“You’ve got to take on their weaknesses, and they’ve got significant weaknesses. I’m not going to share them with you now; in 2018 I will” – Eddie Jones, 2016.

Eddie Jones stated in 2016, that the All Blacks have weaknesses. This isn’t cocky to say; all teams have weaknesses. It’s just that the All Blacks strengths far outweigh their weaknesses. Not many know what they are or can properly exploit them if they do. If they did, the All Blacks would be tested a lot more.

Not only this but some of New Zealand’s strengths, if they’re not careful, can become their weaknesses.

This article suggests that the All Blacks know they were vulnerable last year. The big question is, how will they track this season? And, can they move towards that ever elusive perfection?

Well, as I will illustrate throughout this series, they have many weaknesses that teams can target. And target them they will. More importantly, there are teams out there who are already incorporating tactics in their game plans to target these weaknesses.

Northern Hemisphere shift

Eddie Jones’ England finished a lowly 5th in the Six Nations after back-to-back title-winning years. I’m an Englishman, so I’m a little biased, but I believe this a blip. I don’t believe England are that bad when in form. What we do know is that Eddie Jones had started to play his “how to target the All Blacks hand” in some situations. To cement the patterns needed to beat them in the consciousness of his team.

Furthermore, having recently witnessed Leinster’s victory over Saracens I saw things that I hadn’t seen before with Leinster. As we will see later, they too have used the same pattern implemented by England in this year’s Six Nations. Which as far as I can tell, they never used before this latest Six Nations. It’s almost their “how to target the All Blacks hand”, or possibly a more accurate statement, Joe Schmidt’s, and his insistence for them to hone it at club level. It’s food for thought. Whatever it is, there has been a shift, and I feel it all goes back to the comment made by Eddie Jones in 2016.

Exciting

The exciting bit about all of this is that England and Ireland will be playing the All Blacks back-to-back in November. And let’s not forget the French, Boks, and Wallabies who all have excellent power runners. These teams will face off against the All Blacks from June through October. And all of them, have the players and abilities to target the All Blacks in the ways we will go into over this series.

Exciting times!

We can form a single united body, while the enemy must split up into fractions. Hence there will be a whole pitted against separate parts of a whole, which means that we shall be many to the enemy’s few. And if we are able to use many to strike few at the selected place, those we deal with will be in dire straits
Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Observations

In my observations of the All Blacks, there have been moments in certain situations in games where they have been vulnerable. What’s even clearer though is that as Jones has started to openly develop his team, he has equipped them with certain dynamics. Dynamics that not only allow them to play in multiple ways but dynamics designed to target these vulnerabilities in the All Blacks. As has Joe Schmidt for Ireland.

Jones’ England did not pull off a three-peat of Six Nations titles; however, as mentioned above, they did start to show their hand in their other styles of play.

In this series, we will break down where teams will target the All Blacks in attack, and where teams should try to nullify them in defence. And let’s be honest, this is easier said than done, but it is a worthwhile exercise. The one thing we don’t know is if the All Blacks have changed this season. We will find out soon enough though.

Note on Correlation

I need to emphasise that this is a correlation I have seen. These are the areas I have seen where the All Blacks are vulnerable. And I have seen England’s patterns of play vary accordingly to include options to strike these points. I can’t read Eddie Jones’ mind. But with the patterns he’s used and developed, I’ll list the areas where I would target and therefore believe he will target. From this series of prior articles, I will also show which patterns and plays he will use to do it.

How to make the All Blacks perfect

How to make the All Blacks perfect is one way of looking at this series. The other is through the lens of the coaches outside of the All Blacks camp planning their World Cup campaigns. These coaches will be asking themselves how to target the All Blacks and ultimately, how to beat the All Blacks.

As always, let’s get into it.

Weakness: Fringe and Pillar Defence
Tactics used for Weakness: Brumby Mode

In a prior article, I’ve stated that England are developing this. I also believe that Leinster showed their hand and are now using it as either inspiration from England, or likely instructed by Joe Schmidt, who for me is still the overall Patriarch at Leinster. I am of the opinion that Eddie has brought Brumby Mode out of retirement for three purposes:

  1. To develop a ball in hand game suitable for wet conditions.
  2. To beat rush defences.
  3. Give his England the best chance of beating the All Blacks.

The All Blacks do not like being attacked around the fringes of the ruck, nor do they like multiple players condensed into a singular channel. There are two reasons for this:

  1. In multi-phase defence their Pillar Defence (3 guards) is spread. Be it on the open or blind. They are spread thin. This is sometimes the case even when they’re in their own 22.
  2. Aaron Smith is often involved in the Pillar Defence.

Why are they set up like this?

I believe it’s because the All Blacks want to number up comfortably on the defence in their system. As such they are equipped to deal with anything over 1 pass out quite comfortably. On top of this, the spread line means a pass to the 3rd guard as a receiver on turnover may cut out 4-5 players, meaning numbers are on for the counter. This is a key part of their attacking game.

Aaron Smith’s place here means he is at the ruck, not only organising the inside defence but ready to take the turnover ball immediately. This allows him to use his greater variety and length of passing to get the ball to the area which will hurt the opposition the most on the counter.

This, however, is where this strength, is sat right next to a glaring weakness.

Picture a relentless, multi-phase attack, with multiple players on the same channel, putting defenders on the ground and thereby thinning the line. Heavy forwards are allowed to target Aaron Smith as a defender. Combined with quick ball, the result is attackers running into wide open gaps around the ruck, and making many metres. This is the antithesis of the All Blacks number up philosophy.

A turnover at this point could prove unbelievably costly to the attacking team.

This is the antithesis of the All Blacks number up philosophy.

Examples of how to target the All Blacks

We have three static examples of their pillar defence. Take note of the spacings.

How to beat the All Blacks. Brumby Mode
All Blacks against Ireland in Chicago.
How to beat the All Blacks. Brumby Mode
All Blacks against Australia in Dunedin last year. A game they won at the last with a piece of Kieran Read/Beaudan Barrett magic.
How to beat the All Blacks. Brumby Mode
All Blacks against Australia in Dunedin last year. A game they won at the last with a piece of Kieran Read/Beaudan Barrett magic.

The previous two images are both tries on the same phase. The Wallaby execution was nowhere near Brumby Mode speed in the build-up. This is a key flaw in the All Black defensive system and it has been visible for quite some time now.

Example 1: Argentina 2016

This is the combination of fast ball and the targeting of a singular channel. We can see the All Blacks are maintaining their numbers out wide, as the defence in one channel is put on the ground, and then exploited. Teams will look to target here. Think of your team and think mobile, powerful runners. Exceptionally powerful runners.

All the while, whilst said runners are battering down one channel the defence is eventually drawn in. This creates gaps for playmakers such as Ford and Farrell, Murray and Sexton, Genia and Beale with flat alignment on either side of the ruck potentially, to put runners through.

Example 2: Scotland 2017

Even at the line, we see the All Blacks maintain that spacing in their pillars, rather than number up from Inside to Out. Look at Aaron Smith. On the 1st phase, he is the 2nd guard on their line. Look at Liam Squire. On the scoring phase, he is the 2nd guard. The 2nd guard!

Take a moment to think about those statements…

He should be far closer to the ruck, supporting SBW next to him. Instead, Jonny Gray recycles quickly and runs at SBW. While SBW is a very powerful back; he is a back. He does not keep him out.

All Blacks fringe rushing up

The All Black fringe is rushing up. They are trying to catch the “1 Pass” option behind the line and stymie momentum. The problem with this is that their urge to rush up commits them on the ground on the next phase. The 4th guard (Squire), on the 1st phase, has become the 2nd guard on the 2nd phase, and yet he holds his position.

He does not come in due to the All Black policy of numbering on your man. The result, with quick ball and a pick and go, is a try.

Example 3. Australia 2017

What annoys me about this is that this strategy works. Yet teams don’t stick with it. They do it for a couple of phases, then go back to the wide-wide expansive game they believe they need to play to beat the All Blacks, rather than being patient. Patience is the key here.

Playing that expansive game on the second phase in this example would LOSE ground. Simply because the All Blacks have numbered up well, and by playing that game you’re actually going away from the space. Combining the two is the best option, and that is what the top teams who have done their homework will attempt to do.

This pattern should be a source of momentum, for teams playing the All Blacks. Wide-wide play for wide play’s sake is not a source against New Zealand. Play wide yes, but only after this pattern has exposed glaring holes out wide. If the defence numbers, change the channel and rinse and repeat.

It’s vindicated later in this sequence as shown below.

Try scored

Less than one minute later Australia scored a try. The ball does not go past the posts to the openside and they kept it on one side of the field. They played straight, and even in the 22 exploited the fringes to great effect. This shows the All Black weakness that teams should be looking to exploit. And what I believe Eddie Jones has been practising.

Example 4. England “Brumby Mode” Six Nations 2018

 
You will see with the above example that Eddie Jones has started to play his “how to target the All Blacks hand“.

Why has Eddie Jones brought this to England? Well, for me, it is two-fold:

  1. He appreciates that it is a way to target the All Blacks with a view to beating them.
  2. He learnt it from its pioneer, the World Cup-winning Rod MacQueen

This pattern has been incorporated into the England gameplan to specifically target All Black flaws and, if the England team can get their mojo back, it should play to their strengths. Again, ask yourself how this would work with your team. Think of the Boks, and France in particular. The likes of Uini Atonio, Guillem Girrado, Malcolm Marx, Eben Etzebeth. Imagine these huge brutal forwards quickly recycling and targeting the same point.

If this is executed correctly and patiently, the All Blacks and their Pillar Defence will almost certainly struggle to cope. With powerful, mobile runners running onto the ball and most importantly, taking it flat, this can cause mayhem. In the above example look how flat and fast they take it. The ball is still at the base of the ruck while the England Prong is running its line, meaning the fringe players are held in place until the last second.

Example 5. Leinster “Proxy Ireland” 2018

Leinster used this pattern against Saracens post Six Nations to great effect. Brumby Mode may have been employed by England to use against the All Blacks, however, it has uses against other teams. England’s example was against Wales and they use is for rush defences. If you employ a rush defence, you cannot rush if the inside is being hit. It checks your line speed as, if the break happens, you are hugely vulnerable due to your push.

Against Sarries, this makes it the perfect strategy to stop their defensive system. We also see in the 2nd ruck, Devin Toner shepherding Jamie George past the ruck, allowing more space for Cronin to run into. A nice subtlety, that shows their behind the scenes development of this pattern. We also see Cian Healy make to grab the ball after Cronin’s run to continue the pattern, but is stopped by Luke McGrath for a wide move.

Wallabies of the late 90s

In these examples, we can see the exact same principles as Brumby Mode from the Wallabies of the late 90s and England under Jones revisited. Operating within the 10-metre channel, putting the pillars to ground, attacking the thinning pillars before the defence is ready and playing flat off 10. Rinse and repeat.

The only potential difference between England’s and Leinster’s versions is Leinster alternate between open and blind in their Brumby Mode. They hit blind with Sexton, then open, then blind, then open again. This could be coincidental, or it could be a pattern to drag defenders from one side to the other, then hit the undermanned. Rinse and repeat until options are on out wide. If it is a pattern, they must make sure it doesn’t get found out.

Spread Pillar

Teams will see the Spread Pillar defence of the All Blacks as a glass window. And this pattern, if used properly, can be the sledgehammer to gain momentum.

It is a pattern from 20 years ago, and yet, in the right situations, is still as effective as it was then even with the modern advances of defensive systems.

Sentences like that last one, are why I love Rugby so much.

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.

15 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Conor, great analysis as always! I suspect the ABs will have something up their sleeves ready for this. I hope France try it so we can see early how they attempt to counter it. New Zealand did their own version of Brumby mode in the first test against the Lions, so clearly this is something Hansen is aware of.

    I think the AB counter might be based on the Racing 92 defence against Munster & Leinster (and France v Ireland). The third guard rushed up and turned the carrier back inside into a double tackle from the first and second guard. That obviously opens you up to a ball slipped in front or behind the rushing 3rd guard to a runner hitting that hole. However with Brumby mode, compared to say a 3 pod in a 1-3-3-1, that pass is a lot harder because players are taking the ball so flat and fast. What do you think?

    • Glad you like it mate! It’s been coming along for a while that one. I will be honest, as it’s incredibly astute of You, though not surprised. You have a brilliant rugby intellect. Your counter that you described and the way of exploiting the hole, is the exact focus of the next article in this series. Exactly the same hole and strike point.

      It’s not the 3 pod as the distributor though, unless you have supremely skilled forwards. But to allow the time for the Triangle to form. Requires play off 10 and flatness of the pass. That time allows those first 3 shooters off the line and opens that gap.

      As for Brumby mode though. England and Leinster showed the way best. As they ran rapid pick and go’s and flat passes pretty much on the line. (To hard running players). Which holds the fringes and allows the physicality of the attacking pods to keep the fringes disorganised and on the back foot. If the balls not Out, they can’t move, whereas the attacking team can.

      It takes skill, and supreme nerve to run onto the ball close to the line. But the combo of that and pick and go’s, plus the AB resistance to move in from their spaced out set up. For me means if done accurately and with speed. You’re going at near empty holes around the ruck an awful lot. Hence I love Simmonds as 6, as his acceleration off the mark and power will be ideal for this. Billy to hit first on a hard flat ball Mako to shatter the rest of the fringe in support and tie up extra men, and then the quick forwards to exploit the fringes with rapid pick and go.

      What would be your ideal players for that? If we could get it going?

      • Thanks Conor, takes one to know one! I think the players you mention are perfect for it, I’d also add Kyle Sinkler, Luke Cowan Dickie and Ellis Genge as tailor made for this tactic. Genge I think is born for it, he’s so aggressive and athletic I could see him bursting holes left right and centre. I’m looking forward to the next article and also seeing if France can have a go at the Kiwis this way.

  2. Shhhh Conor, don’t tell them!!!
    Great article, I think putting this into place would come into ” I said it was simple, not easy…” that said if England can get the likes of Genge, Mako, Billy, Lawes, Isikwe, Maro, Willis , Simmonds, Cowan Dickie et al punching holes with Daly,Watson and May following up hard I’ll be a happy bunny!

    • Thanks Rob, glad you like it mate! Fully agreed. From the side it looks simple, but its anything but easy. The conditioning, skillsets and nerve needed for this, is something different entirely.

  3. Great analisys. If you look NZ vs Lions series last year, we saw how they’ve adapted to “Warrenball-short-off 9-same way attack”. Of course not as good as they wanted.
    I went to a coaching course this year hosted by Scott Robertson here in Argentina. They talked about the way they play that defense system.
    You normally use your A defender in the “pick and go zone”, you B defender covering the inside options of the 1st receiver or any scrumhalf run (thank Gregan later) and you use your C defender to be the man over the first defender. We call this in Argentina “Poste (A defender), Uno (B defender) and Pelota (C defender)”
    The way they defend is built to avoid the compressed defenders that could be take out of the situation with a long pass and also to avoid the involvement of outside defensive supports, because they actually doesn’t rush like and NFL blitz if you know what I mean. They look to put pressure with that defensive wall trying to get a tackle behind the gainline. So it’s critical for them to win every tackle situation one-to-one, using eventually supports to steal the ball in the ruck

    Now coming back to the A-B-C defensive structure, what they do is an hybrid of the roles of the A and B in the first defender, and the roles of the B and C defender in the second defender, allowing the third defender to play against the outside support of the 1st receiver.
    After the ball is up the 1st defender drifts and covers inside support options for the first attacker , going against the golden rule that says he must run straight the whole phase so he doesn’t weaks his inside shoulder. Here’s where the 1st defender of the blindside makes his performance. He covers inside shoulder of the first openside defender.
    Like this:

    X X
    X
    9
    X
    A—-A—B—C

    In motion to this.

    X X
    X
    9
    X
    A–A—B—C

    Compared to the classic ABC

    X X
    X
    9
    X
    A—-A-B-C—D—E—

    Hope you understand my poor graphics, imagine the ABCs marking the Xs. Lol

      • Nice work Brian! Just watched the game and Ardie Saveas last score was classic Brumby mode in the build up. They also used it during other sequences as well! So its getting some traction in teams nowadays!

        As for that defensive system, the 3 shooters rushing up from 3-2-1 to try to shepherd the ball back on the inside. Totally on point with that. It is very effective for play off 9, and is actually the subject of my next article actually! But, to do so, the play has to come off 10 to give time for it to form. Flat passes to hard running props and back rowers off 9 will hold that fringe D back. But I think that takes a lot of skill and nerve and fitness to do consecutively.

        By the way, envy beyond all measure you got to work with Scott Robertson. That man is a future AB coach i think!

  4. Very good analysis. In 2000 super rugby final the Brumbies, coached by Eddie J, played the Crusaders coached by Robbie Deans. Brumby mode was at it’s peak. They lost by a point despite have about 70% possession. Eddie was in tears in his post match interview. Since then Brumby mode fell out of favor.
    Brumby mode is a very narrow attack and vulnerable to turnover and counter attack. Modern rugby tends to be wide wide. I believe there is a place for Brumby mode. A team able to play narrow narrow and then wide wide could role the All Blacks but loose the ball at the breakdown during a narrow Brumby mode attack and you could find yourself in deep trouble.

    • Thanks Paul, glad you like it!

      I’ll agree with you for the most part. David Nucifora’s Brumbies in the 2004 final obliterated the Crusaders under Robbie Deans using this system. And for me it was arguably one of the all time great Super Rugby attacking performances. It was a special one, but once Henry was in and started leading the way with total rugby and wide wide play with the All Blacks. Teams started to mirror them and move away from this. Which I believe is the pre-cursor to the AB fringe systems. As they weren’t targeted as much.

      It is an incredibly narrow attack, but also a huge numbers one, which for me means rucking wise, you can reuse the same forwards over and over again, as they don’t have far to go. In Gareth and Steve’s example on their show, the AB’s had something like 5 forwards in there against France, meaning the rucks can be quickly resourced 1 pass out. That and the numbers on one part of the D can overwhelm. Plus Ardie Savea’s try at the end was Textbook Brumby Mode.

      Personally I think the All Blacks are also realising the benefits of this against unprepared fringes. But yes. One knock on, or fumble. And the opposition have one hell of an overlap. I think the AB’s trust their skillsets enough for this not to happen though. One of the only teams who can say that to be fair!

  5. Very nice analysis – and I think there are some truths here for sure in terms of a perceived vulnerable area.

    The major problem is that identifying this particular weakness is the easy part. Implementing this kind of attack against the All Blacks would require a level of sustained, concentrated effort and a concerted excellence-of-execution that quite frankly, in international rugby, only the All Blacks themselves possess. ANY mistake with this approach would almost certainly result in 7 points at the other end of the park.

    So, in the immortal words of the baddy from Liam Neeson’s film, Taken – ‘….Good luck…’

    • Cheers Jezza, glad you like it.

      In regards to this pattern, I’ll disagree in the fact that I believe Ireland and The Wallabies both have the skillsets to perform it to some level. Ireland being the ultimate ball retention team at times going up to 40 phases and the Wallabies learning it from Larkham, himself the main instrument of its effectiveness under MacQueen. Even France’s unawarded try in the first 6 minutes last week came from a break using this tactic.

      But for Ire and Oz, both have used it and scored tries against the All Blacks doing it.

      Prior the Wales game I would have said England as well as they used it very effectively against Wales, resulting in tries. But the handling recently leaves much to be desired. I still have faith in Jones though. Naturally when it comes to both, i’m a massive optimist.

      P.S: One should never invoke Liam Neeson’s wrath even in passing. You’re a braver man than I. But, hopefully England can do a Neeson and pull defeat out of the fire in a hugely entertaining way. Though i’m skeptical currently. Our players need a huge physical and mental rest. Hopefully in time for the 6N maybe.

  6. Nice analysis. It now makes more sense to me why Jones has only really given Youngs and care a chance at 9, as these two are the best 9s we have for this tactic. I previously thought it was just pragmatism from Eddie, since our best play under Johnson and Lancaster was based on running off 9, but now I see there was a master plan in mind. Looking at England and Ireland, it appears to me that Ireland are better placed to put sufficient phases together to stress the all blacks, whilst England are better equipped (with two playmakers in midfield) to finish off the chances that the successful use of this tactic creates. If only there was some sort of team that combined both these nations!

  7. Another cool thing that was sort of inferred above is that if the all blacks changed to stop this tactic, it might well damage their most dangerous ability, i.e. striking from turnover ball, as Smith will presumably not be close enough to spark those lightning counters. But will the all blacks give up one of their main advantages over other nations? If both teams attacks are negated, their are a lot of teams that can run the all blacks close in a grinding game, especially given their poor kicking percentages.

  8. That’s why Eddie Jones n England had a pretty bad 2018 six nation n June series. too busy focusing on beating the All blacks n forgot theirs other teams that play the game. but good luck to Eddie, i am pretty sure all blacks will have a pretty decent analysis on England by the time they play each other.

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