Rush defences are becoming the new hot tactic in World Rugby, and teams are being forced to adapt on attack. Only one Kiwi side couldn’t figure it out in round 4 of Super Rugby 2019. Here we will investigate what some of the Kiwi teams are doing well, and why Damian McKenzie seriously struggled for the Chiefs.
How The Hurricanes Beat The Rush Defence | Super Rugby 2019
Before we get to what the Chiefs and McKenzie got wrong, we need to find out how to kick well against rush defence. Below Laumape brings the ball right to the line, and bangs a grubber through into empty space. This was an approach adopted by England to beat Ireland.
This kick works because of how he expertly drew defenders before kicking, and found space. It gives his team a chance to chase and cuts down Ben Smith’s options for returning fire.
Laumape puts in a similar kick here. Because the Canes’ are using their no. 12 to kick, they’re triggering the Highlanders winger to come up and join the line as he expects the ball to go wide. We can see Li make a U-turn and scramble back to get the ball. This is a great pressure kick.
This next one is a classic Barrett backyard play. The point of a rush defence is to prevent the opposition from making 3 passes. If they get through 3 passes, there’s a good chance they will find space. The Barret brothers wreck this notion altogether by kicking over the rush defence at the perfect time.
The Hurricanes have clearly been working on these tactics at training, only kicking once they have successfully manipulated the Highlander’s backfield defence. These are kicks with a very high probability of success, and are calculated risks. Speaking of backfield defensive manipulation, England are fast becoming the kings of this approach. You can read about that below.
Now let’s investigate how the Crusaders used Crotty in a very similar fashion to Laumape, a potential directive from the All Blacks coaches.
How The Crusaders Beat The Rush Defence | Super Rugby 2019
The Crusaders attacked so well in round 4 that even by the 8th minute the Chiefs wouldn’t dare try and rush them at full pace. This gave Crotty plenty of time to steer the Crusaders around the park. As above, the use of a no.12 as the kicker pulls the Chiefs winger up into the line, expecting a pass. Crotty can now find the space, and he does it with perfect accuracy.
He would continue doing this throughout the game. We can also see below how slow the Chief’s defence is getting while up against that scoreline.
Now we know what good kicking looks like, let’s find out where the Chiefs went horribly wrong.
Why the Chiefs Couldn’t Beat the Rush Defence | Super Rugby 2019
The Chiefs certainly had a plan, but it was far too risky against the undefeated Crusaders at home. Throughout the game, McKenzie would try small chip-kicks in behind the line. Here’s what happened the first time.
The Crusaders are masters of covering when they sense a kick is coming. Here McKenzie would have been better off running it, and Reece has this one covered. This is a 50/50 play.
Another 50/50 play comes in the 3rd minute. This is a very similar situation to the one above, where the Barrett brothers pulled off an immaculate chip-kick. However, this one from McKenzie fails.
Barrett ran more laterally than McKenzie does here, really inviting the rush defence forward into a false sense of security. As a natural fullback, Mckenzie’s instinct is to run forward and attack. But this also means the Crusaders have less ground to cover to scramble back.
In this last example, McKenzie is the chaser instead of the kicker. But the kick is still lacking in execution. The Crusaders barely have to move to catch this one on the full.
The Chiefs would have been better off kicking from this position as Ireland do below, giving their players a real chance of regaining possession.
The good news for the Chiefs is that they can easily improve from here. If those kicks were weighted differently or made at different times, they could have changed the game. It was the right idea, but wrong execution.
Damian Mckenzie is clearly an outstanding fullback, but can he cover 10 at international level? Let us know your thoughts.
Author: The 1014 Rugby and Henry Stokes