Mark Reason: Smart All Blacks lost because they went loco


OPINION: It is not very often that the All Blacks lose a test match because of a lack of street smarts on and off the pitch. But that is precisely what happened in their second half collapse against South Africa on Saturday night.

The All Blacks’ startling lack of leadership was illustrated by the conclusion of the match when New Zealand had apparently been handed victory by the failure of Elton Jantjies to propel his restart the necessary 10 metres. Scrum back on halfway and game over. Or so we thought.

All Blacks coach Ian Foster (L), Ardie Savea and Beauden Barrett after a Bledisloe Cup win in Auckland in August. The All Blacks' collective savvy deserted them in a defeat to the Springboks on the Gold Coast.

Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

All Blacks coach Ian Foster (L), Ardie Savea and Beauden Barrett after a Bledisloe Cup win in Auckland in August. The All Blacks’ collective savvy deserted them in a defeat to the Springboks on the Gold Coast.

But then the All Blacks did a remarkably dumb thing. They stopped the clock. What was going on? New Zealand is the smartest rugby nation on the planet and they were stopping the clock? The South Africans must have thought they were getting a free hand out of biltong.

The official time of the match was 78.54 when referee Matthew Carley called the scrum. There was plenty of time for the All Blacks to amble to the set piece, fiddle about getting set, and all but eliminate the clock before kicking the ball out. Heck, the Springboks routinely take 25 seconds just getting to a lineout and a scrum takes far longer to form.

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The All Blacks in a huddle after losing to the Springboks last weekend.

Albert Perez/Getty Images

The All Blacks in a huddle after losing to the Springboks last weekend.

But for some inexplicable reason someone told replacement hooker Asafo Aumua to take a knee. It was clearly a fake injury because Aumua had taken no contact since South Africa had restarted the game. It was done because the All Blacks wanted a tactical powwow.

But gosh, was it naive. Carley immediately stopped the clock at 79.11 and all the time that would have been frittered away in forming the scrum was now preserved. Indeed, Carley was fastidious about not then starting the clock until he called for the two front rows to bind and impact was on its way. So the All Blacks now had 45 seconds to play out instead of letting the clock tick into added time.

Are the All Blacks so lacking in people who could make instant on field decisions that they needed to effectively call an American Football coach’s timeout in order to receive instructions? In the huddle TJ Perenara and captain Savea appeared to be doing all the talking, although the two medics were probably carrying instructions. What a waste of time, or rather that’s what they should have been doing.

After the match Ian Foster said of captain Savea, “This man next to me has led superbly.”

Captain Ardie Savea scores a try but was left bitterly disappointed at the All Blacks' first defeat of the season, to South Africa on the Gold Coast.

Albert Perez/Getty Images

Captain Ardie Savea scores a try but was left bitterly disappointed at the All Blacks’ first defeat of the season, to South Africa on the Gold Coast.

Well said, coach. That is absolutely the right message and Savea has clearly been a cohesive force off the pitch. But on the pitch the conclusion of the match was a shambles and Savea has to take some of the rap for that.

Not only was there the fiasco of stopping the clock, there was then the problem of seeing out time with a couple of ruck carries, something I seem to remember the All Blacks doing for about half an hour at the end of the 2011 World Cup final. Still, Sir Richie wasn’t much of a leader at the start of his captaincy, but he certainly found his way. The same could yet be true of Ardie.

It wasn’t all his fault. In the conclusion to the game there was an apparent lack of attention to detail, and this one surely is on the coaches. At the end of the second test match between Australia and South Africa a fortnight ago, the Aussies had been running down the clock in the final minute.

Makazole Mapimpi scores the Springboks’ second try.

Albert Perez/Getty Images

Makazole Mapimpi scores the Springboks’ second try.

The ref then, as now, was Carley and he is strict on this sort of thing. With the time at 79.41 he pinged the Aussies for sealing off. It was 79.43 when he pinged New Zealand. You cannot say Carley is not consistent. But New Zealand, a nation that has based its Covid strategy on other countries’ mistakes, failed to learn on this occasion.

That failure to learn was repeated throughout the match. Two weeks ago Australia had beaten South Africa and beaten them well. The two keys to their success were their lineout and their ability to take out the rush defence. Both had taken remarkably sophisticated planning and precise execution.

Coach Dave Rennie and his staff know you can’t let South Africa get a nudge on in the lineout or their big beasts will make it a long afternoon. So they came in with variation after variation, repeatedly changing the pattern so that Eben Etzebeth and his mates couldn’t get set and start picking them off.

The ball to the front was instantly shifted to the middle on one occasion leaving South Africa’s maul nowhere to go. Australia also had great success with an elaborate dummy lift and a quick throw to the front. New Zealand tried a couple of quick throws to the front in the second half, but both were intercepted because there was no convincing decoy.

Dave Rennie (R) has cleverly used Quade Cooper in his Wallabies comeback.

Dan Peled / www.photosport.nz

Dave Rennie (R) has cleverly used Quade Cooper in his Wallabies comeback.

Australia also moved Quade Cooper way back into the pocket, not just to kick but also on occasions to run. American football’s shotgun passing formation was invented in 1960 by coach Red Hickey in order to circumvent the terrific pass rush of the Baltimore Colts. The strategy worked and quarterback John Brodie had time to get his passes away.

Rennie and Australia did something similar against South Africa. At one point Australia’s halfback even took a shotgun pass seven metres behind his forwards in order to kick.

On another occasion replacement halfback Tate McDermott received the ball on his 10-metre line, passed to Cooper who passed to Samu Kerevi. The second-five took that pass on his 22 and, with the South African rush stranded in no man’s land, put his winger away on the outside.

Bewilderingly, we saw none of this from New Zealand. Beauden Barrett did not stand directly behind his forwards or deep enough to make it hard for South Africa to rush his kicks. And by the second half he had lost the plot completely.

There was some Beaudie magic off first-phase, when South Africa’s defence had to stay back the requisite five and ten metres, like the in-to-out break off a lineout for Savea’s try or attacking the line off a scrum to put Rieko Ioane away in the second half. But what followed the Ioane break summed up New Zealand’s confusion.

Phase after phase Beaudie would stand too flat, shuffle sideways and shovel to a forward who would get monstered by a South African. Where was the coaching? Where was the misdirection like Australia used when Nic White and Cooper ran an American Football style reverse play. I reckon Rennie must have been watching NFL because so much of Australia’s ability to avoid the pass rush came from the American playbook.

Beauden Barrett gets his pass away to Rieko Ioane as the All Blacks scored a sensational try against the Springboks.

Dan Peled/Photosport

Beauden Barrett gets his pass away to Rieko Ioane as the All Blacks scored a sensational try against the Springboks.

Unfortunately New Zealand seemed to have learned nothing from Australia’s success. Sure they are missing their big leaders. When Sam Whitelock, Aaron Smith and Richie Mo’unga were on the pitch together at the start of the series there was some real authority and wit about the play.

But even so we expect the All Blacks to be better than this. I wrote a few weeks ago that the All Blacks success against a rudderless Australia without Cooper and a feeble Argentina was a bit of an illusion and that there were cracks for the big beasts of the rugby world to exploit. But I never expected the savviest rugby players in the world to go loco. I never expected the cracks to appear in the heads of New Zealand’s players.

The coach has given the players and the staff a week off from even talking about rugby. That’s a good thing. Now is the right time to call a timeout. Take a pause, reset and clear your heads. A rugby nation as clever as New Zealand doesn’t become dumb overnight.

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Source link : https://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/rugby/all-blacks/126582736/mark-reason-smart-all-blacks-lost-because-they-went-loco

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Publish date : 2021-10-04 23:00:00

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