NZ Rugby World - - Outside Influences -

There was a weird cou­ple of years in South­ern Hemi­sphere rugby be­tween 2008 and 2009 when the so-called Ex­per­i­men­tal Law Vari­a­tions were tri­alled and then ditched, leav­ing a state of con­fu­sion and need for ma­jor tac­ti­cal ad­just­ment.

But strangely, the All Blacks were slow to re­alise that the game had changed tac­ti­cally. They found out the hard way dur­ing the 2009 Tri Na­tions that the game had evolved to the ex­tent many teams were sim­ply kick­ing and chas­ing for 80 min­utes.

No one did it bet­ter than the Spring­boks, who with the twin kick­ing threat of Fourie du Preez and Morne Steyn bom­barded the All Blacks in three tests.

The All Blacks couldn’t cope. Their back three didn’t have the skills, and spilled balls and poor kick re­turns were the root cause of them los­ing three games to the Boks that year.

Du Preez, es­pe­cially, with his tac­ti­cal con­trol and pre­cise ex­e­cu­tion, tor­mented the All Blacks and ef­fec­tively forced a mas­sive re­think about the core skills of a back three player.

Af­ter the Tri Na­tions that year the All Blacks did two things. They worked re­lent­lessly on the kick and catch skills of ev­ery­one in their back three mix. But they also shifted the se­lec­tion tem­plate to­wards pick­ing full­backs on the wing – hence the likes of Cory Jane, Is­rael Dagg, Zac Guild­ford and Ben Smith came into the squad and Si­tiveni Si­vi­vatu, Hosea Gear and Joe Roko­coko were moved to the pe­riph­ery.

Over the next 18 months kick and catch be­came an All Blacks strength in their back three and their de­ci­sion to pick full­backs on the wing was in­spired and re­mains in place to­day.

The 2011 World Cup semi­fi­nal was the per­fect illustration of their bril­liance in that area, as the back three of Dagg, Jane and Richard Kahui caught ev­ery­thing – and there was a lot – that was kicked their way.

They didn’t spill a ball and their ac­cu­racy in the air cre­ated counter-at­tack op­por­tu­ni­ties and en­abled them to turn the pres­sure back on the Wal­la­bies.

Thanks to du Preez, the All Blacks had been forced to build a World Cup game­plan. “You have to put your body on the line and get up there,” Dagg would say of how to play un­der the high ball. “In that con­test for the ball, if you go up there half-hearted, you are go­ing to come off sec­ond-best. You have to be brave, you know it is prob­a­bly go­ing to hurt but that is your job.”

AERIAL BOMBS The All Blacks learned the hard way in 2009 that they needed to im­prove their work un­der the high ball.

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