it ends up. This may well be where the game goes.

In your scenario, what would happen is that each position becomes less different and less unique. If I were to play in your style, for instance, I’d train the loose forwards, the hooker, the five-eighth, centres and wingers all to play scrum half. They’d each be able to perform that role equally, disseminating ball and directing the play.

Then, I’d ensure the backline could fully interchange, and still keep the attack plan. The forwards themselves would all be equally strong and mobile. What I lost in set play specialist skill I gained in phase play, where the game is eventually won or lost under this continued direction. (Maybe why, for instance, lifting was made to be allowed, to compensate for requirements elsewhere by the forwards).

This way, as the first phase play becomes less and less a realistic attacking option, and play re-aligns always from phase play, each player would be in a position to immediately assume the attack plan. There’d be no loss of time in waiting for the scrum half to arrive, for instance, and there’d always be a ready made attack plan backline at hand and in position.

I guess this is also minimising risk: minimising the difference in skill required for each position.

As those waves you mention form and move, in flux, snap!, all of a sudden when the opportunity is available your whole attack plan is ready and deadly, as it had been, forming again and again through those waves, waiting for the moment of opposition weakness. (Company takeover!)

Let’s contrast that to the original style of attack.

Every young player has had the lesson of trying to outrun the ball as it’s passed between a string of players. It can never be done. This is the structure upon which the original backline play is based.

When the backs line deep and whip the ball to the wingers, it spreads the attack and it spreads the defence. (Using the pure running passing form). This means that the various skills required of each position are more necessarily required.

It also means the forwards, in both combatting and in creating that style of backline attack, necessarily maintain a separate forward play. This means obtaining ball, securing it, creating the platform, and being directed as to the best option from a specialist scrum half. These options might be quick ball, slow ball, or taking it away themselves. In defence, the skills required are to contest the ball, move forward (ie push the attack forwards back), and be organised for close in or flying defence.

These are the art forms of the old style which many older players lament the loss of. Centres required so highly developed specialist skills, for instance, that there was a world of difference as you know between inside and outside centre play, and rare and lauded was the man (yep, all male then!) who could play both.

Who am I as comment box pundit to wish the game go in a particular way. It must evolve. The danger, though, I see, is that younger players may lose sight of the art and the essence of what rugby was always about.

Rugby, to me clearly, is the greatest game of all. My reason for this is, among many other things, that there is, or was, always a place in a rugby team for a player of any stature, co-ordination skill, and inner style. I loved that an unco-ordinated, slow, strong person could find absolute satisfaction and team need in the front row, and that a small and flighty, creative runner could find a place equally, as an example.

While I applaud your insight, and I agree completely with your rationale, we need to be aware of what we gain and what we lose, though, one wonders what chance we have of changing the game’s evolution.

But having said that, I know one thing, the day a team backs itself and takes risks, and throws the ball wide in the running game (as a starting point of game plan), all other teams will need to adapt, and the game will change again.

It’s about risk. Or is it? Is there an essential flare in rugby, which will always live, and which overrides risk?

Finally, there is one way to alter the current style of play, and that is to reinstate the mindset within the forwards that they are, equally and absolutely, attacking players. This keeps the game moving forward from the forward pack, and helps keep much of the rugby skill and flare alive. And, it wins games.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Peter

I don’t agree that the skillset and attributes of players in the modern game (or the further evolved one that I’m describing) would become the same at all. We still need smaller, super-skilful half and 5/8, a fullback who can catch and kick superbly and cime into the attack anywhere on the field and so on.

What would change is the skillset and attributes o second rowers and lock. They would still need to retain scrummaging skills (which requires bulk and strength) and lineout skills (height). But they would also need to be faster and more mobile, and that’s where the problems arise. Eddie Jones experimented with Radike Samo for precisely this reason. He looked like he could give us more attacking options out wide, without sacrificing lineout options. But his ruck, maul and scrum skills weren’t up to the mark, and his lienout skills weren’t quite as good as David Lyons either. So it’s back to Lyons and trying to use him as an attacking option out wide. Last night (and against the Boks) it worked well.

Peter Ransen
Peter Ransen
2022 years ago

I understand what you are saying, Ken. My proposition is what happens when the game fully extends along the trajectory which you detail, that is, a decade from now. Your reading is I believe an accurate reading of the current style.

Within the confines of how it’s currently played, I agree with you. There is definitely a positional requirement.

I really don’t want to be critical in a negative sense of our guys, and hope it doesn’t appear so. Yet one way to resolve the forward situation you just mention is to create a forward combination that allows for the successful use of the rolling maul. “Taking it away” – as you would no doubt have played with. If our boys could put that together – of course, along with push over tries, tight heads, and turnarounds, taking it away, (more exactly right now, the rolling maul) is the holy grail, and hard to achieve.

It would be great to have the resolution you suggest as well, but to me to rolling maul is the way for us to go.

Peter Ransen
Peter Ransen
2022 years ago

.. sorry Ken, poorly said. My proposition is the extreme resultant. To further qualify, if it continues in that direction, I’m imagining there will be tendency towards the play and style I’m suggesting above. A broad base skill set and full interchangeability would capitalise in that style of play.

Brian Bahnisch
Brian Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Peter and Ken

I don’t have anywhere near your understanding of the game. But one of the things that impresses me about our team is the running power of the outside backs. Not sure about Rathbone, but Lote, Latham, Mortlock, plus Bourke and Wendell when they come on are all 100kg +. Lote and Latham in particular have surprising drive in their legs (with Mortlock it is no surprise). Rathbone runs hard too and is great off the mark. It seems obvious to set those guys a bit deep and let them rip.

btw, David Lord on Newsradio thought the ref had a shocker. He counted 18 deliberate fouls by NZ, only 7 drawing penalties. That would seem to encourage what must be a deliberate team policy.

Peter Ransen
Peter Ransen
2022 years ago

Brian, as it happens I’ve learned a heap of things from Ken’s comments and from thinking through a response; wonderful value to have this thoughtful facility. I had no bloody idea of the All Blacks game plan, and Chris articulated this wonderfully for us. My own knowledge is bedded in the amateur era and in ways I’m interested in seeing if it has any relevance to the modern game.

Isn’t that awesome watching the guys you mention power forward, even when in the tackle. That pumping leg drive if I recall was really pioneered and mastered by Tim Horan. It is thrilling. It’s gladiatorial!

Fascinating to see those stats. Says it all. (Just as an aside, it was David Lord who made the first overt approaches to players to go professional. I was in the room when he approached a guy called Steve Tuynman, as a schoolboy!, to head towards the professional game. In those days, it was sacrilegious to consider money, tho there was always talk of payments in European clubs, and of course many offers made in a pseudo professional way to players here. In fact, you could in those days switch codes and play league, but if you got even one payment for it you were banned from rugby for life! Lordy was a great rugby man but lost most of his friends in that era.)

Brian Bahnisch
Brian Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Thanks, Peter. At least Lordy might have a clue what he’s talking about. I had no idea of his history

David Tiley
2022 years ago

I am awed. As far as the other half of Australia is concerned, you could be speaking Basque. But I do sense the fun you have been having.

Sedgwick
2022 years ago

Confession time here Tiley, and run me out of the half of Australia that is Melbourne if you must. It was a cold night and both the heater and the TV were on to the max. I watched a fair bit of that basquette case game (either side of Roy Orbison on SBS) and even with not knowing the rules and strategies underpinning the contest (one presumes there are such things) I became strangely engaged – and I don’t think it had anything to do with “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie. Oi, oi, oi”.

Struck me as a game of chess with serious grunticality. I might be tempted to fall off the AFL waggon once or twice more.

Peter Ransen
Peter Ransen
2022 years ago

‘Tis played by poets, I tell you! Or, at least, by men striving to be gentlemen, where a gentleman is rugby-defined as a man who doesn’t piss in the shower.

woodsy
woodsy
2022 years ago

I agree about Jon Kaplan – he had a shocker. He seemed to be very nervous, couldn’t maintain control and consequently interrupted the players concentration. He’s lucky that both teams take the Bledisloe so seriously, it could have easily degenerated into a slugfest, especially if the rest of team hadn’t kept Harrison out of trouble.

My stand out performance was George Smith. If you analyse what the various commenters have said above, much revolves about the loose forwards becoming a second wave of backs. And that’s exactly what George did repeatedly; with the best example his little pass to Lote.

Why Jones continues to keep Jerry Paul on the bench I can’t understand. He is more flexible and mobile than Cannon; perhaps it’s because Paul was born a Kiwi ?

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Wayne

Last season Jeremy Paul just couldn’t get his lineout throws right, and Jones had no choice but to replace him with Cannon. The lineout came right immediately. However, he seems to have sorted out his problems now, because it worked OK against the Boks. I agree Paul is a better hooker overall, but I suppose there’s a reasonable argument that an incumbent player shouldn;t be sacked while he’s performing well and the team’s winning.

Peter Ransen
Peter Ransen
2022 years ago

Backing up on George Smith. The guy is indestructible, indefatigable, even unbruisable, with a commitment to being on the ball for eighty minutes unequalled in the world.

Cannon is my pick, for his work in the tight. Trouble is, it’s hard to pick hookers from our distance; what they do up close is what matters. But Jeremy Paul did have a blinder when he came on, though I do think his dad Kerry Packer has something to do with his selection.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

I agree – Cannon in the close (and the line-outs); Jeremy in the loose – we’re very lucky to have both (and still a third coming through).

Re Smithy: with the best example his little pass to Lote. What about the pass inside after he had thrown one All Black off his shoulder and was in the air over the side-line? The linesman called him out, even though he wasn’t, simply because he couldn’t believe anyone could be that good! This penalty-because-no-one-can-do-what-he-does happens to Smithy once or twice a game!

murph
2022 years ago

Hey Shielsy! Tell me again about how crap Latham is?

trackback
2022 years ago

Hot August Night

Another Rugby Test, and another great victory for Australia. Rugby geeks who want to talk technique and strategy are advised to click here where people who actually know about rugby…

trackback
2022 years ago

Hot August Night

Another Rugby Test, and another great victory for Australia. Rugby geeks who want to talk technique and strategy are advised to click here where people who actually know about rugby…