In The Great Grand Final Heist, respected sports writer Ian Heads tells the story of Balmain’s improbable 11-2 win against hot favourites South Sydney in one of the greatest upsets in Australian sporting history.
While the Tigers used a ploy called “laying down”, where they feigned an injury whenever the Rabbitohs looked dangerous to slow the play, their unexpected win was primarily based on staunch defence, which is the basis of almost all boil-overs in any sport.
This is what the Australia coach, Michael Cheika, must demand of the Wallabies against the All Blacks – tackle, tackle and then tackle again. Do not stop tackling.
For proof of how effective this tactic can be against the All Blacks, look no further than the British and Irish Lions’ aggressive line-speed in defence that helped them draw the recent Test series in New Zealand.
Given the holes in the Wallabies’ defence in the June Tests against Fiji, Scotland and Italy, Cheika should have worked overtime on defence at the team’s training camps.
A well-organised defence, which incorporates scramble as well as structure, will not only stop the opposition’s attack, but initiate offence.
The New Zealanders are masters of generating attack from defence by attacking from turnover ball, a tactic the Wallabies brains trust has belatedly cottoned onto.
But the Kiwis do not just rely on their backrowers to compete for the ball at the breakdown. Every player from fullback to the front-row is trained to play hard on the ball at the tackle contest, which is why former Wallabies coach Rod Macqueen describes New Zealand players as “foracks,” a combination of forwards and backs.
If every Wallabies player is not prepared to compete for the ball at the breakdown, it will limit their attacking opportunities and they will need to take every chance they get to beat the All Blacks.
The Wallabies have studied the Lions’ recent performances in New Zealand, but copying everything they did might not the best way forward. One of the Lions’ most effective tactics was kicking high balls, which put the All Blacks’ back three under intense pressure and took away their lethal counter-attack.
The Wallabies do not have the tactical kicking ability of the Lions so they would be better off sticking to a ball-in-hand strategy, which is what they know. Cheika guided the NSW Waratahs to the Super Rugby title in 2014 by playing ball-in-hand and the Wallabies used this tactic to upset the All Blacks in the 2003 World Cup semi-final in Sydney.
If the Wallabies do kick, they must make sure the ball goes out or is contestable. If they give the All Blacks broken field play, they will be torn to pieces.
The greatest challenge facing the Wallabies will be remaining competitive for the full 80 minutes, particularly in the last 20 to 30 when the reserves come on. The All Blacks’ bench players are superior to many of the Wallabies’ starters, which means they have a significant advantage at the back end of the game.
One reason the Lions were so competitive against the All Blacks was because they were a combination of four countries and had sufficient depth to go the distance with the Kiwis. Australia do not have the luxury of the same depth, which means Cheika must be very strategic in how he constructs his 23-man squad.
Despite Australia’s 0-26 win-loss record against New Zealand teams in Super Rugby this year, the Wallabies still have a chance. They have won or drawn two of the last three Tests against the All Blacks in Sydney.
But they will have to tackle like they have never tackled before to pull off The Great Bledisloe Cup Heist.
- The Guardian