s o what threat do the all Blacks pose to the lions in attack? what exactly do they do to create break after break? when you look at any attack you need to do an Mot – it starts with the foundations, as a team and as an individual. the mind-numbing shape you see in attack from many teams – runners in front of the ball-carrier and no threat to a defence except tripping over themselves – isn’t seen with New Zealand. they understand depth and options. their first receiver will often play as flat as his ability allows and really threaten the defence. Beauden Barrett, who I’ll talk more about later, is a master of this, but no one is wary of stepping up as a distributor or pivot. as a result you get continuity, speed and options.
that last outcome – options or variation – is definitely one of their points of difference. yes, they have an attacking shape that will have a couple of runners as flat options, but they are not just used as battering rams. I’ve seen delicious offloads from Dane Coles and even a giant like Brodie Retallick has picked up a little grubber and begun a raid behind enemy lines. this ‘activity’ they create around the ball is the big threat; it keeps a defence on their toes or, in many cases, on their heels.
then there is their kicking game. Kick to keep the ball or apply pressure should be the maxim for any team – and the all Blacks do it so well. whether it’s a deft kick laterally to a wing or lock hovering out wide or a chip to recover the ball, it again means the defence have to cover these options. as they do their offloading game.
If the lions are to subdue this attacking threat, they need a defence that suffocates. the all Blacks ‘breathe’ so well as an attack – they give themselves time and space by good alignment, great decision-making and flawless skill execution. I’m not saying they are without peers, but to negate them you need to shut down their space and reduce their source of primary possession.
the other key for the men in black is their accuracy at the breakdown. they are the best nation at the ruck. their Super Rugby teams have all been outstanding in this area and that means they get quick ball with minimum numbers. that’s why the lions will have to pick their battles at the breakdown, to leave some rucks and wait for better opportunities. they also shouldn’t seek quick wins by trying to get over the ball all the time. Instead, they should focus on less flashy outcomes by trying to counter-ruck and slow New Zealand ball down.
a reduction in their speed of ball will mean defensive line speed can be more certain and suffocation of their attack can be better. tactics and execution around this area will be important; if the lions can slow ball down whilst staying on their feet and avoiding penalties, it will be a vital area of success in the overall theatre of war.
It would be remiss not to say how crucial Barrett is. I’ve watched him since his sevens days and he’s an amazing player. he plays flat and with pace but that doesn’t reduce his execution or range of vision. he can win games with flashes of brilliance and, with aaron Smith providing ball at fibre-optic speed, the lions will need to manage the world Player of the year very well.
the way the all Blacks defend, they often create attack. Expect a crucial chargedown or interception from them at some point. It’s too common to say it’s a lucky break – they actively pursue those opportunities. I also fully expect them to throw curve balls at the lions; a unique back-line set-up or set-piece move. It’s mouth-watering.
the side that manages to breathe deepest in attack, while doing the opposite to their opponent in defence, will go a long way to securing the test series.
Focal point Beauden Barrett scythes through