England and Ireland have the chance to take on the worlds best team this autumn. When I read articles and listen to podcasts about the games, there are a lot of clichés bandied around.

For example, pundits often say things like “you have to take all your chances“, “you have to kick intelligently” or “you have to be at your very best“.

I’m more interested in the specific tactics that might give England or Ireland a better shot at halting the All Black juggernaut. Here is a collection of ideas, most of which have been proven to work against New Zealand, and a couple of which I have a hunch might be helpful.

In Selection

All Blacks tactics

The difference Sam Warburton made to the Lions was very clear. Teams that are successful against New Zealand are able to slow most of their rucks down long enough for the defence to organise. So my first way to improve your chances is to select a proper open side and as many other forwards as possible to compete at the ruck. Ireland in particular have some good options here.

The other selection based tactic is to choose athletes over scrummagers in the front row. The All Blacks have an outstanding front row, so dominating their scrum is unlikely. Settling for parity and selecting players such as Mako Vunipola, Tadgh Furlong and Kyle Sinkler served the Lions well. The extra carrying and energy will be needed.

In Attack

Scrum-halves have had significant success against New Zealand attacking the fringes of rucks in recent years. Conor Murray’s try in the second test, shown above, is a good example. Will Genia and Faf De Klerk also benefitted in the recent Rugby Championship.

Brumby Mode

As explained by Conor in several articles, what he calls Brumby Mode is a good tactic to use in tandem with number 9 breaks. Essentially, the All Blacks don’t leave many defenders close to the ruck, preferring to use them in midfield. Therefore, if a team repeatedly sends forward runners off 9 into the same hole, as the Brumbies and Wallabies used to under Rod MacQueen, they can make significant gains. In recent years Argentina has often employed this tactic against New Zealand.

La Rochelle have an interesting attack system which, like Brumby Mode, is also a throwback to the 90s. They often move the usual 3-pod of forwards away from the ruck, opening space in the centre of the pitch. In the picture we see La Rochelle’s fly half with the ball. The Wasps defence have equal numbers. However, Wasps’ fringe defence are out of the game, and La Rochelle have manufactured an overlap. New Zealand like to load the middle of the field with defenders, so I believe this tactic might help outflank them.

South African side the Sharks had success against Kiwi teams in Super Rugby by offloading between forwards in a narrow channel. Check out their demolition of the Blues here. This tactic can work well when combined either with Brumby Mode or the La Rochelle wide pods.

In their victory in Chicago, Ireland took advantage of the unavailability of Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock to pressure New Zealand’s line out. It isn’t an area of particular vulnerability, however, what would you rather do? Kick the ball out and have a go at disrupting the All Blacks’ set piece, or face their counter-attacking skills?

Just because New Zealand are the best counter-attacking team around, it doesn’t mean their opposition should attack conservatively. Remember the Sean O’Brien try sparked by Liam Williams for the Lions. It is smart to avoid giving New Zealand a kick return and instead to run the ball back whenever possible.

This picture shows the build-up to Tommy Seymour’s try in last year’s game at Murrayfield. Scotland often use the tactic of grubber kicking in wide channels. South Africa also used the tactic in their recent Wellington victory when Willie Le Roux stabbed through for Aphiwe Dyantyi prior to his try.

Cheat. The New Zealand defensive system is predicated on reloading quickly. This means defenders get back into the defensive line before the attack is ready. Hold men into rucks, grab feet, don’t allow them to roll away quickly so long as they aren’t also slowing your ball down.

Conor has a new article explaining how to exploit the way the All Blacks try to put pressure on the attack. As he shows, this is something England and Ireland already have in their armoury and it has proved successful before against the men in black.

Rolling mauls are difficult to stop no matter who you are. England might struggle to implement this tactic on Saturday. They have a fairly lightweight pack this autumn due to their catalogue of injuries. They also feature a number of untried combinations. I expect Ireland will look to target the All Blacks when the opportunity arises though.

In Defence

Aaron Smith is incredibly important to the way New Zealand play. However, Faf De Klerk was able to pressure him in the recent Rugby Championship and other teams should try an copy this tactic if they have the personnel for it. De Klerk has a free role in South Africa’s defence. Unlike many 9s, he defends in the front line. He shoots out of the line when he feels the moment is right and injects an element of unpredictability to the defence. I think Luke McGrath might be good at this role if he ends up playing in Dublin.

Crusaders

The Crusaders are a team that play slightly differently to other New Zealand teams. They rarely lose against their fellow Kiwis. Before the Lions tests they showed against the Hurricanes that with enough line speed, it is possible to pressure Beauden Barrett into having a quiet game. England, in particular, showed good line speed against the Springboks at Twickenham. They will need a repeat this weekend.

The Crusaders also defend line breaks very well. After Ngane Laumape breaks a tackle, look how many support runners are blocked by a Crusader. Laumape can’t offload to keep the attack going and the Crusaders have the chance to regroup. This is important as New Zealand will inevitably make line breaks against any defence.

It is important to watch out for the blindside switchback, most often used on Rieko Ioane’s wing. In this picture, Australia’s blind side defence was carved open. This move has been employed from open play quite often in recent games. It is not only a danger from scrums. Blind side wingers need to stay up for a second longer just to make sure the switchback won’t be used.

Racing 92 shut down Munster and Leinster very effectively in last year’s European Cup by employing a third man shooter in defence. I think it can also work well against New Zealand, forcing the front man in a pod to take contact or turn back inside. England have recently copied the tactic, often using Kyle Sinkler as in the picture from their summer tour. Ireland have the personnel to do likewise.

As this try for Willie Le Roux shows, if you anticipate the transition attack of the All Blacks this can lead to rewards. Or, at least it can negate some of their counter-attacking danger. New Zealand often look to make 2 quick passes to the opposite side of the field when they receive a kick, and then assess the defence. Le Roux picked off the pass in this example.

New Zealand like to attack in a 1-3-3-1 shape. One of their favourite tactics, explained in another article of Conor’s here, is for a super fast play maker to stand behind each pod. Beauden Barrett, Damien McKenzie or Richie Mo’unga fill this role. This play maker will then exploit the space created when defenders concentrate to defend against the pod. Defences must ensure their spacing is right so that once the ball is pulled back to the fast play maker, there is no hole to attack.

One favourite of Beauden Barrett’s is the cross field kick-pass. Wingers need to be alive to the threat. One way to prevent it is for the open winger to sit a little deeper, which is why teams may have to concede ground.

I don’t believe there is any one tactical magic bullet to beat New Zealand. They are the best for a reason. If I were coaching England or Ireland I would look at these tactics. Eddie Jones says he has a plan. I am sure Joe Schmidt has one. It will be fascinating to see what they come up with and whether it works.

Author: Daniel Pugsley

I am a 31 year old from Yorkshire, England. I have played social rugby for 25 years in England, Japan, Italy, Poland and the UAE. I teach English as a foreign language, which explains why I’ve lived in so many places. I recently moved back to England and have had to take a break from playing, but I hope to pull on the boots again soon.

18 COMMENTS

  1. Another great article Daniel. One slight quibble though, it was Huw Jones who scored the try not Tommy Seymore. Seymour gathered the kick and immediately passed back inside to Huw Jones who can be seen running hard up the inside in the photo. This totally wrong footed the last defender who was shaping up to tackle Seymour. This is one of the best examples of how Hogg and Seymour combine in attack, they read each other so well and are always looking for the player with the best chance of scoring.

    • Hi Paul, thanks for the comment. You are right about Huw Jones of course, sorry about the oversight! I agree with you it’s a big weapon for Scotland and Glasgow, especially when executed by those two players.

  2. Daniel,

    Thank you for all you are doing to grow the game at a higher level as is Conor! I have to say Warburton was amazing in that series. Pocock has caused the all blacks problems as well! Two very very smart players! I hope Underhill is ready to get after it! I have seen multiple times scrumhalves having success sniping the edges! Conor Murray in both games! Youngs and Care need to make sure this happens. In addition the kicking out wide is a fabulous strategy! I still remember ZEBOs kick down the left side channel in the air that placed the All Blacks with a scrum at their own 5 meter line! Hopefully Elliot Daly can pull this off! Here is hoping for England!

    • Thanks John! I don’t think Underhill is a direct replacement for Curry in terms of style, but with Wilson and Shields there I think it can still work. Care and Youngs both had good running games in the past, and I noticed Youngs have a go during the South Africa game. I hope they bring that on Saturday. You are spot on about Zebo’s kick through too, it’s another good example of the wide grubber working against New Zealand

  3. Hi Daniel,

    I’m a Kiwi and this is the first time I have come across one of your articles. Really enjoyed it – intelligent, insightful and well written. Can’t fault any of your logic really. I think slowing the ball down at ruck time and putting pressure on Barrett via line speed like the Crusaders did are the two key tactics. On top of that England and Ireland will have to be very accurate at execution on the day.

    Can’t wait to watch both games from over here in NZ!

    • Hi Tana, thanks for your kind words! I think Ireland have a better chance than England at upsetting you guys, but there’s enough reason for hope for us too. Working out quickly what the referee will allow at the breakdown will be really important for us, I totally agree with you on that. One reason to select Hartley I guess.

  4. I’m a Simple man. I see a Daniel Pugsley article, I grab a cup of tea. Settle down at my PC, and enjoy. Absolutely epic work mate. Absolutely loved your approach to the La Rochelle and Crusaders points as well.

    That La Rochelle Pod actually reminds me of something I’ve been trying to develop at my Club. Tell me, what is your opinion of Out to In Runs? Basically. I’m working on a concept called Acute runs, where the Out to In line is so prominent, that you’re hitting the line at basically a 10/2 O’Clock angle. So the La Rochelle Pod would start where they were, and end up hitting the 2-3-4 of the defensive line. The reasoning behind it is if you go to contact. The Defence get dragged even further to the left or right, and the gap between 3 and 4 for example is far greater if 3 was brought closer to the ruck by the angle of the run. Increasing the chances for the inside pass opens up on 2nd phase if the defence don’t number quickly.

    If you don’t hit contact, and use said Pod as a screen, any runners behind have a (hopeful) far bigger gap to go into, as the Defence don’t stay where they are to accept contact, but move in to cover the defence. as such its harder for the defensive line to get across after being committed by such angles.

    Thoughts?

    • Thank you very much Conor! I’m a coffee drinker myself but I do something similar with your own articles! I think if you do that with the pods it becomes almost a giant switch. I think the key will be in making sure the transfer back to the 10 is late enough to keep those defenders interested and not allow them to drift. In starting wide like La Rochelle you are allowing the defence to come forward and start drifting before the pod then comes back towards them and halts the drift. If the transfer back to 10 is too early, they will restart the drift and shut down that wide attack. It’s an interesting take though, I’ll be interested to find out how it works in practice with your team. I did see a mini version of this often using Wimpie Wan De Walt for my beloved Sunwolves during Super Rugby. He was coming from a very acute angle and trying to interest the second and third guards. His angle meant that his momentum carried him over the gainline even if he received a big hit. It also gave his 10 a little more time when the ball was pulled back instead. I liked it but haven’t seen it too much elsewhere.

      • The sunwolves and Japan used this last year against France in their draw victory! Daniel if they can just have their scrumhalf take it to the line like youngs for England did against the all blacks early in the game look out! Japan and the Sunwolves scrumhalf needs to be a threat to help not only the lock taking on the second and third defender but everyone wider than that lock!

        • Hi John, I didn’t see the France v Japan draw, only highlights. I didn’t know they were using this tactic but it makes a lot of sense. I wonder how much we will see it in this weekend’s game?

  5. Great article Daniel.
    Two additional points If I may.

    Executing your kick chase consistently, and creating pressure. We saw England do this for a good period of the first half on Saturday. Youngs’ box kicks were right on the money, allowing Underhill to drive the catcher either backwards or out into touch, Connor Murray did this so well for the Lions too, just as a complement NZ forwards, such as Jerome Kaino started, to target him specifically. Farrell’s kicks all landed just short of the 22 again making the ball catcher think more about his options.
    Notice how Farrells time was cut down again and again as New Zealand attained ascendancy in the second half, the ball flies off his boot but he cant quite hook the ball and he looses accuracy.

    Kicking is such a tactically important part of the game that you will inevitablly have to risk doing it against New Zealand. Teams that kick accurately and chase well have less to worry about in terms of their counter attack, but kick loosely at your peril.

    Secondly, match them for fitness. Execution of skills at this level requires supreme conditioning. Eddie Jones has demanded that anyone he selects into camp performs at his standard and has taken his players way beyond their club level. He is pushing his England team all the time, continuous improvement. Its the Japanese way. The New Zealand scramble defense is second to none, one reason for this is they are fitter, than most if not all teams and still making good decisions.

    • Hi Neil, I am not a big fan of the contested kick down the tramlines tactic against New Zealand unless your kickers are absolutely brilliant. Ireland are without Murray so I’d advise them to use it sparingly. England got a lot of benefit from using it in the first half, but as you pointed out once the ABs started to pressure the kickers just enough it began to feed them counterattacking ball instead. It was also less effective once Care replaced Youngs. As for your point about fitness, I totally agree, I think it explains why Jones always pushes them so hard in camp (although I think he has admitted recently he should have eased off last year post Lions).

      • Hindsight is wonderfull thing. But perhaps Eddie should have rested his Lions and brought in other players capable of attaining/ maintaining the fitness he desired. However I think they have now clearly turned a corner to that regard and shown that with a little more time and polish that this England team will be a force to be reckoned with at the 2019 World cup. To me that step in fitness performnce was evident in the second half against SA

        Once again this is an area where NZ lead, well established strength in depth allows the resting of players and trials to take place. Their player management is second to none and is deep rooted in the NZRU and Super rugby franchise structure. This is in some ways helped by the fact that the player fitness levels are very similar. With the NZRU (Hansen) tapping directly into the information available at Super level. How often do we see a rookie slip seemlessly into the New Zealand machine, and turn in a great performance, there is little or no catch up required.

  6. Nice work Daniel.
    The loss of Murray will prob enable NZ to drift off those rucks.
    & of course his booming kicks to touch is something Marmion or McGrath can’t match.
    With Kearney prob coming back in at FB, he will run the ball back at NZ looking to set up more rucks.
    I think Ireland will struggle to expose NZ in phase play and will ultimately end up giving the ball back to NZ with inferior kicks & tired chasers.

    • Thanks C Mc! I think you might be right, I am a huge fan of every other part of Ireland’s game, but I think they struggle to open decent teams up. They were praised to the skies for what happened at the end of the France game, but I couldn’t help but think France could have defended another 100 phases ball in hand and still been around the halfway line. A lot of the tries they scored in the 6 Nations were intercepts or close range 30+ phase efforts.

      I really want Ireland to win, I’m no ABAB but I don’t think it’s good for the sport that New Zealand are always the best team and win over 90% of their games. Look at the Lions series, the uncertainty of outcome made even New Zealanders a lot more interested. I think England winning last week would have made this weekend’s game more intriguing and I think 2 losses in Europe would have made the World Cup a lot more interesting, even if New Zealand end up winning it again.

  7. Daniel something that was not mentioned in your article was the ten twelve axis. Eddie seems to have moved on from this way of thinking with the benching of George Ford and the rise of Farrell as a ten? But it did appear that the ten twelve axis which New Zealand struggled to handle when the Irish and British lions went to with Sexton and Farrell could have been used effectively by George Ford and Owen Farrell! But as it turned out it is a tough argument to make but is that because it hard to find an amazing outside center who truly do it all like Davies! A pounder but can play the distributor game and is fast enough to defend the outside channel! Just would have loved to have heard your thoughts on that!

    • Hi John, I think the 10-12 axis requires heavy ball carriers around it to create space and to force defenders to make decisions. The Lions had the world’s best 13 in JD2, as you mentioned, and also forward carriers like Mako V, Faletau, Furlong and O’Brien to help it work. Without those players, I prefer the way we have it now, with a crash 12 and a New Zealand style playmaking 13. I don’t think Ireland have a 12 to make the tactic work, and I don’t think England have the carriers.

  8. England have struggled to find punchers like Teo at 12! That is why they are pressing so hard for Tuilagi. There has been no other 12 selected like Teo? So if Teo get injured and/or late in games who goes there? It is a completely different way to play and something they have struggled with finding a person at that spot that is why it made sense with Farrell and it fit the talent pool England have available! I can think of Brad Barrit for Saracen who fits that mold but obviously who else besides Teo and Tuilagi fit that mold? But I think that has been the struggle for Eddie and continues to be

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