In Bledisloe III, we saw how a strong kicking game can cut an opposition open.
We also saw that teams can punish oppositions by trying to hide players in defence, which occurred as the Wallabies moved debutant Noah Lolesio to the backfield.
While the All Blacks are the most lethal team in the world with ball-in-hand and on the counter, they also kick the ball as much as any international team.
But the difference between the All Blacks and the Wallabies on Saturday night was one team kicked almost exclusively to win the ball back while the other tried and failed to turn the opposition around and hope for a mistake.
When the game was in the balance in the first half, the All Blacks had 67 per cent of possession and yet outkicked the Wallabies 19-10. On the back of that possession and territory, they took a 26-0 lead into half-time and ultimately prevailed 43-5.
The difference was that the All Blacks regularly ended up with possession from kicking, and they did so with the perfect balance of chips and box kicks to exploit the Wallabies.
To watch some of these examples, click the video below.
Right from the outset, Richie Mo’unga – who played his best match in the black jersey – showed how the All Blacks would manipulate the Wallabies’ defence. Regularly, they exploited debutant Noah Lolesio, who defended in the backfield similarly to how Quade Cooper previously did for the Wallabies.
In the eighth minute, with the Wallabies’ defence already stretched following the yellow card to Filipo Daugunu, Mo’unga, just short of his own 22, kicked across field on the third phase and outside centre Anton Lienert-Brown stormed onto the ball 44m out from the Wallabies’ line.
While the play resulted in Jordie Barrett being yellow carded, as he was penalised for elbowing Dane Haylett-Petty in contact, the All Blacks exploited Lolesio’s poor positional play and suspect defence.
Despite going down a man, the All Blacks didn’t shy away from kicking. But, crucially, they did so on their own terms.
In the 10th minute, having turned over possession immediately from the Wallabies’ lineout from the penalty, Mo’unga again kicks on third phase on slow ball.
Halfback Aaron Smith finds Mo’unga 44m out from his own line and he puts up a kick across field for his winger Caleb Clarke, who outjumps Haylett-Petty (defending on the right-wing) and takes the ball on the Wallabies’ 22m line.
From the Clarke take, the All Blacks then beautifully manipulate the Wallabies’ defence by exclusively working the left-half of the field. By doing so, they suck the Wallabies’ defence to their right.
Then, with what should have been the killer blow, Mo’unga kicks across field where halfback Nic White is defending on the left-wing and Dane Coles wins the race to the ball but fails to ground it.
While the All Blacks failed to get any pay from the play, it was the perfect manipulation of defence.
After being denied a try for the second time in as many minutes, the All Blacks end up the ball from the Wallabies’ 22 drop kick restart.
Third phase, Smith puts up a box kick a metre short of halfway and captain Sam Cane ends up with the ball.
The All Blacks only gain 10 metres from the kick, but what the kick has achieved is yet again placing another seed of doubt in the Wallabies’ minds about what they will do.
At this point, the Wallabies finally get their hands on the ball and have the ability to manipulate the All Blacks’ defence with Barrett still in the sin bin.
The crucial error they make, however, is kicking the ball away and not regaining it.
Twice in as many minutes they put the ball on the toe with both centres Jordan Petaia and Irae Simone, who have four Tests of experience behind them, putting in grubbers on the first and third phases.
The Wallabies may have come into the Test with the intention of turning the All Blacks around, but after being forced to turn defend for the majority of the game thus far they needed to hold onto the ball and work their way into the game.
Instead, they denied themselves possession.
Nor did they learn from their mistakes, nor the All Blacks’ as we see from the next kick highlighted below.
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A minute later, All Blacks hooker Coles puts in a grubber out wide for himself and turns over possession and the Wallabies counter through Marika Koroibete.
Except, as soon as the Wallabies get over the gain line once again they kick away possession, as Lolesio, standing too deep in attack, puts up a poor up and under second phase, which sails way too long and both teams then enter a kicking duel that that the All Blacks win, as the home side is penalised after Ned Hanigan drops Beauden Barrett’s contestable kick in the 20th minute and
Brandon Paenga-Amosa touches the ball in an offside position. One phase later, the All Blacks score their second try.
The All Blacks then put up three kicks in as many minutes, two of which were contestable kicks and the middle of those three a clearing box-kick from Smith. On all three occasions, Wallabies winger Filipo Daugunu was either forced into touch or turned over possession with aimless offloads.
The final of those three efforts from Daugunu was punished.
Three phases after Smith dived on Daugunu’s offload, the All Blacks on slow ball made the Wallabies pay for playing Lolesio at fullback.
On slow ball, Smith passed back inside his 22 to Beauden Barrett at first-receiver and the acting playmaker chipped ahead for Mo’unga, who collected the ball on the first bounce 43m out from his own line and burnt Marika Koroibete, Michael Hooper and a flat-footed Lolesio, who was deep at fullback on his own 10m line.
It was at this point that pundit Rod Kafer questioned the decision by the Wallabies to play Lolesio at fullback.
“I’ve never been a fan of moving players in the defensive line into a place where they don’t play,” Kafer said in commentary for Fox Sports.
“Noah Lolesio since the start of the game has been defending at fullback. We’ve seen that model in Wallaby rugby before and it’s not a model that has not worked well. He doesn’t know the space, he doesn’t understand whether to be deep or shallow, the All Blacks through their kicking game are just picking him off, whether it’s Mo’unga or anyone of the Barretts, they can all kick, they understand how to find grass when they kick and to exploit it. The Wallabies need to rethink that tactic.”
Curiously, the Brumbies didn’t defend Lolesio, who has a rugby league background, in the backfield in Super Rugby.
It was a method that the Wallabies and Queensland Reds had previously used with Quade Cooper. Interestingly, the defence coach at the Reds when Cooper was shifted to the back was Matt Taylor, who is now with the Wallabies.
Taylor left the Reds after they won the Super Rugby title in 2011, but is in his first year back in Australian rugby after eight years in Scotland with Glasgow and the national team.
The All Blacks’ strong kicking game continued in the final quarter of the first-half, as Smith put up a box kick in the 29th minute and Haylett-Petty spilt the ball.
Immediately, the All Blacks shifted the ball to the left side of the field where Jack Goodhue pinned Lolesio in his right-corner with an excellent left-foot kick and the All Blacks won a penalty and kicked for the sideline.
One phase later, the All Blacks scored through their rolling maul.
As Kafer said, “It’s a wet-weather masterclass from the All Blacks. The kicking game is spot on, the variety in their kicking game is excellent, they’re forcing the Wallabies into error, forcing the Wallabies to play out of their half and when they get possession there they’ve been deadly.”
Unfortunately, the Wallabies’ kicking game continued to flounder as Lolesio undid Nic White’s good work.
The Wallabies won the kicking game and were arguably the better side in Wellington because of White’s strong performance, which included a series of brilliantly placed box-kicks.
They moved away from White’s box-kicking in Auckland and, again, rarely used his right-boot in Sydney despite the wet conditions which were similar to Wellington.
In the 35th minute, White put up a box kick in his own half and Beauden Barrett dropped the ball 37m out from his own line.
Except, one phase later Lolesio, on the back of a wild pass dropped the ball on the toe again and Jordie Barrett, with no-one within cooee of him, dived on the ball to earn his side a 22m drop kick restart and relieve the pressure.
Once again, it was a head scratching decision.
“You go into a match like this where the weather’s wet and you have a plan and a tactic and that tactic might be let’s use the kicking game, but when it doesn’t go your way then you’ve got to find something different and you’ve got to adjust, the short kicks aren’t working.”
Not for the first time, the All Blacks soon made the Wallabies pay for giving possession away.
In fact, after the Wallabies knocked the ball on from the 22m drop kick restart, they should have scored six phases later as Daugunu dropped a box kick from Smith and it spectacularly ended up with
Mo’unga, who, after being ankle tapped close to the opposition line, passed but the ball was spilt.
At half-time, former All Blacks playmaker Andrew Mehrtens said his former side were benefitting from better communication.
“The difference is, Mo’unga when he’s looking for options, he’s got guys calling to him, giving him outs,” Mehrtens said on Fox Sports.
“Lolesio hasn’t had the same. We saw the grubber kick right up on attack just gave away possession because he had no-one giving him an option; coming back on defence, going down the ball, he wasn’t being spoken to.”
Following the record trans-Tasman loss, Wallabies captain Michael Hooper said his side needed to kick more.
“We kicked half as much as New Zealand did, so probably would like to get those numbers up a bit more,” he said.
In reality though, what the Wallabies needed to do better was kick smarter.
Are the grubbers a smart play?
It's something that Simone, in particular, attempts frequently and whilst they might work in training when defences are more passive and not as committed as in a game scenario, in international rugby they rarely succeed.
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