England’s tense 12-11 victory over the Springboks was won on the back of four Owen Farrell penalties and keeping the visitors to just one try.
Although they held the Springboks to just 11 points, a side that has troubled the All Blacks recently, the Boks performance at Twickenham left a lot to be desired.
South Africa’s attacking shapes were poor, with a lack of cohesion for a side missing two of its best players in Faf de Klerk and Willie le Roux. They missed untold amounts of opportunities to attack England on the edge and often fell out of structures too easily.
This weekend the All Blacks will be a much bigger test for England, with far more organized and clinical play, flatter structures and a more efficient passing game from 1-to-15.
On review of England’s defensive processes against the Springboks, this is where the All Blacks will look to attack.
All Blacks will want a Te’o-Slade midfield again
The All Blacks will definitely want to see another Ben Te’o-Henry Slade midfield combination. The two were disconnected against the Springboks, out-of-sync and playing two different styles of defence.
Henry Slade at outside centre played a high-pressure game, rushing out of the line and blitzing his opposite, while inside centre Ben Te’o was on his heels and played a passive up-and-out defence or slide defence.
This creates disconnection and a fragmented defensive line, with Slade coming out of the line in isolation, bringing opportunities for the attack to exploit.
On this attacking Springboks set-piece play, Henry Slade (13) flies out to pressure Jesse Kriel.
As the scrum breaks we can see the wide initial spacing between the midfielders.
Slade is already approaching top speed coming forward towards Kriel, while Te’o is drifting sideways playing non-committal slide defence.
For some unknown reason, fullback Damian Willemse has taken himself out of the back line, dropping deep despite his side having the ball. If he had been up in the line, England would’ve been potentially in trouble on the edge.
As Pollard releases the pass, the gap between the two midfielders has closed but Te’o is ball-watching inside and drifting out, while Slade is almost a blur, illustrating the speed at which he is flying up towards Kriel.
Slade gets in Kriel’s face and has a chance to grab the intercept but the ball is lost in contact.
We also can see if Willemse was available outside Kriel, a slightly deeper and wider pass from Pollard may have created a two-on-one on the edge.
It is also entirely possible that Slade decides to blitz on this occasion as he is aware Willemse is not the line and England therefore have the numbers covered, but we can still find other instances of this happening when this is not the case.
Here during phase play, Slade rushes out while Te’o holds off and drifts. The ball carrier Kriel (13) cuts back sharply off the left, beating a sliding Te’o on the inside shoulder.
Owen Farrell has to cover inside to make up for Te’o’s miss, while we see support running lanes open up for both Williamse (15) and Eben Etzebeth (4) on the inside.
Farrell does a good job ensuring Kriel cannot get an offload away.
Compounding problems is the fact that both players seem to be prolific ball-watchers, Te’o especially, so when one of them loses track of their man the midfield channel opens up.
On this play Te’o creeps in on the forward runner before Pollard lays a beautiful pill on the chest of de Allende, exposing Te’o on his outside. Slade turns in to close the gap, leaving a lane for Kriel on his outside.
Damian De Allende (12) breaks free but trips over trying to run instead of offloading to Kriel running to his outside.
Replace Kriel or de Allende with Sonny Bill Williams and you can already predict what kind of problems the All Blacks will cause England with a Te’o-Slade midfield partnership.
With Williams working into space, drawing contact and freeing up his arm for the offload, the All Blacks will create a number of these opportunities.
The tendencies of each player can also be targeted with specific lines – for Te’o, a ball-watcher who drifts and for Slade, a ball-watcher who rushes.
Te’o’s eyes will be looking inward while his body will be drifting out. It will be possible to target him with runners across his face, coming from his blind spot right across into the 10-12 channel.
The sweet spot is close enough to him for a late, weak arms tackle, but far enough away from Farrell to make the line break and maintain speed.
In Slade’s case, they can use the ball across his face to beat him, with a fullback outside or centre bouncing out. Early ball from 10 to 12 before a skip ball to 15 would be one easy option to do this. Slade might pull in the intercept, but that will be the risk/reward for both teams and shapes as one cat and mouse battle to look out for.
The All Blacks will have seen the tape and can be excited about the opportunities to cause some damage by manipulating this midfield.
They can scheme to beat them with running lines or use the world-class offloading abilities of Sonny Bill to pray on England’s disconnected centres.
If Eddie Jones doesn’t change this pairing up, Sonny Bill Williams shapes to have a big game for the All Blacks.
In the second part, we will look at the edge defence of England and how they fold after set-piece, which presents more areas the All Blacks will target.
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