Wallabies – It’s Time For A Fightback! Part 3

Wallabies – It’s Time For A Fightback! Part 3

In part 1 of my Wallabies Fightback series I outlined my belief that the Wallabies need to attack more through 1st phase backline plays but as I mentioned in part 2  that can only happen if we can not only win our set pieces but win clean ball from those set pieces to establish a solid attacking platform.

In part 1 of this series I detailed the 1st phase set piece opportunities the Wallabies had within 60 metres of the try line in the first two TRC matches of 2012.  Of the 27 opportunities I identified, 20 came from lineouts – nearly three times more than those from scrums.  The importance of the lineout in international rugby cannot be over emphasised – around 30 per cent of all tries are scored from a possession starting from a lineout.

The performance of the Wallabies attacking lineout has been inconsistent since 2007 as shown in the following results from the Tri-Nations series.

Year % Won By Wallabies % Won By All Blacks % Won By Springboks
2007 82% 74% 86%
2008 79% 77% 82%
2009 74% 76% 88%
2010 88% 79% 86%
2011 82% 93% 84%

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Wallabies played some of their best attacking rugby for years in 2010, the same year the Wallabies lineout performance was the best its been for some time.

In the 2007 Rugby World Cup the Wallabies managed to win 92 per cent of their own lineouts but in the 2011 tournament that fell to just 78 per cent. Compare that to other teams on their own lineouts in the 2011 tournament – all teams averaged 82 per cent, the All Blacks 92 per cent and France 90 per cent.

In defensive lineouts the Wallabies performance has fallen away in the same period as shown in the following results from the Tri-Nations.

Year % Won By Wallabies % Won By All Blacks % Won By Springboks
2007 22% 15% 21%
2008 20% 15% 25%
2009 10% 15% 38%
2010 16% 17% 15%
2011 12% 19% 9%

In the 2007 Rugby World Cup the Wallabies managed to win 35 per cent of opposition lineouts but in the 2011 tournament that fell to just 15 per cent. Compare that to other teams in opposition lineouts in the 2011 tournament – all teams averaged 18 per cent and only Canada, Romania and Tonga had a lower success rate in opposition lineouts than the Wallabies.

Overall performance in lineouts, an area of the game that used to be a strength for the Wallabies, has clearly declined in the last five seasons.

In the recent series against Wales the Wallabies won 87 per cent of their own lineouts and matched Wales’ performance by managing to win 13 per cent of Welsh lineouts.

In the first two TRC matches against the All Blacks this year the Wallabies won 85 per cent of their own lineouts but only managed to win 4 per cent of the All Black’s lineouts.  The single All Black lineout that the Wallabies won came in TRC 3 but the Wallabies didn’t even compete for the ball – it was just that the All Blacks got their calls confused and had no jumpers themselves.

The poor defensive lineout performance by the Wallabies wasn’t a result of the All Blacks being too good – the Wallabies did not even compete in many lineouts and therefore conceded too many lineout wins for the All Blacks.

Not competing in defensive lineouts within your own 22 is a valid enough tactic but should also not be the only tactic you use in that field position – on some occasions you should compete if for no other reason than to put some doubt in to the opposition minds.  Whilst the Wallabies did not compete in a single All Black lineout inside the Wallabies 22 in either match, the All Blacks competed in each of the two lineouts the Wallabies had in the All Blacks 22 – winning one of them.

In the two matches against the All Blacks the Wallabies failed to compete effectively in nine of twenty six All Black lineouts outside of the Wallabies 22. The best the Wallabies could manage in those lineouts was a single jumper trying to jump on his own.  That’s 35 per cent of defensive lineouts where the Wallabies failed to put any effective pressure on the All Blacks.  In TRC 1 the Wallabies failed to effectively pressure the All Blacks in 29 per cent of lineouts but in TRC 3 that rose to 42 per cent.

Not competing effectively in defensive lineouts gives the opposition free ball and that’s not something you want to do against the All Blacks.  It will happen from time to time if the opposition manage to set quickly and run their lineout before you can get organised but it needs to be minimised.  In the accompanying video I’ve included examples of the lineouts where the Wallabies didn’t pressure the All Blacks lineout and some additional commentary.

From the footage it appears that the All Blacks simply showed more urgency to get into position quickly and took advantage of the Wallabies being slow and disorganised by throwing before the Wallabies could react. This needs to be addressed before the next game – surely it wasn’t a tactic the Wallabies took in to the matches and it’s not a technical issue so it must be an attitude issue.

Whilst the Wallabies were allowing the All Blacks to have too much easy ball, the All Blacks only failed to compete effectively in 15 per cent of the Wallabies lineouts.

The extra pressure applied by the All Blacks on the Wallabies lineout was exaggerated by the fact that in both matches whilst the Wallabies had four potential jumpers on the field they were only using three jumpers to throw to whereas the All Blacks had five jumpers available in defence.

The Wallabies threw to Dave Dennis in 23 per cent of lineouts, 35 per cent to Nathan Sharpe and 42 per cent to Scott Higginbotham or Radike Samo when he replaced Higginbotham. 

Whilst Sitaleki Timani is the tallest Wallaby the All Blacks felt confident enough to leave their shortest jumper, Liam Messam, marking him at the front of the lineout.  They obviously believed that either the Wallabies wouldn’t use Timani as an option to throw to or that if they did Messam could compete with him, despite the size difference.  It was a good tactic by the All Blacks because the Wallabies didn’t throw to Timani at all and this left the All Blacks with their four best jumpers available to target the three remaining Wallaby jumpers.  How tall a player is isn’t the only factor in deciding who jumps in a lineout but whilst Timani was used as a lifter this doesn’t take full advantage of his height advantage over other players.

In the two matches against the All Blacks the Wallabies used an equal mix of seven and five man lineouts.  When using their five man option the Wallabies won 92 per cent of their lineouts but with seven man lineouts that fell to 77 per cent so full lineouts are the area that needs attention.

I rated 93 per cent of all Wallaby lineout throws over the two matches as good with only two throws that were not straight but were also not called – one each from Tatafu Polota-Nau and Stephen Moore so lineout throwing in the two matches was not a cause of under performance.   

With their five man lineouts the Wallabies used their three primary jumpers in a spread pattern in between the two props, which nullified the advantage the All Blacks had with their extra jumping options in a full lineout as they could only match with three jumpers.  The disadvantage in using shortened lineouts is that you have forwards in the opposition defensive backline which makes it very hard to effectively utilise 1st phase backline plays.  In fact of the twenty 1st phase attacking opportunities from lineouts that I identified for the Wallaby backline to work with, 30 per cent of those were compromised with a five man lineout used by the Wallabies.

Linking back to my preference for more 1st phase attack from the Wallaby backline in the game plan the Wallabies need to use more full lineouts.

In TRC 1 the Wallabies won 100 per cent of full lineouts whereas in TRC they only won 63 per cent of full lineouts. None of the full lineouts lost was the result of a poor throw.

When planning lineout defence almost every team will have a policy of putting a priority on marking the opposition lineout caller – the caller is normally the best lineout operator and is more likely to call to themselves to minimise confusion with calls as he reduces the number of players that have to correctly implement his call to his two lifters. Of course the attacking team knows this is a likely tactic so looks for another less heavily defended option to take some pressure off the caller.

In TRC 1 the Wallabies called 33 per cent of their full lineouts to a jumper in the middle of the lineout with 67 per cent to the back jumper.  There were no calls to the front of a full lineout where Timani was placed.  Higginbotham was the jumper in 50 per cent of full lineouts with 33 per cent to Sharpe and 17 per cent to Dennis. Obviously Sharpe used Higginbotham as his pressure release in this match. Going in to TRC 3 the All Blacks would probably have focussed their pressure on Higginbotham to make it harder for Sharpe to release pressure whilst still marking Sharpe hard.

In TRC 3 the Wallabies changed which areas they threw the ball to in full lineouts – 38 per cent to the front and 62 per cent to the middle.  They chose not to use the back jumper in stark contrast to TRC 1 probably so as to not be too predictable but this was also where Timani was placed later in the match.  Higginbotham was only used as the jumper in 13 per cent of full lineouts and Samo at the front for 25 per cent.  Sharpe called himself as the jumper in the full lineouts for the remaining 62 per cent.  Dennis was not used as the jumper in any full lineouts. With the All Blacks marking Sharpe hard it’s no surprise that all three lineouts the Wallabies lost in that match were thrown to Sharpe in the middle of the lineout.

The All Blacks put a lot of pressure on the Wallabies main jumpers reducing Sharpe’s options. Looking at individual lineout calls in TRC 3 Sharpe could have used the front option against Messam earlier in the match – he used this call to good effect when Samo replaced Higginbotham.

Sharpe is a very good lineout caller and jumper but against a good defensive lineout any caller needs a genuine fourth jumping option to call the throw to so the opposition have to spread their defence further.

Whilst at Super Rugby level teams may be able to operate with only three genuine jumping options it’s much harder at test level. The Wallabies are making it easier for the All Blacks by not using Timani as a jumping option.  I haven’t seen him receiving the ball in enough lineouts to understand what technical issues he may have that would see the Wallabies shunning him as a lineout option and my concerns are not about Timani – he played well in the last game adding a good physical presence around the field and if he keeps that form up he’ll be an automatic selection until James Horwill returns.  My concerns regarding the lack of a genuine fourth jumping option would apply regardless of which players were being selected.

[Update: I’ve checked the statistics for the Waratahs and it seems they are also not using Timani as a jumper – in 13 games in 2012 the Waratahs only used him as a jumper on 7 occasions.]

Just as selecting props should be primarily based on their scrummaging capability the Wallaby selectors need to select players to make our lineout more competitive and that means including a genuine fourth jumping option or up skilling a player so the team is not unbalanced as it is now.

Whilst the Wallabies lineout performance has declined over the last five seasons the All Blacks have made improvements in the last two seasons.  If the Wallabies want to compete against the All Blacks this is another basic area that needs attention.

I’ve included clips of some example lineouts with some more commentary in the accompanying video.

Part 4 of my series will cover kicking in general play.

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Scott is one of our regular contributors from the old days of G&GR. He has experience coaching Premier Grade with two clubs in Brisbane.

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