In less than two minutes the All Blacks found themselves a try down in front of a boisterous Twickenham crowd. A fired up England side had just blitzed them off the park from kick off. From this unlikely position, an All Blacks win would take both heart and strategic genius.
Steve Hansen was already 3 moves ahead. In fact, he was 3 entire gameplans ahead. Regardless of the controversial offside decision at the death, this is how the All Blacks used 3 entirely separate attacking patterns to put themselves in a position to beat England.
Gameplan A for an All Blacks win | the Ashton pressure plan
For the first 30 minutes, the All Blacks attempted to kick in behind Chris Ashton and pile on the pressure. The idea was to find space, but also to target a player they believed was more of an attacker than a high-ball specialist. However, more often than not these kicks returned minimal gain. Ashton performed better than expected under the pressure, and other England players covered well. Below we can see one such kick gaining some territory but ultimately handing England the ball in an attacking position.
The call was soon made to hold onto the ball after 30 minutes of trying Gameplan A to no avail.
The All Blacks would now test England with a much more gritty attacking style.
Gameplan B for an All Blacks win | the classic rugby plan
Patience would be the name of the game for gameplan B. The All Blacks would use a simple pod off 9, followed by a couple of 1-out runners. This back-to-basics approach was not flashy by any means and they often found themselves unable to make the gain line against the powerful England defence.
However, the aim here wasn’t to make metres every phase, it was to slowly manipulate the English defence. In the below example we can see the plan in action. This is about the cleanest it would get, as passes continually flew past their intended target. This is not the All Blacks in their natural flow.
Despite the errors Gameplan B was working, but the results weren’t coming fast enough. It took 18 phases in fact here for Damian McKenzie to make a half-break. At halftime, Steve Hansen would switch to a strategy that more cleverly targeted the Achilles heel of the English defence.
Gameplan C for an All Blacks win | the inside ball plan
The hardest part about organising a rush defence is getting every player to stay disciplined and move in unison. Steven Hansen and his coaching staff spotted a gap between the ruck and the rest of the defensive line, often inside the over-eager Owen Farrell. The All Blacks would now use inside passes to target this gap to great effect.
To compound the effectiveness of this approach, All Blacks players cleaning out the ruck would make sure to take defenders out at the same time. In this clip, both Crotty and Whitelock clear Itoje out of the defensive line. An inside ball then sends Retallick into the subsequent gap.
The All Blacks would see out the second half using gameplan C to manoeuvre into kickable penalty and drop goal territory, and England wouldn’t score another point for the rest of the match.
The fact that Steven Hansen had to change his attacking game plan 3 times to barely win this game is a testament to England’s strength. If the All Blacks didn’t do some other intelligent things such as stacking their line-out with 4 jumpers or targeting Owen Farrell’s suspect tackling, the result may have been different.
The question now becomes, what can England’s opponents do in the 6 Nations to build on this All Blacks win?
How to attack England in the 6 Nations using Steve Hansen’s strategy
In last season’s 6 Nations Scotland found a different way around the English defence. Scotland played so deep they managed to get around the line on several occasions, instead of attacking holes in the line as the All Blacks did. While England adapted, if a team was good enough to do use both these methods from the start of a match, England would be forced to slow their line-speed down considerably. This would leave them open to conceding more metres up the middle.
We don’t know whether a team would dare try this in a test match before the World Cup, but we will soon have our answer.
The 1014 Rugby reviewed Steve Hansen’s gameplans in significant detail over on their YouTube channel. See the following video for more information.
Is there one 6 Nations side in particular who could tear apart the England defensive line on both the inside and outside? Let us know your thoughts.
Author: The 1014 Rugby and Henry Stokes