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The three ways the Wallabies attack can unlock the Welsh defence

By John Ferguson
Andrew Kellaway of the Wallabies celebrates with team mates after scoring a try during the men's International Test match between Australia Wallabies and Wales at Allianz Stadium on July 06, 2024 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Hanna Lassen/Getty Images)

Finally, the Wallabies have broken their eight-year winless drought in Sydney, and they managed to do it by breaking their almost two-year losing streak against tier 1 nations on the same night.

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The Wallabies’ 25-16 victory over Wales ended up being a good showing of an inexperienced side that had limited time together, it was also a performance where chances went begging.

This is not to say the Wallabies were looking like thrashing the Welsh, not by any stretch, rather it shows there are plenty of upsides the team must work into their game.

The Welsh have a strong rush defence, not as fast or as good at scrambling as South Africa or England but it got up fast at the weekend and peaked around the third or fourth defender.

It’s a defence built on work effort, and it forced the Wallabies to vary their attack in order to break it.

However, having watched Wales’ game against South Africa two weeks prior, coach Joe Schmidt and his Wallabies were well prepared to deal with the rush defence.

“We got guys back with width and it just stretched their defence,” Schmidt said in the post-match conference.

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“It was something that we’d seen… even against South Africa two weeks ago, with the South Africans going through a similar sort of space.”

A varied kicking game, roaming wingers, and tight carriers around the ruck saw the Wallabies make good advances on either side of the hardest part of the Welsh defence, almost every time they attacked.

Head-to-Head

Last 5 Meetings

Wins
3
Draws
0
Wins
2
Average Points scored
26
29
First try wins
60%
Home team wins
60%

Considering the team had only met two weeks prior, the cohesion they played with and the continuity they achieved was impressive.

However, the room for improvement was clear in the numbers.

Despite having more possession and territory the Welsh almost carried a metre more than the Australians per carry.

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For all their first-half possession and territory dominance the Wallabies only had five more post-contact metres to show for it with a low 48 per cent gain-line success compared to Wales’ 52 per cent.

This clearly highlights the oppressive nature of the Welsh rush-defence as well as drawing attention to the general lighter weight across the Wallabies team.

But one positive that will buoy coaches Schmidt and Laurie Fisher is the team conceded less than half as many turnovers as their opponents, showcasing a much better-connected breakdown.

Whilst the numbers don’t flatter the triumphant Wallabies, in motion the breakdown efficiency proved the difference as well as some well-crafted attack by the game drivers.

The Wallabies had three avenues of attack, and each proved to be fruitful at one time or another, but if they could nail the timing, execution, and balance of the attacks, it could unlock the Welsh defence.

The first tactic was playing tighter around the ruck, the second was going around and through their rush defence and the third was playing behind it.

Playing tighter

Although having pods run off the flyhalf looks good, setting this shape as a default against a rush defence that peaks around the third (also known as ’30 defender’) or fourth defender means contact is often made behind the gain-line.

It took just eight minutes or so before flyhalf Noah Lolesio and halfback Jake Gordon adjusted and started going either side of the ‘peak’.

Breakdown and defence coach ‘Lord’ Laurie Fisher noted they needed to go to the tight shape more frequently when he spoke with Stan Sports in the halftime coverage.

“I think we need to tighten up a little bit… our game is to be tighter off no.9… they’re up in our passing lanes out wide,” Fisher said.

“So, we need to tighten up, start working towards the softer shoulders taking hard yards through the middle and bring them into us rather than us trying to find those open spaces.”

As seen in this clip below, the Welsh shoot up quickly in that 30/40 channel and it is there the Wallabies initially went to attack.

Attacking the peak


Once the Wallabies started angling back towards the ruck, the Welsh couldn’t make square, dominant tackles, allowing the Wallabies to get a roll-on and leverage their good carry and clean.

Attacking in-tight


The impact of carrying like this against Wales’ rush defence meant the defenders had to tackle inwards as well as look inwards.
Once the attack gathered momentum, the Welsh players inevitably started switching off from the outside, that is when the second attacking strategy was called upon.

Playing around and through

The idea of sucking in defenders and their gaze is so they can’t watch the outside or the backfield.

Once Lolesio and Gordon saw the Welsh turning inward they started to play wider, into the no.13 channel.

This weakness in the Welsh defence as mentioned above was identified before the game and was exposed as early as the 9th-minute with a great set move by Lolesio, Hunter Paisami, and Andrew Kellaway.

Attacking the 13


It was a beautifully crafted and executed move which saw the Wallabies make 40m.

Another example that was seen in phase-play was Filipo Daugunu’s try in the 52nd minute.

It was a really well-worked piece of attack with Daugunu’s arcing run creating the overlap, but Kellaway’s width was the detail that opened up the hole.

However, there were times when the Wallabies got the balance wrong, and it hurt them when they were hot on attack in the Welsh 22m.

Gordon mistake


As seen here, Gordon is holding good tempo and keeping the play tight, Captain Liam Wright carries well over the gain line after he splits two defenders, as he so often does.

The Wallabies are now on the front foot and Lolesio flattens up and screams for the ball to release Rob Valetini at the flat-footed Welsh defence.

All Black second row Brodie Retallick joins Jim Hamilton for the latest episode of Walk the Talk, touching on life in Japan, RWC 2023 and the future of All Black rugby. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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Comments

6 Comments
N
Nick 14 days ago

Nice piece John. I’m pretty happy with the wallabies performance and tbh don’t know what some people expect in game 1 of a season with a new team, new coach and about as much lead in time as a barbarians side. Some people had made up their mind on some players before the end of the first half!?! Where/how do you think the wallabies get more impact on their carry? Is it a case of the systems working better with the same cattle, or would you look to bring in a leota, uru or similar… imo, I’d like to see this team largely get picked for this entire season to give them time to build combos etc. We can’t expect noah (or anyone) to be performing at 100% in such a new environment, it takes time. But if someone is dropped it also affects those around them because once again they need to build new combos, learn the other players habits etc etc.

m
mitch 14 days ago

Got to hit the gaps created by the rush defence, get the ball at speed and step off both feet and wrap around to create overlaps. Deep backline which is static when they get the ball isn’t going to cut it. Go back and look at guys like Horan and Campese, hit the line at pace, stepped off both feet at pace was the deception. Lost skills in the Wallabies backline unfortunately. Running direct lines is too easy for a rush defence.

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