Three intercepts in two tests hint at All Blacks' tactical changes
There’s a natural inclination to assume that an intercept try is a product of one player making a good read on defence when sometimes, the reality is that defensive systems can have a heavy impact on creating intercept opportunities.
In the All Blacks‘ 57-22 win over the Wallabies on Saturday night, the All Blacks nabbed two intercept tries.
Ioane, who made a name for himself as a left wing with blistering speed but was playing in the No 13 jersey, had far too much pace for the doubling-back Wallabies defenders and scored the first points of the match.
The second intercept came off a pass thrown by experienced midfielder Matt To’omua, with Sevu Reece making a big leap to pluck the ball out of the air on the 10-metre line and race 60 metres down the park to score under the posts.
In the first test of the series, All Blacks pivot Richie Mo’unga also nabbed a Wallabies pass out of the air just outside the All Blacks’ 22 – this time with No 12 Hunter Paisami delivering the ball – and raced away to score the try that gave the home side a 23-8 lead.
Three intercept tries in two matches is an unusual return for the All Blacks and could be chalked up to just good reading of the play from the NZ backs, but there may be more to it than simple one-man brilliance.
On the Sunday following the second test, coach Ian Foster was asked whether the All Blacks had identified intercept opportunities in past Wallabies matches under Dave Rennie or if the tries came down to individual reads. Foster was coy in his response but suggested that some subtle changes in his team’s defence could have opened the door for opportunities out wide.
“I think we flagged early on, we were really keen to really grow our forward play in terms of teams want to take us on and I think we’re making good strides in that space,” said Foster.
“The second thing we’re really chasing the last 12 months is just getting a little bit more aggressive in our line speed and using it a little bit more as a weapon. Stormy [defence coach Scott McLeod] is doing a great job in that space and we’re starting to get a lot of buy-in for it. The last two tests, it’s actually reaped rewards with tries.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 15, 2021
The All Blacks were physically dominated by England in their semi-final loss at the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the wider consensus following that match was that while New Zealand still possessed some of the best backs in the global game, their forwards could be bashed around by a strong, physically punishing side.
Foster, who came in as head coach following that tournament, has evidently taken that to heart and is trying to return the All Blacks’ to the pinnacle of the test rugby mountain.
While the All Blacks didn’t necessarily man-handle their opposition on Saturday night, their pressure at the breakdown forced the Wallabies to play with messy ball at times, and their rush defence out wide helped them to capitalise on risky passes.
The game ultimately ended with the All Blacks recording their biggest-ever score over their trans-Tasman neighbours, 57 points.
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