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Analysis: How to save the Wallabies lineout from...

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Analysis: How to save the Wallabies lineout from an Eden Park massacre

Wallaby lock Adam Coleman explained to the media post-Bledisloe One that the All Blacks unexpectedly ran a two-pod lineout defence that they weren’t prepared for.

“Through our preparation, traditionally New Zealand are a mirror lineout defence and they went to two pods,” he said.

“It’s typical of a South African side – doing pod defence. We’ve had our time to review and have a look over our processes so we will have another look today and get better.”

On the other side of the fence, Brodie Retallick offered his perspective as if it was the All Blacks in that situation.

“If it was from our point of view, we would probably change how we approached it and maybe vary a few options up but at the same time, they’ve only got a week to turn it around,” he said.

So how can the Wallabies fix their lineout woes in just a week?

Much like everything else in rugby, the lineout is about creating space and utilising it, which the Wallabies did not do very well in Game One.

They were guilty of too many one-dimensional lineout throws, with little deception or disguise that became easier and easier to read as the match went on. They even took height mismatches that were poor options; flanker Michael Hooper at 1.78m vs lock Retallick at 2.04m being the obvious example.

Adding to their woes is the undeniable fact that the All Blacks have superior aerial athletes who are quicker to the jump, quicker to react and have better back-and-forth movement to ‘win’ the spot. There are little to no matchups the Wallabies have an advantage in, which means their strategy has to make up for an athletic disadvantage.

The Wallabies pack has size and power but less mobility and explosive movement, which hurts them at lineout time. The David Pocock/Michael Hooper back row combination also becomes a disadvantage, taking away a possible jumping option from the Number 8 position.

It will be a tough ask to improve, but there are some takeaways from the first Bledisloe Test for the Wallabies. The first step to rectifying the lineout is sometimes just playing what the defence gives you.

Their first throw of the game was a successful quick one to Lukhan Tui but after that, the next two throws by hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau were picked off as the All Blacks increased the pressure on the middle jumpers.

On both those lost throws, the All Blacks left the first man in the lineout unmarked, leaving space for a bailout short throw.

All Blacks prop Owen Franks has positioned himself opposite Hooper at two, leaving Wallabies prop Tom Robertson unmarked at one. A quick call change and swivel by Robertson and the Wallabies can complete an easy throw to the front.

Even throwing to Hooper at two towards the front should work on this occasion, as he is likely to move forward and get up before Franks and Retallick can get in position to contest. They opt for lock Izack Rodda at three but Retallick swats it away easily.

Moments later, after the All Blacks’ exit kick, the Wallabies have the same bailout option open. This time halfback Will Genia is left completely unmarked at the front. A quick one-two could open up space on the edge or Genia might get a sniping opportunity if his opposite Aaron Smith drifts.

In the above example, we see Adam Coleman as the last man, which is a lifters spot.

The Wallabies position him there often on short lineouts, but run slips, jump-fakes and lift-fakes as if he was the jumper as a dummy option. This is quite perplexing and fools no one.

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If Patrick Swayze could only just complete a single-man lift on the featherweight Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing, how do you expect Rodda or Tui to hold a 120kg man in Coleman from the front side by himself? Especially at the tail of the lineout where a long hold is required?

Izack Rodda (4) fakes a lift on Coleman at the back before turning to hoist Tui.

Coleman fakes a jump at the back with Tui in position as the lifter. The All Blacks focus in on the only other possible jumper, Izack Rodda in the middle.

It does nothing to create second-guessing or premature jumping from the All Blacks, and although the throws weren’t lost on these occasions, it is not ideal scheming.

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It was surprising that Coleman wasn’t moved to the front to stabilise the lineout by trying to complete a throw against a more balanced matchup at the two spot. On this occassion, they tried to take on Retallick at two with Hooper, and lost. If they are going to throw for a simple head-to-head battle at the front, using your tallest man might be a better idea.

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One of the more complex plays the Wallabies ran was a double jump-fake with Rodda and Tui before targetting the third option Coleman at the back. This did work to create an uncontested throw, but the throw was off (early and low) and Sam Whitelock was able to get a hand on it without being lifted.

This level of deception will be required at Eden Park, and clinical throwing is a must.

A high number of the Wallabies moves are pre-determined, with the call being made and the move being run almost as soon as the jumpers walk in. There needs to be a bit more flexibility, with the ability to change the call based on the defensive setup. This will give the Wallabies the bailout options at the front, and the potential to work to the match-up that is best for them, or attack the best available space.

Coleman – who was stationed at the tail of the lineout for most of the match – had the least amount of targets, which cannot happen in Auckland. They need to move him around, get him different looks and remove the plays where he is a dead option at the very back. The more lineouts they run with Genia at the front, the easier it becomes for All Blacks. He is neither a lifter or jumper, and the Wallabies don’t have the depth to limit their options when you are facing Whitelock, Retallick, Squire and Read.

The crowd will certainly intensify the pressure on the lineout with noise, especially if the first few throws go astray. An improved performance is possible but it will be no easier than in Sydney. The lineout battle proves to be an intriguing part of Bledisloe II and one to watch with enjoyment.

In other news:

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Analysis: How to save the Wallabies lineout from an Eden Park massacre