Before the Springbok game, we thought the All Blacks were back to mortality. Or nearing it.

We saw them struggle with the rush defence against the Lions. The Wallabies pushed them hard, very hard and you could argue they were lucky to escape. And Argentina stayed in touching distance for a long time in New Plymouth.

Whilst the game against the Boks was magical, I don’t think it glosses over all the issues we’ve recently seen.

One thing I noted was that the All Blacks have two trump cards over all other teams. They are the fittest team in the world who can play for the full 80 minutes, and their decision-making is top notch.

I sincerely believe that, while they are the fittest team in the world, their decision-making is such that it never truly needs to be tested.

Line break efficiency

Ninety percent of the time they take the right option. If a line break is made, they get support runners to the ball carrier immediately. Their offloading is such that they can usually score on the same phase. If not, on the second phase they almost always get the ball onto the side with the most space, regardless of whether it’s the open or the blind.

This decision-making and their alignment differ from that of many other teams in the world. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that this attack we’ve just described doesn’t result in a try but places them within five metres of the try line and the opposition team is penalised for holding on. The All Blacks invariably take the points. You could also argue that with the pressure they create they often get a man sent to the bin.

Another team may have made the break but not had the communication or situational awareness to get players into a position where they could receive the offload. This is already a loss of momentum and metres gained for said team. They may make use of the space created from the initial line break on the second phase by passing into space, but instead of going all the way to the try line, they may only be able to get to the 22.

They may have another five to ten phases to go to breach the line again. Or win a penalty that will get them the same net result that the All Blacks come away with.

SBW is so important to their offloading game.  By jeanfrancois beausejour from cannes, france, via Wikimedia Commons
SBW is so important to their offloading game.
By jeanfrancois beausejour from cannes, france, via Wikimedia Commons

Energy expenditure

If we look at this as a pure energy expenditure exercise: The All Blacks scored three points after two phases of attack, while the opposing team gets the same net gain with anywhere between 7-12 phases.

This is why I believe that the All Blacks can go into this magical fifth gear in the last 20 minutes of games, whereas other teams often flounder. Not only are the All Blacks already fitter, but they made better use of their time on the ball earlier in the game, as such, they have conserved more energy with which to go into overdrive in the last period. To finish off with nothing left at all.

Setting up an example

I’m no statistician, but let’s liken it to this.

Assume the opposition has 150 rucks in them, and the All Blacks, with their superior fitness, have 200 rucks in them before they tire. I know it’s a lot more than the normal number but bear with me…

Now, to the creativity and skill sets of the All Blacks.

  • Let’s say they create 1.5 try-scoring opportunities to every opportunity created by the opposition.
  • This ratio increases to two chances when playing against a fatigued opposition.
  • A fatigued opposition’s scoring opportunities will also decrease; due to the loss of morale, raise in New Zealand’s intensity and so on.
  • Let’s say the opposition tires at the 60-minute mark. This coincides with when the All Blacks go into that magical fifth gear. The gear where they tend to finish teams off.

Executing the example

If the opposition has created eight scoring opportunities, and each time came away with three points, that would mean they have gathered 24 points. Each three points cost the team an average of 20 phases. Ten phases to find a gap, plus phases after initial line break illustrated above. Yes, this is a loose example, but you’ll get the picture.

This equates to 160 rucks that the opposing team has to use before the 60-minute mark.

So, going by the 1:1.5 ratio, the All Blacks have created 12 opportunities. For fairness (even though this is highly unlikely) let’s assume all are three-pointers. This creates a score of 36 points to 24. They have spent an average of 13 phases per three points, meaning they have spent 156 phases generating a third more of the points than the opposition would have in 160 phases.

I am aware this is a very rough guide and all numbers are thoroughly made up in my head. I know also it doesn’t take into account defensive efforts and systems, individual player skill and time spent without the ball, but the point hopefully comes across.

The All Blacks, through sheer efficiency, have conserved more energy with their rucks and through superior decision making, spent less time and therefore fewer phases accumulating their points in the first 60 minutes. With players like Beauden Barrett, Reiko Ioane, Ben Smith and countless others, they are also far more likely to create line breaks than other teams at this time.

A fully fit and inflight Ben Smith is one of the finest exponents of the NZ way of playing. © Copyright Image: www.photosport.nz
A fully fit and inflight Ben Smith is one of the finest exponents of the NZ way of playing.
© Copyright Image: www.photosport.nz

The last 20 minutes

This leads us to the last 20 minutes. The opposition, having gone over their 150 rucks, are already tired by the 60-minute mark. A perfect example of this is the Argentina versus All Blacks game. The Pumas were gone by 60 minutes. They had been physical, aggressive, and played some great rugby, yet not accumulated enough points through error and lack of correct decision-making. They were tired.

The All Blacks still had 44 rucks left of energy. They went into overdrive. And here is where they make you pay. They finish off the opposition in the last 20 in most of their matches, as shown against Argentina. This energy surplus is not created through sheer fitness training (though it does have a part), but by making the most of every single opportunity that comes their way.

They save as much energy as possible for the grand finale, when other teams, already having thrown the kitchen sink at them, are done and dusted.

How do you beat them consistently?

It’s simple, yet easier said than done:

  1. Teams have to get more functionally fit on the rugby field to deal with and employ, a running game.
  2. Teams must improve and work on their distribution across all 15 players in order to maximise opportunity in space.
  3. Team wide processes must be developed in order to clearly and quickly identify and maximise chances of scoring.

An example of this is the wasting of overlaps after a break. 15 players simply scanning the field, and identifying where space is should be enough. Enough to get the tactical decision makers to move the ball into that area. But many players get white line fever and reason goes out the window.

It’s what the All Blacks do so well, and what other teams often need to improve to make the most of their possession. Simple. Yet effective.

Photos: www.photosport.nz

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 Billy Beane 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.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Nice Article. For me I think it is the game management near the end of the game, not only can the AB stay at a higher tempo, but they can make the right decision even when tired. It is that under pressure decision making that makes the difference.
    I also feel they are free to make their own decisions on the field. So their game is a lot more fluid, very adaptable.
    But I like your angle that it is not just about the 80 minutes but how much energy is used for those 80 minutes.

    • Thanks for the comment mate. I agree that their decision making under mental and physical pressure is still top notch, and I liken to top Olympic Marathon runners. Having that discipline near the end of the race to maintain form and technique even when near collapse. As that loss of form and technique will make you lose more and more energy.

      Their decision making is still very good. But for me not like it was in 2015 when McCaw, Nonu, Smith and Carter were in the team. The same processes and structures that they used exist and have been passed on to today’s breed, but they still aren’t as battle hardened as the 2015 team were. One thing since 2015 they’ve worked on is definitely more fluidity in their attacking game, and it is quite eye opening to watch when they get it right.

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