MYTHBUSTERS

THE PER­CEP­TION OF THE ALL BLACKS’ TIGHT FIVE BE­ING VUL­NER­A­BLE IS ONE THAT RE­FUSES TO DIE NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES IT IS DISPELLED.

NZ Rugby World - - Mythbusters - Gre­gor Paul re­ports.

Of all the ill-founded, strange, myth­i­cal no­tions that ex­ist within rugby, the idea that the All Blacks are vul­ner­a­ble in the tight five is per­haps the one that makes least sense of all.

It is def­i­nitely a thing: there is a per­cep­tion within var­i­ous parts of the world that the set piece and gen­eral lack of phys­i­cal­ity within the All Blacks tight five, is their soft underbelly. If you want to beat the All Blacks – at­tack them up front seems to be the pop­u­lar think­ing.

Teams from the North­ern Hemi­sphere are most prone to think­ing like this. They are more likely to fix on the idea that they can scrum the All Blacks into sub­mis­sion or force them to raise the white flag by dom­i­nat­ing them at the li­ne­out.

The Bri­tish & Ir­ish Li­ons in 2005 thought they would be able to do that. They picked a num­ber of griz­zled, vet­eran Eng­land for­wards who were tough, ex­pe­ri­enced cam­paign­ers and told them to seek and de­stroy.

In coach Clive Wood­ward’s de­fence, the All Blacks pack had been a lit­tle vul­ner­a­ble be­tween 2000 and 2004. They had de­vel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing a touch flaky at set piece and not as abra­sive or ro­bust as All Blacks packs of old.

But new coach Gra­ham Henry, who had been in­stalled in late 2003, iden­ti­fied the need to stiffen the re­solve of his pack and had made am­ple progress by late 2004.

While Henry wanted the All Blacks to play a wide-wide game, he wanted to do so off a rock solid set piece. His pack would have to be mo­bile and skilled, but first and fore­most, they had to at­tend to their core roles.

The Li­ons that year got noth­ing out of the All Blacks’ tight five. They came off sec­ond best and went home hav­ing lost 3-0 and with the in­dig­nity in­ten­si­fied by their fail­ure to com­pete in the ar­eas that they said they would. It was a chas­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, and a sharp warn­ing – or at least should have been – that what­ever it may have looked life be­fore, the All Blacks were no longer flaky at set piece or up front.

That mes­sage was lost, though...it never got through as since then, there has been a pro­ces­sion of teams who have con­vinced them­selves that they can come to New Zealand and smack the All Blacks around.

There is some de­gree of un­der­stand­ing as to why teams have thought like that. Rugby up north re­mains more of a con­fronta­tional, phys­i­cal game.

It’s not bet­ter or worse, it’s sim­ply true that more teams north of the equa­tor see the at­tri­tion el­e­ment of rugby as be­ing the epi­cen­tre of it all. The pre­vail­ing mind­set is about us­ing the scrum as a weapon to ex­ert pres­sure and win penal­ties. The li­ne­out is more of­ten than not a good place to launch a driv­ing maul rather than win quick ball off the top and pass it wide.

Eng­land and Li­ons prop Kyle Sinckler summed it up rather well when he was in New Zealand. “Say if you are watch­ing a Pre­mier­ship game or a Rabo12 game, teams like to scrum for penal­ties,” he said. “Es­pe­cially in their own 22, there is a mas­sive em­pha­sis on penalty ex­its.

“But when you come to Su­per Rugby, the ball is in play a lot longer than in Pre­mier­ship games. Teams want to play. They have guys out wide like [Malakai] Fek­i­toa and [Waisake] Na­holo so they are ob­vi­ously go­ing to want their hands on the ball in space.

“It’s all about the em­pha­sis on the scrum and what teams do. You tend to say in Su­per Rugby guys like to get the ball in and out and play, but then you have the Crusaders who scrum for penal­ties. The Bulls like to do that as well, but in the Pre­mier­ship ev­ery scrum you come up against they are go­ing for penal­ties so you have to be on your met­tle.”

Dif­fer­ent is of­ten in­ter­preted as vul­ner­a­ble or weaker. Not with any real mal­ice or sense of su­pe­ri­or­ity, more with a cold, clin­i­cal, matter of fact cal­cu­la­tion that the op­por­tu­nity to dom­i­nate the scrums may ex­ist on the ba­sis few teams in New Zealand have a mind­set to bat­tle the op­po­si­tion there.

What com­pounds that per­cep­tion of vul­ner­a­bil­ity is the il­lu­sion of the All Blacks be­ing purely about ball-in-hand, fast-paced, highly skilled at­tack­ing rugby. That’s the il­lu­sion – it cer­tainly can ap­pear at times as if the All Blacks don’t have much of an ap­petite for grunt work be­cause they shift the ball to space so eas­ily and quickly.

It is an il­lu­sion, though. A big one. The space is only there be­cause the tight five have helped cre­ate it.

The All Blacks’ game­plan is built on be­ing highly pro­fi­cient, ag­gres­sive and con­fronta­tional at set piece and col­li­sions. Their tight five are not there to pass and catch as such, that’s the added ex­tras that they bring.

SAY IF YOU ARE WATCH­ING A PRE­MIER­SHIP GAME OR A RABO12 GAME, TEAMS LIKE TO SCRUM FOR PENAL­TIES. ES­PE­CIALLY IN THEIR OWN 22, THERE IS A MAS­SIVE EM­PHA­SIS ON PENALTY EX­ITS.’ KYLE SINCKLER

WE HAVE GOT TO BE EX­TREMELY PROUD OF WHAT WE DID. YOU DON’T BE­COME THE NUM­BER ONE SIDE IN THE WORLD FOR AS LONG AS WE HAVE BEEN – AND I DON’T WANT TO SOUND LIKE WE ARE BRAG­GING HERE – WITH­OUT A VERY GOOD TIGHT FIVE.’ STEVE HANSEN

Like ev­ery other test side in the world, their core roles come first and the All Blacks spend as much time as ev­ery­one else nail­ing their scrum, li­ne­out and break­down work.

And they are good. They have a tight five – have done for the best part of a decade now – that have more than held their own in all facets and been dom­i­nant in plenty of matches against plenty of op­po­nents. But still, no matter how much they de­stroy the myth of vul­ner­a­bil­ity, de­liv­er­ing quite fear­somely ag­gres­sive and co­he­sive per­for­mances of their own, there are still teams who gen­uinely be­lieve the All Blacks can be beaten up. That very theme em­anated from the 2017 Li­ons. Not di­rectly nec­es­sar­ily. They didn’t say any­thing dis­re­spect­ful about the All Blacks but the play­ers and coach­ing staff did make it clear they would be tar­get­ing the set piece come the tests. It was made clear by the types of play­ers se­lected and their ob­vi­ous strengths, that the Li­ons were out to squeeze the All Blacks’ tight five. They were in New Zealand with a plan to win the tests, the se­ries, with an ag­gres­sive pack that would be good enough to con­trol pos­ses­sion and ter­ri­tory. That’s how the played in the build-up to the se­ries and they did it well. It was im­pres­sive how mus­cu­lar they were and how ef­fec­tively they could stran­gle op­po­nents. Nei­ther the Crusaders nor the Maori were able to fire a shot such was the con­trol ex­erted by the Li­ons’ for­wards. Ev­ery­one then knew what was coming ahead of that first test, which is why All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said eight days be­fore kick off: “I have been here since 2004 and ev­ery year we have been told we are go­ing to be tar­geted at set piece and that is a great chal­lenge. We will look for­ward to it and get our­selves ready and hope­fully we will be able to match them if not bet­ter them.”

By the end of the first test, the Li­ons were phys­i­cally and men­tally shat­tered. They had got it wrong. Their be­lief the All Blacks tight five were vul­ner­a­ble proved to be a mas­sive mis­read­ing of the real sit­u­a­tion.

The All Blacks won the first test on the back of their scrum­mag­ing and con­trol at the col­li­sions. The tight five were all heavy, di­rect ball car­ri­ers for the All Blacks. They were work­ing off Aaron Smith, hit­ting short and long passes off the ruck and thun­der­ing up the mid­dle.

It was pow­er­ful, mus­cu­lar stuff and forced the Li­ons to tackle and tackle. The cru­cial play, though, came on 54 min­utes when the All Blacks had a scrum 10 me­tres in­side Li­ons ter­ri­tory.

They put on an ini­tial shove that saw the Li­ons bend it but then hold. The ball could have come out then but All Blacks cap­tain Kieran Read sensed there was a bit of give in the Li­ons. So the sec­ond shove came and

LOVE IT North­ern Hemi­sphere teams tend to see the scrum as a bat­tle for supremacy rather than a means to restart the game.

PRES­SURE PUSH The Li­ons scrummed for penal­ties against the NZ Maori.

WAISAKE NA­HOLO

REIKO IOANE

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.