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How do you stop the All Blacks?

• Posted in New Zealand / Rugby Union • By JoeBaker

The All Blacks are coming. Sit back, strap yourself in and get ready for a ride of thrilling, jaw-dropping rugby. The Autumn Internationals always have a degree of significance, but their importance is magnified ten-fold when a World Cup is just twelve months away.

With Japan 2019 etched firmly into their minds, first England on November 10th then Ireland the following weekend will attempt to do what only three teams have managed in the twenty-four Tests since the start of 2017 – beat New Zealand.

Arguably the world’s finest sporting outfit suffered a wobble during this year’s Rugby Championship, losing a tight match to a resurgent South Africa, but they have still won it with one round to go. That defeat also ended an impressive fifteen straight wins in the tournament. The side might now be without certain famous names such as Carter and Nonu, but a year out and they still look clear favourites to win a third consecutive World title with a side full of experience, youthful zest, unbreakable confidence and devastating skill.

So, to answer the seemingly unanswerable – how do you stop the All Blacks?

A fantastic defence

On the rare occasions New Zealand have been defeated, they have been forced into uncharacteristic errors because of the strength of the opponent’s defence. Players will know that they will spend long periods without the ball and are acutely aware of the need to concentrate, work as a unit and avoid missing as few tackles as possible. Against such quality that’s easier said than done. Big hits on the first and second contact are vital, as are the strong defensive sets when defending deep inside the twenty-two. The Springboks in their famous recent win, and again more recently in a narrow 30-31 defeat at home, have shown what can happen if you match New Zealand physically and put in a huge defensive shift. In their win they missed 39 tackles, but they made 235, four times as many as the All Blacks, creating a green wall that forced turnovers, switched momentum and at times slowed the game down.

Compete at breakdown

Aligned with a colossus defence, to beat Steve Hansen’s side you need to be competitive at the breakdown. It is the dark arts, that small ability to slow the ball down or somehow force a turnover, that every fine rugby side has. You’ll rarely see a top team without an expert in this crucial area, the ultimate example being the now retired former Captain Richie McCaw. The Kiwis are so fast to reorganise and reset for the next phase, often being three seconds quicker to go on the next attack. If they don’t get by you through a moment of magic, they’ll just grind you down via such fast recycling of the ball. To cope, you need your half-backs to hound the opposition, commit enough men to the breakdown and force pressure on New Zealand as they try to unleash another move from the base of the ruck. It’s not just about what you do with ball in hand or in the tackle – it’s also what you do on the ground that counts.

Intelligence

When the lactic acid is burning it becomes harder and harder to think clearly during a match, particularly in pressure situations. Its why players train so hard – to be able to make decisions on instinct. When the British and Irish Lions beat and then drew with New Zealand in the 2nd and 3rd Tests last summer, their 9-10-12 combination of Conor Murray, Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell had the ball and game playing intelligence you need – composed and clever, not just physical, players. They helped get their team on the front foot by enabling the bigger hitters to get over the game line. This intelligence stretches to having composure with the ball, avoiding silly errors and building pressure where you can. This includes an effective tactical kicking, turning the Kiwis around and trying to make the most of a territorial game. You have to try to control the key moments – games against New Zealand quickly run away from sides who do not.

Solid set piece

In order to win any rugby match, a solid set-piece is key. South Africa had 100% success at scrum-time in their recent triumph, winning all nine on their own put-ins. Their lineout was also close to perfect - winning seven of their eight throw-ins. If you can dominate and be consistent at the scrum and lineout then often you finish on top. It may not look as aesthetically pleasing as the flowing moves you see in the backs, but you have to be able to win and retain the ball first if you’re going to do anything with it. Against a side as good as New Zealand, you just cannot afford to keep giving the ball away at your own put-ins and lineouts as eventually you will get punished. Every rugby team needs a solid foundation from the set piece if they are to win – it is even more crucial against the All Blacks.

Be bold

Frequently having to defend and being aware that any mistake can be brutally exploited isn’t the best concoction for attacking freedom but that’s ultimately what a team needs if they are going to be ruthless and make the most of the often infrequent, chances that may come their way. Look back at any victory against New Zealand and the opponents will have been fantastic at getting points on the board when the chances arise, be it getting the ball over the line or accumulating points off the tee. How many times have New Zealand won games right at the death? It proves that you simply cannot sit back against them but should continue to be bold in attack. Bravery and commitment in defence has to be replicated further forwards.

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