This is the first of our Analyse This articles, a series where we ask our readers to solve a particular problem. In this case, how would you defend this attack by Beauden Barrett and the All Blacks?
This clip is taken from the Ireland v New Zealand test on 19 November 2016 in Dublin. Thirteen minutes in, there is a scrum in the middle of the park. Beauden Barrett cuts through the Irish defence in a pre-planed move off first phase possession.
An attacking scrum in the middle of the park is a perfect opportunity to set up a strike attack. To a certain extent, you can dictate how the opposition defend by placing your backs in a particular lineup. Ireland had to set up a defence to counter as many All Black attacking scenarios as possible.
Most teams have a set way to defend in any given zone of the field. The All Black coaching staff would have noted Ireland’s preferred alignment and this play was purposefully designed to crack the defence. Having a 10 with speed like Beauden Barrett has helped.
Ireland bring their 10 (Johnny Sexton) to help defend the left side of the scrum. If the All Black 8 (Kieran Read) and 9 (Aaron Smith) break off in an attack, the Irish 7, 8 and 10 are ready and waiting. Outside, the Irish 12 lines up the All Black 15 and the Irish 11 marks the All Black 14. It’s the other side of the scrum that gets a little more interesting.
Let’s start from the outside in. Julian Savea, the All Black 11, is on the far right touchline. He can’t go any further out and this stretches the Irish defence. The Irish 15 is quite deep and delays his run to cover Savea. He delays in order to cover a potential break in defence behind the scrum and possibly to sweep to the left if needed. The Irish 14 covers the All Black 13. Even though the Irish 13 lines up opposite Beauden Barrett at 10, his line of defence is fixed on the All Black 12. The Irish 10 is to the left of the scrum, this means the Irish 9 is covering Barrett in defence.
Ok, let’s pause all of this, have a closer look at the scrum and see how it dictates a perfect strike for Beauden Barrett.
Before the ball even leaves the scrum, the All Blacks have manipulated it. Joe Moody has enabled the screen right side of the All Black scrum to push the Irish scrum back. However, Owen Franks has kept the screen left side of the scrum rock solid. This has done a few things: the Irish 6 has been pushed back and is now in a weak position to defend, the Irish 8 is completely ruled out of the first line of defence and the Irish 9 now knows play is going to come to his side and steps away from the scrum, anticipating the attack.
Have a look at the scrum before the ball even goes in. The grass line through the middle of the scrum is a great guide here. The All Black unit is tight and Moody gets a shunt on the Irish prop at the far side of the scrum almost immediately after the engagement. But there is a secondary unified shove from the All Black pack that solidifies the twist on the scrum even before the ball goes in. Look how the Irish 8 is closer to the camera and how Kieran Read is still square after this impact.
Middle Scrum Pass
There is so much work going on here. The ball never goes down the centre of the scrum, it stays at the far side (channel 1). Kieran Read moves his body position to protect the ball. But more interestingly, so too does Sam Cane at the far side of the scrum. The ball is almost out of the scrum, but Cane’s body position protects it and gives Aaron Smith, the All Black 9, a perfect space to set up a flat pass to Barrett, close to the gain line. Look how solid Owen Franks is close to the camera.
The pass from Smith is so flat. Again look at the grass markings to see how horizontal it is. It’s the perfect pass, out in front of Barrett so he can catch it without breaking his stride. The pass seems to come from the middle of the All Black scrum. Imagine Smith passed the ball from Read’s feet, the traditional position. Barrett would have had to stand two metres back on the white dashed line. This little detail may have enabled Barrett to get away from the Irish 9 diving tackle later on.
By the time Barrett gets the ball in his hands to turn on the magic, a huge amount of work has been done by his teammate’s numbers 1 through 9.
Irish Defence Analysis
Now let’s go back to the Irish defence. The All Black coach Steve Hansen mentioned that his backroom team spotted an Irish defensive trait the last time they played in Chicago.
Kiwi-born Jared Payne is the defence leader in the Irish backline. Often the 13 leads an aggressive line speed and dictates much in defence. In post Chicago analysis, the All Black coaches discovered that Payne doesn’t like to leave the man he is marking. Rather than drifting back inside, Payne trusts the defender inside him to make that tackle.
The yellow arrow represents the line of defence Payne is committed to. The black line is Barrett’s attack line. He runs hard at Payne asking him to make a decision. If Payne turns inside to tackle Barrett he will leave a man free outside him. Analysis has told Barrett that Payne will stay the course on the yellow line. Barrett is one of the only 10s in the world that has the pace to pull this move off. Payne has left Barrett to the inside Irish defender, the Irish 9, Conor Murray. Quick as Murray is, he just can’t get to Barrett in time and Barrett coasts through the gap.
Payne is so committed to his man that he almost tackles him off the ball as Barrett goes past on the inside.
What makes this all interesting is that the Irish front row, 9, 10, 12, and 13 are all British and Irish Lions squad members. To make it more intriguing, the Irish defence coach is the British and Irish Lions’ defence coach. Could we see this move repeated on The Lions Tour?
The little details all across the field set up an opportunity for Beauden Barrett to put his coaches analysis to the test: the All Black backline forcing the Irish backline to align in a certain way, the tight five manipulating the Irish scrum, Aaron Smith’s flat pass from the middle of the scrum and Barrett fixing Payne and Barretts pace. The men in the All Black coaching team should take a bow, great work!
The 1014 would like to ask you, how would you set up a defence for this move? Is it possible to defend?
Author: Gareth Dinneen
Gareth is from Limerick, Ireland and has been obsessed with the All Blacks and NZ culture since 1989. He first arrived in NZ in 2001 to tutor in New Media and has since worked with Weta Digital on movies like Avatar, King Kong, The Avengers and most recently Valerian. Gareth grew up listening to his father Len on sports radio. Len is known as ‘The Voice of Rugby’ in Munster, Ireland. The 1014 brings Gareth right back to his sports media roots.