After the last three titanic games between the teams ended in one win apiece and a draw, Pool B’s opener between the All Blacks and the Springboks was touted by some as a prelude to the World Cup final. This analysis will look at some of the details in the All Blacks attacking performance that lead to the telling scores in their opening World Cup match.
The beginning of New Zealand’s ascendancy in this game had an innocuous start with a lineout maul from the Springboks in the 21st minute. The rationale from the Springboks in mauling here is to engage the All Blacks backrow and stop them pressurising the first receiver in the backline.
As the picture above shows, this is largely successful with Sam Cane forced to mark South African scrum-half Faf de Klerk. However, setting a maul instead of passing off the top also means that the All Blacks defence is 10 metres closer to the Springbok backs.
Take a look at Richie Mo’unga-circled above-in particular. As there are only three Springbok backs in the first wave of attack, Mo’unga can afford to gamble and come out of the defensive line. Keep an eye on what Mo’unga does next.
With the pass going to ground, the All Blacks 10’s gamble pays off, Mo’unga toe-pokes the ball ahead in broken play and eventually forces a penalty that gets New Zealand both 3 points and a foothold in the game.
From this foothold, New Zealand claim the Springboks restart and look to box-kick the ball through Aaron Smith. A scrum-half’s goal when kicking a contestable box-kick is generally to have the ball hang in the air for 4 seconds and travel at between 15 and 20 metres. This gives his chasing winger a chance to make up the ground and contest for the ball in the air.
As the clip above shows, Smith’s kick hangs for 4 seconds exactly, George Bridge wins the ball in the air and suddenly New Zealand can run the ball.
Looking at the picture above, the South African defence is now in disarray as their defensive line is jagged and Mapimpi in particular-circled in red-is very narrow on the wing.
When counter-attacking in broken-play like this, the general rule of thumb is that the ball should be moved two passes away from the original point of contact. Cognisant of this, Smith whips the ball away instantly and Richie Mo’unga makes another telling contribution by kick-passing the ball to New Zealand’s Sevu Reece in space on the right wing.
As an aside, it’s worth pointing out the support line of Aaron-circled-Smith here.
Having made his pass, Smith runs an intelligent support line ahead of the ball that anticipates Reece making the linebreak.
As the clip above shows, once Reece comes up against the cover defence, Smith is on his left shoulder to take a pass and move the ball quickly onto Ardie Savea for a gain of an extra 30 metres.
Having made a lung-bursting run from one half to the other, the continued attention to detail of the All Blacks in the broken play is exceptional. Again they make the crucial two passes, with two intelligent decoy lines from Sam Whitelock and Joe Moody looking to fix the rushing defence in the meantime.
As the picture below indicates, with these two passes made and Beauden Barrett on the ball, the All Blacks now have numbers to burn on the outside.
With the risk of an intercept still a live possibility, George Bridge points the space for Barrett to run into and bears the fruit of his call by collecting Barrett’s offload to finish off an excellent team try.
Now 10-3 ahead after the converted try, NZ go once again. After another cross-field kick-pass, a series of two-pass plays and a second box-kick won in the air, the Springboks defensive line is again disorganised and narrow.
As the following clip shows, New Zealand use two passes again with Dane Coles throwing a beautiful offload out of the tackle. Anton Lienert-Brown then takes advantage of a mismatch to speed past two slower Springbok forwards and put Scott Barrett in for New Zealand’s third score in quick succession.
Coming into this game, the South African defence was statistically the best in the world in 2019-conceding only 14.2 points on average per game. New Zealand were able to beat that average in their Pool B opener with 17 points in less than 5 minutes.
While there were aspects of play in this game that the All Blacks will want to improve on after their performance, that 5 minutes of broken-play brilliance showed why New Zealand are still firm favourites to win the World Cup.
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