Barrett, McKenzie, and Larkham. The 1st thing we have to understand, when considering the All Blacks running ten is what all three of these men have in common.

Beauden Barrett, Damien McKenzie, and Stephen Larkham. Three of the most naturally talented attacking flyhalves in professional rugby. All having achieved great things.

So what do they have in common?

They’re all penetrators and elusive runners, we know that. But it is their conversion from 15 to 10 that interests me. This conversion equipped them with decision making and distribution skills to play 10, with the added ability to read a game through a different lens. This adds a multitude of problems to the defence.

Precursor

I believe the precursor to the All Black philosophy in their 10’s, is Larkham. Were it not for Larkham moving to flyhalf, I don’t believe the Wallabies would have won the 1999 RWC. A big statement, but one I will always stick by. The ability for MacQueen to play the game he wanted exploded when he made that change.

Larkham’s ability to glide onto the ball at the line and make quick plays at 10 was unparalleled at the time. He would drift out naturally, his gas for the outside break forcing the defence to commit to him.

A fullback at 10, not only were his hands brilliant, he could get through incredibly small gaps in the line. If players committed on him, he would switch to Horan on the scissors angle, or as shown above, run the inside option. If the inside had numbered to cover these options, the 100kg outside centre in Herbert would run a hard line off Larkham, making gainline, or looping to unlock the wide channels with the Wallaby back 3.

Committing players as a runner, Larkham created space for other dangerous players and gave the defence too many worrying choices to choose from. The late interplay he provided gave them the best chance to exploit the space created from this hesitancy.

If the options off him interested the defence and created space as below, he himself could exploit it with his fullback pedigree.

All Blacks philosophy

This for me is the philosophy behind Hansen’s selection of Barrett and McKenzie at 10. It’s a constant cycle between creating space for your runners, them creating space for you. The key, being your ability to exploit it. The All Blacks don’t want a distributor who only goes through the motions at 10. They want a fast, instinctive attacking threat. The 15, is the perfect breeding ground for such a player.

The defences’ desperation to cover the lethal options within the All Blacks, can create space for the 10’s to use. Hansen and Co want to make sure their 10’s, like Larkham, have the 15’s ability to exploit it. For me, this is very shrewd.

Stacking Threats

The All Blacks, are increasingly operating in a 1-3-3-1 system.

All Blacks 1-3-3-1

These pods are comprised of incredibly powerful forwards. This means, that the defence, will constrict from the outside to cover the targets of these pods. This is not always the case, but as seen below, it does happen.

All Blacks running ten. 1-3-3-1

Milk Bottles

This is possibly a slightly odd analogy, however, I believe that it describes stacking, which is a key concept. Key to the All Blacks attack, and why the All Blacks often have acres of space for their wingers to exploit for a try.

The analogy

If a shelf at the store is 2 metres long, and on it, you have 15 bottles of milk evenly spaced there is always a gap between each. There aren’t enough bottles to fill the shelf. If you have 1-15 evenly lined up, and you move 7 to the left so 1-7 are stacked up right next to each other, between 7-8, there will be a bigger gap.

If you move 8 in next to 7, there will be more space between 8-9, if you drag in 9, there will be even more space between 9-10. So on and so forth. Remember this concept for later.

Back to it

The ball will often flow through the 1-3-3-1 pods during the attack. The defensive system expects this and like the bottles, stack up on them. Within the pods themselves, options such as pop passes, are often dealt with as per this constricted defence. However, as the defence has constricted, like the bottles, the gap on the outside is created.

The 10 and 15, are often stationed behind these pods and linked together in terms of organising the attack. If the 15 is unavailable, a playmaking back will fill his place. The principle is that they are perfectly positioned, to play second receiver and take the pullback pass once the 3 pod has constricted the defence, opening the gap.

With the speed the 10 possess, they are then able to make a break at this gap themselves before it closes.

This is where the All Blacks are taking their game and why the 10 needs to be an elusive, fast runner. Making 15 experience perfect for them.

If a team were to follow the 1-3-3-1 structure and only use forwards, they would have 4 channels of attack across the field. The All Blacks want more exploitable channels in between these pods.

How do they do this?

The answer is fairly straightforward but the execution is anything but. The answer being incredible skillsets and speed.

I want to take you back to Larkham, and remember, that the All Blacks want a 10 who can create space for his runners, but can exploit space created for him.

Let’s show you where they’re taking their game.

The 1st 3-pod has taken the ball flat, stacking the defence. The defence outside of this pod, is wary of the All Black 2nd 3-pod therefore, like the bottles, they’ve not come in as they expect McKenzie to pass.

McKenzie with his speed exploits the created gap before it closes. Resulting in a try.

Crotty and ALB stack the defence, and pass to McKenzie. Ball in two hands, he runs to exploit the gap created. Bastareaud cannot get across in time, allowing McKenzie through.

We see McKenzie again, attempt to exploit the space next to the stacked players. Frizzel attempts to run a line to assist him, but this time he is caught.

Goodhue then steps in behind the 2nd 3-pod, to offer the 2nd receiver option if the defence stacks. It does not, and the 3-pod goes to contact.

Barrett’s Lines

Barrett is instructed along similar lines.

Whilst they weren’t as effective, we can see he and McKenzie have been instructed to attack here, with their pods providing the space for them to do so.

Back to Damien

As we’ve seen, we know that the pods create the gap for the 10, with Barrett and McKenzie both having the speed and instinct to target here. However, the 10, also needs to create space for his team. Here, McKenzie does just that…

Here we see the stacking by the 3-pod, who release McKenzie. He takes the ball to the line, targeting the transition zone. Ioane tracks him, as an alternate option to target here.

McKenzie sees it’s not on, and draws Fofana, opening the space outside him. His pod next to him are so flat, they could run into this space as its being created. Instead, he spins the pass wide with metres made.

This tactic of bringing man after man in with runners is tailor-made for the speed of the NZ 10’s. If it’s not on in the transition zone, they use the stacking principle; The 10 targets the gap between defender’s 4 and 5, drawing 5, and putting a flat runner into the 5-6 gap. That runner draws in 6, then passes to a runner running hard at the larger 6-7 Gap. Eventually, they make the break. The principle is shown below.

Stacking has long been a philosophy of the NZ attack, but its initiation by 10 targeting the created transition zone is new. This is only done if they’re fast enough to threaten it before it closes. Once through, they implement classic All Blacks support play. If the gap closes and the break isn’t made; they employ stacking, putting runners into gaps as they appear, or go wide.

Conclusion

This makes Barrett and McKenzie the established 10s for the All Blacks.

Nearly all other 10s in the world who receives the back pass, passes immediately to their wide men, allowing the defence time to drift and nullify the threat. Barrett and McKenzie don’t. They have the speed and vision to run these lines, stopping the early drift, and drawing even more men to close the gap. They then release their outside men into the holes in the line as they appear, or go wide, having created the space.

The trick is knowing when to use each. This is particularly true for McKenzie, whose wide passes in the past have cost New Zealand when catch and pass would’ve worked better.

This dynamic requires the qualities of a Back 3 player, with the decision making and distribution of a 10. Their current blueprint of the 10, and shows going forward, why Hansen has picked Barrett, McKenzie and Mo’unga.

Author: Conor Wilson

I split my social time between jumping out of planes, running, going away with the Army, and coaching and playing the beautiful game of Rugby.

Joe Schmidt, Will Greenwood and Rod MacQueen are my heroes, and my proudest moment was putting Jason Robinson in for a try at the Samsung School of Rugby. It was truly beautiful.

18 COMMENTS

    • Thanks Paul, 🙂 I believe it could. However the 15s skill set in the AB set up is usually higher as a 1st receiver type role. So the 15 is more suited then the 14 in my eyes. As the 15 will have more experience in catch and pass to pick the right option once the D stacks. Any fast player here will be beneficial Though! 🙂

  1. Hi Conor, loved your article

    Just wanted to say one thing:

    Players, Flyhalves in this case, of this tenure are way more than rare
    Barrett is strong physically and technically, i don’t think Hansen wanted a running flyhalf, he had this monster in the team and obviously adapted the team to his running play; we are talking of a two time back to back world rugby player of the year… you don’t turn this guys into something else, you urn the team into something else

    This caused McKenzie to be recycled at 10 for developing into Barrett’s back-up, in order to keep the running 10 and the team set-up

    Cheers Mate

    • Hi Super,

      See what you mean. But for me, Hansen wouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. He gets presented with 2 tens with exceptional running skills and that therefore is a sustainable way of letting the AB’s play.

      Barrett was never as fast as he was until two seasons or three ago. When Hansen put him in at 15, he started upping his speed work, until he has now become what he is. So I think Hansen has designed his progress, knowing what he could be from his experience of Larkham. Hansen saw the benefits of a 15 playing at 10 from his days with Wales, and I think he thought that that could be the next step forward.

      Thats my views on it mate. But i’d say that theirs good points in both opinions to be honest 🙂 Regardless. It shows that they’re again changing 10 play. Which is a little nervewracking.

      Cheers,

      Conor

  2. Conor, love your stuff! I was wondering if you can provide an explanation of a simple concept. (I have never played Rugby, just a fan, so never had cause to learn) Can you explain the method of numbering channels? I hear a lot about the “9 channel” or “13 channel” but don’t have a sence of where these actually are.
    I am blind, so if you could provide a verbal explanation i would really appreciate it.

    • Hi Josh,

      No dramas mate. I’ll try and list it as best i can. Channels are basically the zones that each player defends on the field. So the 10 defends the 10 channel, 12 defends the 12 channel, and so on and so forth.

      Off Set Piece, teams will have their lineout, and then outside, the 10,12,13,14 all in a line. With 15 and 11 defending the back field most like (Though this is dependent on the team).

      The key is that the players are all joined together in a row. So when you say attacking the 13 channel, you are basically running an attack move, that will allow the intended carrier to target the zone where the 13 is defending.

      The common channels are the 10 and 13 channel, as the 10 is Historically the weakest defender, so therefore having your heavy runners cutting back and targeting the inside shoulder, is likely to get you more gainline.

      The 13 channel is often also the last player to be got around before hitting the Pendulum (Backfield defence). This means he is often quite wide on the field. So in attack, having numbers on the outside of this defender and targeting this channel means you are likely to create an overlap. Which is why 13’s are so important in the rush Defence, as they rush up to cut off these numbers before they can be used.

      As for the 9 channel, teams usually position their 9’s in different places. But its usually behind the Ruck in case of turnover. Where they can also come into the line if the guards (3 defenders on each side of the ruck) are undermanned.

      Hope this helps mate!

      Cheers,

      Conor

        • In classic rugby terminology the 10/12/13 channels are the spaces that this players covers during at set pieces, and also the spaces where players organize.
          In classic same way compressed forward pack, those channels are determined by the player occupying his specific position.
          But with wide and expansive modern forwards systems, it’s a kind of a different idea, I think.
          For example, I see this thing called 1-3-3-1 attacking shape as a 1-3-3-0-1 attacking shape.
          Why 1-3-3-0-1? Because I reproduce the 10/12/13 channel in the space between the 15m to 15m lines (aka midfield) building a CORE to the attack, in this case something that looks like a 3-3-0. Your 10 channels has the first 3 forward pod (1st playmaker/backdoor option), your 12 channels has the second forward pod (2nd playmaker backdoor option) and your 13 channels (let’s call him 3rd playmaker) has no forward pod and works as a transition to attack the wide channels (I think you call it “edges”, I have no clue about what’s the terminology you use here in the angloworld, I’m from Argentina haha) I like to use the term CORE to the pods in the middle.
          This conclusions came out after I checked a couple articles about unbalanced or asymmetric wide-wide systems, in an article about Tasman “shark attack” in rugbypass. They shown a “CORE” composed by a 3-2-1 shape. (3 at 10s channel, 2 at 12s channel and 1 at 13s channel)
          Crusaders have a different CORE shape when playing when is off 9 it’s like a 3-1-0 (3 forwards at 10s channel, 1 at 12s channel and 0 at 13s channel, and when they go off 10 it looks like a 0-3-1 (0 forwards at 10s channel, 3 at 12s channel and 1 at 13s channel) 3-1-0 or 0-3-1 is the 4 in the 2-4-2 system. I saw a lot of pro rugby to be sure, I really mean it, “A LOT”.

          In defense I prefer the way that Graham Henry or Wayne Smith explains the channels from set piece.
          They don’t like to call them 10/12/13 channels, its more like they call a channel by the player’s intervals between each other.
          Example: one channel is the 7-10 (seven-ten) channel. Also knows as the transition zone between forwards and backs. That’s because you attack outside the first defensive forward and inside the first defensive back (normally your 10).
          So you built an strike move to exploit those weak spots in the defense.
          You don’t what to attack the 10, you want to attack 10’s inside or outside shoulder, depending on how you analysed individual weakness of that player. Of course that’s a pro level thing, where you have videotapes of every match of every team.
          Otherwise, defenses natural weakness are inside 10s shoulder because is the transition zone between forwards and backs, and outside the 13s shoulder because is the transition zone between the 10/12/13 and the rear cover/pendulum.

          Of course all this lovely numbers look amazing in paper, but without going forward, they are just numbers.

  3. I believe that finding Barrett as a 10, or the way he plays 10 was a lucky accident to discover this new way to attack.
    Remember when Carter was 10, everything was around his strings, he was the puppeteer. Nonu and Conrad where more like instinctive decision makers, not cerebral as Dan. In modern rugby having only one brain in the team is not enough. 10 can’t see everything that’s around the pitch. That’s, I believe, the secret about the all blacks today. Having 2 o 3 playmakers, reading more and better creates more and better opportunities.
    When they discovered that Barrett wasn’t the kind of a stand-off number 10, they started to round him with guys like Ben Smith or Ryan Crotty. Not so physical but amazing gamethinkers and also space exploiters.
    So having Barrett or McKenzie, 10s or 15s that are not as creative or organized as Carter was or Sexton is today redefines new roles and skills. Less responsibilities to built the game and more freedom to exploit some sudden weaknesses.
    Decompress all the responsibilities a classic 10 had, and bring more freedom using a double or triple playmaker system. 10 sees and decides at his channel, 12 decides at his channel and 13 or 15 does the same.
    Probably like in football, classic 10 is in extinction in order to bring the new era or rugby.

  4. I was actually going to propose writing the counter article to this, but I will just say what I was going to say here.

    I think Barrett won’t be remembered as a great fly half, since in my opinion he is not one. Someone will say two time world player of the year, but I would say greatness is judged on world cups and lions tours. He missed his chance with the latter last summer (here the comparison with carter is telling), and I think Barrett is a potential weak link in the all blacks plans for the world cup. I think Jones actually shares this opinion – he has made comments to that effect in the past, and I dont think it’s just gamesmanship. He commented recently that ford and Farrell will never be Barrett, but that they will be able to direct an attack as well as him or better. I completely agree with this in Fords case. Farrell actually is quite similar to Barrett in his attacking shortcomings, but these are disguised in barrets case by his extreme pace. Both rarely take the ball to the line flat like ford and cipriani do, and Barrett in particular often turns his shoulders as he is about to pass. He then looks to loop around the ball carrier, to be a threat in the wide shirt side in the next phase. The problem with this plan is that it can be stopped with a blitz defence, like the lions did last year and south Africa did this year. The defence knows that Barrett will not give an inside ball with his shoulders turned, so they can blitz the likely ball carrier. There were several examples of this during the lions series and again against South Africa, and NZ were often turned over this way. The key for the defence is to make sure Barrett is covered as a running option, as he is so fast that he can break the line even starting side on to the defence. Both the lions and south Africa managed to do this though, and Barrett did not make any telling line breaks in these games.

    In addition to all this, his place kicking is a definite liability for the all blacks, as seen in the games mentioned above. His out of hand kicking is very good, as you might expect from a converted 15.

    All in all, he is a long way away from becoming a true great like carter and larkham, and it seems kind of late for him to change (Hanson may not even encourage him to change).

    Mackenzie is a great playmaking sub, but no great fly half either, being too error prone in the way that kurtley beale is, being too fond of the wonder pass.

    • We’ll have to agree to disagree mate. I grant you that Ford is something special in his attacking ability. He is in fact my favourite fly half in the World at the moment and for me England’s best chance to launch a real assault for the World Cup. His passing ability at the line is without a doubt the best in the world. And since Murphy has taken over at Leicester. He’s been near the perfect 10.

      However, I still maintain Barrett is one helĺ of a 10. Hes just not playing like a standard 10 does. For me the AB’s are redefining their 10s in his mould. And at this new breed of 10, he’s brilliant. Where they’re more initiators then Conductors. Ford is the closest we have to both. But the thing is BB will often sit behind the pods. And will be able to take the space created from stacking. Simple fact is is that the AB 1331 will create space for him. He does take the ball flat on the back of this. Making breaks and if not, opening gaps and overlaps for the next phase.

      His passing is not as good as Fords. I don’t think there’s a 10 in the World who can say that. But as players hit on him. That opens gaps for his other players. This is where his passing ability isn’t needed as much. As the work rate and running line proficiency of the ABs gives him enough options with space to trouble any D, without the need for the cut out passes. This will trouble defences, Including the Andy Farrell Defence. Which he beat considerably in Ireland.

      His kicking does need work. 100%. But I think he has time to work on it. And going forward I see him doing a good job for them.

    • Firstly I agreed with Conor for the summary of BB style of play. Never really see Ford or Farrell played so i can’t make comments – but Farrell is better kicker for sure.

      But Totally Disagreed with you Mark about B. Barrett in the Lion series because he was not able to play his game 10 for most of the Serie.

      1st Test – Ben Smith was injured around 26-27th min so Cruden was at 10 since that time.
      2nd Test with SBW send off around 25th Min Allblacks were always under pressure – it also did not help when Naholo went off and Cruden came on around 60th min and was playing 10. Cruden butchered the only overlap Allblacks has in the entire game (when Vunipola was sin-binned) and costed the match. (Cruden also had that silly shoulder charge on L. Williams)
      3rd Test is prob the only test BB was actually playing at 10 in nearly an entire match – However i totally agreed with you with BB’s goal kicking – he is prob around 60% at best (Semi + Difficult kicks) – his actual stats is higher but those also included many easy one that were harder to miss.

      At the end of the day I think we will see whether BB is one of the greatest Allblacks or not after World Cup 2019, and i surely hope he will be.

  5. Good points, I think I would just say that I think the all blacks attacking plan has weaknesses, just as every sides does, and that some of these are related to the way to Barretts qualities, just as some of the strengths are. There are no perfect 10s, although carter comes a lot closer to that ideal in my mind than Barrett does.

    As an England fan I hope he doesn’t manage to correct his kicking.

  6. Also, I think you are right if you are suggesting that Barrett is at his most dangerous playing from structure. The times I am thinking about when he contributed to turnovers etc came from unstructured play. Of course, his pace makes him dangerous at any time, but he is more of an individual threat from unstructured play.

  7. Would this explain why Hanson doesn’t see Mo’unga as the future? (i don’t watch much southern hemisphere rugby so wouldn’t know his playstyle.) If so would he fit in another countries system better?

    • Hey Ollie,

      To be fair I was pretty unaware of Moungas skills in comparison to Barrett due to my lack of Super Rugby viewership. But. Against Argentina he performed this textbook. Plus his catch and pass was pretty good.

      He could certainly do a job at 10, the question is will playing him at 10 and increasing enhanced game management disturb the dynamic with the back 3 too much? As in playing Mounga, Smith moves to the Wing and BB to FB. Does Hansen do that pre WC in such key positions?

      Its a tricky one. But he certainly has the gas for this. It just explains what the 10’s will need to be able to do in NZ to even have a chance with the AB’s.

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