Australia’s ability to hold onto the ball proves decisive in their victory over New Zealand
Few would have believed prior to last Saturday’s game that Australia would have to the ability to dismantle the the All Black pack, but that is exactly what they did. By selecting Michael Hooper and David Pocock, Michael Cheika enabled his backrow dominate their illustrious counterparts as they denied New Zealand possession. Even at scrum time the much maligned Australian front row got on top of their opponents, winning numerous penalties.
Although there were a number of extremely talented backs on show, it was the forward battle that won it. Despite the fact that the Wallabies had a man in the bin after eight minutes and looked to be struggling throughout the opening quarter, they managed to keep the All Blacks at bay. Indeed despite all their dominance and a number of line breaks, New Zealand only led by three points after twenty two minutes.
It was only at this point did we get to see Australia’s game plan. After Michael Hooper turned over possession, Australia kicked to touch and cut through the New Zealand defence with a pre rehearsed line out move. However the Wallabies were still some distance from getting a score, as the All Blacks reset themselves in defence. Nevertheless, Australia simply held onto possession, moving the ball to players who were escorted into the contact in order to protect possession.
Although Australia may have been lucky to be awarded the scrum under the New Zealand posts following Hooper’s carry, it illustrated how Australia were going to approach the game. Indeed it is in complete contrast to how they played against South Africa, when the Wallabies moved the ball wide at every opportunity. However that is not to say that Australia were good in the first half. Very often they were standing far too flat and Bernard Foley was not attacking the gain line.
In the image below, notice how flat and narrow the Australian back line is standing. Indeed off that phase the Wallabies attempted to go wide, losing ground. Consequently, although Australia held onto possession for periods of time in the first half, they offered little penetration. It was little wonder then that Foley was replaced by Matt Toomua in the second half.
When Toomua came on he made an instant impact, taking the ball to the gain line and encouraging his back line to stand at depth. In the picture below notice how deep the Australian backs are standing behind Toomua. This allows the Australian players attack the ball and make inroads when they carried it.
Although Australia eventually lose the ball in the clip below, they are continually taking the ball from deep positions, challenging the All Black defence. As a result, unlike the first half when they were drifting wide in defence, in the second half New Zealand were having to push up. In this regard it is worth looking at Julian Savea in the clip below. Notice how he moves up with the rest of the line leaving space behind.
While Tooma does not take advantage of the space on that occasion, he did for Adam Ashley Cooper’s try. Although they appeared to be creating little with the ball in the clip below, the Wallabies were patient, waiting for any infringement or mistake. After diving the Australian attack back for a number of phases, Savea steps up, with the rest of the New Zealand back line, leaving space in behind. Tooma simply kicks into the space and Ashley Cooper takes advantage.
This type of patient play is something not generally associated with Australia and their maverick back line. Indeed their ability to hold onto possession has a lot to do with the fact that Cheika played two opensides. Both Hooper and Pocock could protect the ball at a number of breakdowns throughout the game, thus negating the predatory influence of McCaw. The benefits of playing both opensides was no more evident then for Nick Whites try.
Although Australia had lost possession, Michael Hooper was on the opposite side of the field to David Pocock, and able to tackle Nehe Milner-Skudder, ultimately winning a turnover. Consequenlty instead of facing a Milner-Skudder break, Australia were attacking the New Zealand line. Once more their attack is patient, going through a number of phases, awaiting the inevitable mistake. This time its White he steps inside Kieran Read, putting the Wallabies in a winning position.
While their game plan was simple, it was very effective. It says a lot about the skill set of the Australian players and the coaching of Michael Cheika, as Australia had the ability to adapt their game plan to beat New Zealand.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena