Beauden Barrett on how the All Blacks have learnt to attack line speed
The rise of line speed-based defence evidently made way for the fall of the All Blacks dynasty of the 2010s, contributing heavily to their series draw with the British and Irish Lions in 2017 as well as their Rugby World Cup loss in 2019.
Having enjoyed a historic winning period which included the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cups, the All Blacks’ reign looked like it may never end. That was until Warren Gatland and the Britsh and Irish Lions showed up.
The line speed of the Lions’ defence suffocated the All Blacks’ attack and laid the blueprint for years to come. New Zealand’s free-flowing brand of attacking rugby was under threat with no immediate answers presented.
Over Ian Foster’s tenure in charge of the team, the coach has slowly added tricks and treats to the attacking game plan and with the addition of Joe Schmidt’s rugby mind to the coaches box, the All Blacks have finally found some success under line speed pressure.
The Springboks game over the weekend was a statement in that respect. New Zealand deployed their wealth of playmakers and unleashed a wildly varied attack that had the South Africans questioning which way was up in the opening 20 minutes.
Those playmakers were operating on a strong platform set by a physical forward pack and while that aspect of the All Blacks’ game is yet to be fully proven against the best of the Northern Hemisphere or even against a more cohesive Springboks pack, it’s a huge improvement from where the team has been in recent seasons.
“To be honest, I think every team struggled to attack line speed in recent times and we’re just getting better at learning how to deal with it, how to play against it,” Beauden Barrett told The Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
“the comparisons between the way the Argentinians defend vs the Boks, it’s so different. The Argies are probably the best at holding, pushing, whereas the Boks will be a bit more confrontational and try and shut down your time on the ball.
“It was pleasing to see the way we adapted within six days or seven days to the different defences based on the limited prep we had in the Springboks game. We thought we knew how they’d defend and it wasn’t too dissimilar to what we’ve had in recent times against them.
“But what you get with line speed is less time on the ball to make your decision and execute your skills so you’ll have plans, those will have to change if the pictures you think are going to be out there, aren’t.
“We felt that the Springboks knew how we wanted to expose that space and we could hear them talking about it, but again it’s up to you to back yourself to execute it and adapt on the go when these pictures change.
“You do your analysis and you have to confirm it out there but you always need plan B or option C.
“Teams are getting good at changing pictures too, you’ll look up in front of you, the ball goes into the scrum and the whole picture changes. So, you’ve called a move based on the initial one but you have to have those overcalls to exploit where the change is and where the space is.”
Barrett went on to praise the work of Ian Foster and Joe Schmidt for how they’ve evolved the game plan without overcomplicating it for the players.
The coaches spend the international off-season dissecting trends from across the globe and dreaming up schemes to counter those on both sides of the ball, therefore streamlining all that knowledge into a digestible amount of information over a two-week camp is a mighty challenge.
Barrett said fully developing the game plan was a collaborative process between the players and coaches but the coaches would focus on providing a “DNA” for the players to work within.
“We figured out how we want to play the game and the direction we want to go in and what steps we need to take; the little tactical and technical shifts to allow us to play the game that we want to play.”