Even during the game between the Brumbies and the Hurricanes, I wondered, “How are the Brumbies outplayed in collisions while winning on the scoreboard?
The need for answers intensified after the game.
While only the Brumbies could tell us for sure what their plans were, I couldn’t help but dig for an answer.
Of course, the usual suspects of a win by a smart rugby team that honors the fundamentals of the game were there – a solid set piece (well on top of the lineout, especially), continuity with the ball in attack and a defense that at least bends without breaking.
What stood out to my observation as a real focal point was the Brumbies’ kicking game. There also appears to have been a bold and well-executed tactic to find out where and who they kicked.
The first thing that stood out was the bit of bad kicking. If you want the insane midfield punt, you have to look at the other Australian teams – you can still really fill your boots on this specimen with them.
The Brumbies’ kicks were hit when it was done and the rest were always followed by a group of defenders and many if not most were contested, or with the pursuer arriving as the kick went. been taken.
However, if you watch the Brumbies for a while, it’s hardly a surprise.
What was a surprise (actually a huge surprise to me) was that the Brumbies’ primary kicking target was none other than Jordie Barrett.
He’s not an obvious target for kicks – at around 193 centimeters tall, he’s quite comfortable with the ball high, he’s got a booming return kick and he can be a runner devastating.
This is not his first gig at fullback. I wouldn’t think of an All Black who played for them at 15 as a potential weak link.
To illustrate targeting, in the second half I counted five kicks sent to him (including one from kick-off) and another that found him and the terrifying Salesi Rayasi standing nearby.
By comparison, one kick went to Jackson Garden-Bacho at ten, two to Rayasi and two to Julian Savea.
In the first half, no kicks were sent to Rayasi and Savea and Jordie Barrett were the recipients of every kick (including kickoffs/restarts).
Even more surprisingly, Barrett gave up two second-half turnovers on kicks (about 50 and 61 minutes respectively), at a crucial stage in the game when the Hurricanes were really looking to turn up the heat.
I struggled to see, despite the repeated views, what he was doing wrong. One of the turnovers was a failure to lean low enough to clean the ball off the ground, after it was knocked down by Rayasi standing next to him – a problem any tall person can have, mind you.
The other thing I sensed was that the Brumbies seemed to be aiming for Barrett when he carried.
They secured him two turnovers and generated pressure and a slow ball on other occasions. It used to be that something similar was done by New Zealand against Israel Folau, similarly built and straight running, but with Folau part of the problem was a lack of experience and instinct for the game.
This is not the case with Barrett. I couldn’t see any obvious issues with his placement of the ball after he tackled, or his choice of a short or long placement.
Barrett was stripped of the ball twice – once illegally by Andy Muirhead as Barrett’s knee hit the ground (one of the few calls that seemed to go the visitors way, although the red card/ yellow seemed quite generous to me), but this again suggests possible targeting.
The only things I could really identify are that Barrett tends to run very straight on contact and he seemed to be a bit isolated from effective forward support at times. Because Barrett is often looking to offload, there may be a small loss of ball security.
Maybe another thing about the kick to Barrett was that he tended to take him out of play as a first or second receiver, given he was buried under rucks.
The dangers of failing this tactic emerged twice when Barrett broke tackles and set up support runners. He’s a very good player. It was a very bold game plan that was executed with precision.
The possibility of me over-reading this occurred to me. For example, most kicks are likely to be fielded by the back three – that’s the nature of the game.
However, rewatching the game, I found it hard to believe that a well-prepared team like the Brumbies simply found Barrett consistently by chance, kicked away Rayasi by luck and in the first half accidentally targeted every kickoff at Julian Savea, bar one that went to Barrett.
Other factors in the game that deserve attention and could be articles in themselves include the defensive excellence of the Brumbies midfield. If you have the chance, watch the defensive organization they make.
Defending from midfield is about more than big hits and finding the right time to shoot defensively. The defensive discipline of soaking in rather than trying to match power for power and being very judicious in terms of when to fight on the field also caught my eye.
The tight attacking patterns were also very apparent – almost everything went to second receiver Nic White and there were quite a few angles picked up in the ruck zone.
It wasn’t really until the 73rd minute that there was a series of long-range wide passes to the try line.
It was not and is not the hurricanes of their heyday around 2016-19. However, the Brumbies would also be careful not to play a carbon copy of this game if they meet again.
Barrett is a top player who is unlikely to be taken the same way again and the margin between giving a star player what he needs to open a game and closing it is very thin.
One of the nice things about watching most New Zealand teams is that if they don’t adapt during a game (which they usually do), they will have by the next time you meet.
Space does not permit a discussion of the issue of depth in New Zealand at this time.
All I will say here is that 20 years of losing players in the tier just below the regular All Blacks and the relative decline in recent years of under-20 teams seems to be bringing New Zealand back on the pitch .
I don’t see Australian players as having gained much ground, qualitatively.
As I noted when I wrote my heretical crusader text recently, New Zealand’s amazing talent production chain doesn’t really seem to be falling apart and it has a knack for turning players who seem to come from nowhere to test the standard.
This is the great rugby nation and there is more depth and breadth of knowledge and love for the game per person than anywhere else.
However, at the moment there are more players than I can remember for a long time who are not clearly better than their Australian counterparts.
I see this as particularly the case in the locks, but also in the back row.
That’s not to say there aren’t some good ones (Cullen Grace, anyone, or the seed of Todd Blackadder for example), or that the rest are useless, but what it does suggest is is that right now, this season, the fabric has been stretched thinner than I can remember for many years.