When the All Blacks lose, a nationwide panic of sorts often ensues. Steve Hansen found himself at the epicentre of this after the Springboks recorded their famous 36–34 win in Wellington. An epic rematch in Pretoria was looming, and Hansen needed to adapt fast.
The pressure on a losing All Blacks coach can be immense, but Hansen shouldered it with his typical deadpan demeanour. He would calmly put together a plan with his All Blacks team that would overhaul the experimental systems from Wellington. The following changes give us a glimpse into what the All Blacks might be trying to achieve, and whether they are on track to pull off an incredible check-mate at the World Cup.
How Steve Hansen’s distributor switch helped win the game
In the first match, the All Blacks used their props as distributors at the top of pods. They would then often use a sneaky tip-pass to try and target the area between the Springboks’ pillars and the rest of the defensive line. This could be a deliberate tactic to eventually muscle up to teams like England and Ireland who use strong, compact defences.
This backfired against the Springboks in the First Test due to their strategy of ‘delay and disrupt’, but also because it became far too readable. The well-intentioned experiment had become a target. Steve Hansen switched the All Blacks back to their usual tight attack for the Second Test. He brought Barrett and Whitelock back into the distributor roles and allowed his side more attacking variation. In the final minutes of the game in particular; this variation became the killer blow.
It appears as though Steve Hansen is trying to develop something new, but reverted back to elements of their traditional game-plan here out of respect for the Springboks. The All Blacks still would have been beaten again, however, had it not been for much smarter attacking play from the backs as well.
How the All Blacks manipulated depth, speed and movement to stun the Springboks
Watching the All Blacks attack is both a painful and beautiful thing. Beauden Barrett is usually given freedom to make decisions, with the rest of the backline providing support. This could result in Barrett being bullied by teams with a solid rush defence. But it can also result in Barrett scoring an 80-metre try that will make highlight reels for centuries. You never know what you’re going to get.
Although giving Barrett freedom can clearly pay off, the All Blacks needed more choreographed plays to start manipulating the Springboks rush defence. Here is a great example of Mo’unga (22) doubling round and overloading the rush defence, leading to the Ioane try.
Come World Cup time, More plays like this in the red zone will be deadly.
The All Blacks switch from free thinkers to game management masters
Many fans highlighted the All Blacks poor decision making in Wellington as the catalyst for the loss. Fans frustratingly watched as cross-field kicks flew over the sideline, drop goal opportunities went begging and players found themselves being pushed out.
The All Blacks game management was in an entirely different universe in Test Two.
This was especially evident in the last 10 minutes. This is where they would intelligently hold onto the ball to claw back a 12 point deficit. No longer did we see cross-field kicks and 50/50 passes with the game on the line. This is a sign of an All Blacks team adapting for the high-pressure conditions of World Cup Rugby, and preparing to be pushed late into games by powerful opposition.
Will Steve Hansen’s tactics work at the World Cup?
We will get a glimpse of what the All Blacks biggest competitors are working on in the upcoming 6 Nations. Certain coaches like Joe Schmidt — much like Steve Hansen, are not yet playing their full hands. While some of the 6 Nations sides will make tweaks for certain opposition, their game-plans seem more finalised than the All Blacks game-plan. Steve Hansen has one final season to finish building a World Cup winning game-plan. While that is proving a near impossible task, he might just pull it off.
The 1014 Review the Steve Hansen Chess Moves from Pretoria
The 1014 Rugby reviewed the All Blacks beating the Springboks in significant detail over on their YouTube channel. See the following video for more information.
Author: The 1014 Rugby and Henry Stokes