Out-kick them? Isolate their backs? How England can beat the All Blacks


England v New Zealand
Venue: Twickenham Date: 10 November Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Coverage: Radio commentary on BBC Radio 5 live (build-up from 14:30) and live text commentary on BBC Sport website. Highlights on BBC Two from 19:30 GMT

Expose Nehe Milner-Skudder and Julian Savea under the high ball.

Watch for Ma’a Nonu’s sidestep.

Rattle Kieran Read.

Don’t get lured into an obsession with Dan Carter.

Those were some of the bullet-points long-lens snappers picked out a piece of paper in the hand of Australia forwards coach Mario Ledesma on Friday, 30 October 2015.

It was the eve of the World Cup final and the Wallabies were going through their final training run-out at Twickenham before taking on the All Blacks.

If it was a sneak peek at Australia’s plan for the next day, and there was some suggestion that the leak was a mischievous, misleading bit of gamesmanship, it didn’t work.

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Mario Ledesma<!–

Nonu stepped his way to a solo try, Carter was immaculate and New Zealand won 34-17.

But then not many plans do succeed against a team who have lost just four of their 29 matches over the past two years.

Here is another, based on what went wrong in those rare defeats.

1. Out-kick them

Beauden Barrett<!–

Beauden Barrett may well become the first to win the World Player of the Year three years in a row at the end of this month.

The All Black fly-half can cut a defence to ribbons with scything pace or the weight, timing and disguise on a pass. Delicate chips, teasing grubbers and booming touch-finders flow from his instep while his brain coolly steers the All Black points harvester around the field.

He is some player. But he is not the best goal-kicker the world has ever seen.

He clocked just a 65% success rate in the All Blacks’ recent Rugby Championship campaign. By contrast, France’s Maxime Machenaud and Wales’ Leigh Halfpenny landed 90% and 89% of their kicks at goal respectively during this year’s Six Nations.

By most measures South Africa should have lost when the two teams met in Wellington in September.

The Springboks made only 258m to the All Blacks’ 624. They had only 25% possession, 21% territory and conceded 10 penalties, while New Zealand offered up only three.

Goal-kicking success in 2018
Source: RugbyPass
Leigh Halfpenny (Wal) 87%
Bernard Foley (Aus) 85%
Greig Laidlaw (Sco) 84%
Johnny Sexton (Ire) 77%
Owen Farrell (Eng) 74%
Handre Pollard (SA) 72%
Beauden Barrett (NZ) 66%

But, the statistic that headlined all of them was, a sensational 36-34 win for the visitors.

Key to victory was South Africa fly-half Handre Pollard landing five out of six kicks, earning his side 11 points.

By contrast Barrett landed only two from six.

South African kicking coach Vlok Cilliers was critical of Barrett in the aftermath, claiming that the All Blacks, so used to having games won before the final 10 minutes, struggled with clutch kicks at goal.

“All the other major kickers in the world are far likelier to have been exposed to pressure kicking at goal in the last quarter of games. Him? Not nearly so much,” he told Sport24.

Simon Gleave, head of sports analysis at Gracenote, also believes that Barrett’s return off the tee is a result of the All Blacks’ excellence, but in a different way.

His research, covering the All Blacks’ 23 Tests before last weekend’s win over Japan, shows that if they can make make touch inside the opposition 22m from a penalty, it is actually more pragmatic than going for the posts.

“New Zealand add, on average, 3.07 points from each spell of possession inside the opposition 22m beginning with their own line-out ball.” he explains.

“So New Zealand rarely kick for points, taking only 36 shots in their last 23 Test matches.”

If the opponent can withstand those All Black raids into their own 22m though and force Barrett to try his luck off the tee instead, they could be onto something.

2. Bring the big lads wide

Damian Mckenzie<!–

The All Blacks will have another kicking option in their line-up at Twickenham on Saturday. Full-back Damian McKenzie has landed 10 out of his 11 pots at goal for them this year.

He is also an instinctive, incisive runner with the ball in hand. But part of his elusiveness is his small stature.

He is 5ft 10in tall and weighs in at 12st 4lb – almost quaint numbers in the modern era of meat and muscle.

How McKenzie stacks up against other full-backs
Height Weight
Damian McKenzie (NZ) 5ft 10in 12st 4lb
Leigh Halfpenny (Wal) 5ft 10in 13st 5lb
Stuart Hogg (Sco) 5ft 11in 14st 9lbs
Elliot Daly (Eng) 6ft 14st 11lb
Willie le Roux (SA) 6ft 1in 14st 7lbs
Rob Kearney (Ire) 6ft 2in 14st 13lbs
Israel Folau (Aus) 6ft 4in 16st 3lb

When Australia took a 23-18 victory over the All Blacks in Brisbane in October 2017, one Wallaby try came from isolating McKenzie against former Fiji rugby league international Marika Koroibete out wide.

Similarly one of the two scores for the British and Irish Lions in their win in Wellington in July 2017 came from Taulupe Faletau hanging wide to barge through full-back Israel Dagg.

It is not a subtle tactic, but isolating the All Blacks’ smallest defenders one-on-one against heaviest-duty runners, or aerial bombs, could puncture their well-organised defence.

3. Shut down their all-court game

Aaron Cruden<!–

Grant Fox – All Blacks legend and a selector for the current crop – told the Times in December what irked him most about his side’s second-Test defeat by the Lions.

“We didn’t take as many risks against the Lions as we should,” he said.

“There were enough opportunities for us to move the ball to areas where we’d planned, where we felt we could hurt the Lions.

“We didn’t throw the pass, we chose to kick or carry. They did that to us because we knew how good they were.”

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The ball-handling skills of the All Blacks – from one to 15 – leave defences struggling to get a fix on their targets. Their off-loading and intelligent support lines makes of a kaleidoscope of attacking patterns.

However, slow them down, tie them in and introduce a sliver of doubt into their play and, by Fox’s own admission, their attacking edge is blunted.

Coach Eddie Jones hinted that England would try something along these lines this weekend, promising that his team would not be drawn into an expansive “athletic contest”.

“We will not be wearing singlets and running shorts. It will be a proper game of rugby,” he added.

4. Exploit their slow starts to the half

Simon Zebo<!–

Perhaps the All Blacks are still recovering from the exertions of the haka. Perhaps the novelty of playing against the world’s best team gives the opposition an early boost. Either way there are two clear windows of opposition opportunity.

“New Zealand appear to be at their most vulnerable in the first six minutes of each half. During those periods their opponents enter the All Black 22m more than New Zealand manage to do the same at the other end,” explains Gleave.

“During other periods of their matches, New Zealand always have the most entries into the 22m.”

Ireland got the jump on the All Blacks early in both halves of their seismic 40-29 win in Chicago in November 2016.

New Zealand’s autumn internationals
3 November Beat Japan 69-31
10 November England
17 November Ireland
24 November Italy (in Rome)

Joe Schmidt’s side found touch inside the New Zealand 22m after being awarded a penalty two minutes into the game and, awarded another shortly after, were three up with as many minutes on the clock.

Six minutes into the second half and Johnny Sexton kicked into the corner once again to set up the field position from which Simon Zebo raced over to make it 30-8.

New Zealand made it back to within four points, but could not make up the ground.

5. Get lucky

Cheslin Kolbe<!–

‘Lucky’ might be a bit harsh.

But, considering the world champions’ desire to offload and keep the ball alive (see point three), rushing out of the defensive line to gamble on making a high-risk interception has been a profitable tactic.

Fourteen of South Africa’s 36 points in their September win came that way, with Willie le Roux pinching an ambitious quick line-out attempt by Jordie Barrett before Cheslin Kolbe snaffled Anton Lienert-Brown’s pass to go under the posts.

Australia wing Reece Hodge did similar, stealing the ball and darting in from 80m to open the scoring in the Wallabies’ October success.

Just like the lottery of the loose ball, tight decisions can make all the difference if they break right.

Jerome Garces consults with his officials<!–

The Lions were undoubtedly helped to victory in Wellington by Sonny Bill Williams’ first-half red card for a shoulder to the head of Anthony Watson.

Referee Jerome Garces turned down suggestions from his video official and his assistants to have a second look at the incident, certain that it was red.

And in the final four minutes, Garces decided that Kyle Sinckler had been taken out in the air, awarding the Lions a match-winning penalty, when the decision could easily have gone the other way for the prop jumping into the tackle.

The margins are as slim as a rare winning scoreline against the All Blacks.

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