The All Blacks’ secret is their ball-carriers never die. Pass it on
Their backs are dangerous enough but their forwards’ attacking nous set them apart entirely
Quade Cooper of the Wallabies fails to stop Israel Dagg of the All Blacks as he breaks forward during the World Cup semi-final at Eden Park in Auckland in October 2011. Photograph: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
What’s the difference between Jamie Heaslip and Kieran Read? They are the same height with but one international cap, 2kgs and two years in the difference.
Israel Dagg affords Ireland a very different challenge from fullback than Wallaby Israel Folau. Dagg is no “Aussie rules” player in the air but his arrival on the ball energises his team-mates like no other fullback in rugby.
He mostly breaks the first tackle, often the second, and then the pitch generally opens up; God help us! He can ride the tackle like no other similarly-framed back in world rugby.
The All Blacks’ attacking game has improved out of sight since the World Cup. The role their forwards play in this is crucial; wearingly, much more than Australia last week.
This is the most significant and immediate difference between Southern Hemisphere rugby and our own.
Dagg et al are so confident running from deep because of their forwards. He knows he can test tackles, even with the odds stacked against him. This is extremely unusual for the Irish mentality: here, there has been no significant counter-attack policy; hence forwards are not suitably calibrated, hence backs get isolated.
Yes, compare Heaslip with Read but a better insight into the respective styles is contrasting blindsides Peter O’Mahony to Liam Messam, as here lies the difference.
As outhalf Aaron Cruden charges with the ball watch his forwards, especially Read and Messam. They remain focused on their potential role and run lines into space, ever-conscious of continuity.
They, of course, are the world-class ball-carriers within the system, but they rely on the lesser known boys up front who never, ever die with the ball.
Yes, Ireland must factor in Read in everything, and his offloads are outrageously great, but the key aspect with New Zealand is the speed with which their supporting forwards take the ball off their backs.
No other side’s forwards consistently take the ball flat and at full speed, having timed their run to perfection, based on the empty space where the ball will be passed.
Watch Owen Franks running off Brodie Retallick in midfield on the way to Reid’s 16th-minute try against England. Franks, a tighthead, carries on a beautiful line gliding past English tighthead Dan Cole and secondrow Courtney Lawes.
It took English fullback Mike Brown to finally bring him down; which is unusual but Franks . . . full flight in midfield . . . beautiful!
The above is invaluable around traffic but their ability to use the full width of the park in three passes is extremely dangerous, especially as we have been defending narrow.
Conversely, if Ireland put lateral space in defence then the All Blacks’ interplay between backs and forwards, with forwards sprinting on to the ball, will be impossible to defend.
I implore you watch All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu in defensive lineout mauls. Unorthodoxly, he’s in the middle of the line, targeting the ball-catcher. Under 6ft, he’s ideally placed to hammer hard. Why aren’t other teams following suit?
Inside centre Ma’a Nonu’s cover defence slides aggressively across to hunt the ball-carrier into touch. Winger Cory Jane has scored 16 tries in 44 Tests so who is in his place? Julian Savea has 18 tries in 19 Tests!
Without the ball, every one of the All Blacks makes offensive tackles, especially their front five, which makes them hugely difficult to play against it.
Those hits will knock Irish ball-carriers backwards, which is far from ideal, but it gets worse because our non-offloading style magnifies those hits by putting our ball-carriers on the deck, slowing us down and ripe for a Richie McCaw steel.
All Blacks are very quick getting into the lineout; log the time taken! At scrum time their loosehead will attack Mike Ross, with the scrum shifting right with a slight wheel on the left-hand side on our feed.
Well, can Ireland win? Start off by killing the All Black scrum half and there’s a chance! Ireland must slow them down but we must also speed up. It would be nice to have English tank Manu Tuilagi out wide, but, in his absence, who will poke holes out there?
To beat New Zealand, Ireland must break their line, as Springbok number eight Duane Vermeulen managed, which ultimately led to Bryan Habana’s tries. Seán O’Brien is our only equivalent to Vermeulen and needs to carry way out in midfield, and not around the fringe where Tony Woodcock et al are waiting.
Habana’s second try came off another halfway line break and circle pass from Francois Louw through Read and Andrew Hore out in the tram tracks. Ireland often struggle to target weaknesses but must expose All Black fatties when opportunity arises.
Fly up, Brian
For those Brian O’Driscoll detractors I give you his most important role: fly up, Brian, and shut down New Zealand’s outside channel, forcing their outhalf into backing himself and into heavy traffic.
A word to the referee: New Zealand are happy to concede penalties deep in defence. And the scrum can be Ireland’s massive advantage; where Leinster’s Marty Moore could come in handy.
PS: Come on Jamie; Quelle Différence!