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Why the Wallabies won't be following the Springboks' rush defence under Schmidt

By John Ferguson
(Photos by Hannah Peters/Getty Images and WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images)

New Wallabies head coach Joe Schmidt has completed his coaching nucleus and with it comes a wealth of experience as well as some early indicators of how his Wallabies team will play.

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The “Scrum Doctor” Mike Cron, lineout coach Geoff Parling, analyst Eoin Toolan and breakdown guru the “Lord” Laurie Fisher make up the vastly experienced team which is chalk and cheese compared to the team assembled by Eddie Jones at the start of 2023.

While an attack under Schmidt will be more intricate than seen in previous Wallabies teams the team’s defence and breakdown work will be crucial to improve their fortunes.

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The adage goes ‘defence wins championships,’ and Fisher is likely to oversee defence and the contact zone as he did for Dave Rennie in 2022 as his defence coach.

Fisher will bring an attention to detail back to the Wallabies and his expectations will be clear.

His clarity also extends to how he sees the defensive side of the game, a view that has been endorsed by Schmidt.

“If you want narrow defence and balls-out line speed then I’m not your man,” Laurie Fisher told the 8-9 Podcast in early April about his conversations with Schmidt prior to signing with the Wallabies.

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Fisher coaches a connected line speed defence, something which he introduced to the Brumbies and subsequently to Rennie’s Wallabies when he was parachuted in midway through their 2022 Rugby Championship.

Fisher knows system accounts for most of a defence’s success and he is forthright about his responsibility as the coach.

“The system belongs to the defence coach.”

“System looks after 80 per cent and your [the player’s] rugby nous, your talent, your work ethic, your ability to react looks after the other 20 per cent,” Fisher said on the 8-9 Podcast.

Fisher will enjoy a slightly better runway this time around than he did in 2022 but he won’t benefit from a Wallabies training camp before the Wales series in June.

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The clarity of his communication will be vital to get the team on the same page heading into the July internationals.

By looking back at Fisher’s first four games as defence coach in 2022 one can get an idea of what a Wallabies defence could look like in 2024.

SA Game 1 good system


Fisher’s connected line speed system is on full display, with the Wallabies getting off the line quickly.

Once the Springboks play out the back of a forward pod the inner most Wallaby, who in this instance is Rob Valetini leads the line speed, readjusting for the new  depth in attack accordingly.

Then Valetini, Hunter Paisami and Len Ikitau nominate and begin to backtrack, robbing the Springboks of space and their numbers advantage.

The key here is connection, the outside man never shoots and trusts the inside player will cover the distance, all the while shepherding the Boks closer to the sideline.

NZ Game 2 good system


Here is another prime example of how line integrity and connection trumped the All Blacks’ overlap which then forced the All Blacks into making early contact.

Once again it is Valetini and Ikitau along with Marika Koroibete employing the connected line speed against Beauden Barrett, Jordie Barrett, Will Jordan and Rieko Ioane.

On paper that All Blacks backline with half a field of space carves up the three Wallabies, nine times out of ten, but the connection and their patience holds the attack at bay.

The drift and hold concedes almost 10 metres, but it’s a lot healthier than conceding a line break.

The Wallabies’ newly adopted system wasn’t implemented faultlessly, at times players were put in pressure situations which saw players break from the system, leading to grave consequences.

SA Game 2 broken system 2


A series of errors here leads to the Springboks scoring in the righthand corner after just three phases in which they gained over 40m.

The first error occurs when Tom Wright jams in on Eben Etzebeth from his wing.

This creates a two-on-one overlap where a system hold-and-backpedal would have resulted in the Springboks running out of space as well as losing their overlap.

The second error comes when Jed Holloway sprints out of the line to push Makazole Mapimpi inside.

While initially it looks ok, the break in system means the Wallabies were unable to fold and hold the width which exposes them in the subsequent two phases.

Although the Wallabies concede points here, it is important to note that it was due to player error, and it highlights the success the system could have at the highest level.

This final clip on the defensive system illustrates its value.

NZ Game 1 good system bad tackle


The All Blacks win a turnover just outside the Wallabies 22m, the loss of possession leaves the Wallabies perilously low on defenders.

Only Lalakai Foketi and Valetini are left to defend six All Blacks with half a field to cover.

Brodie Retallick does the right thing by initially taking the space, but Foketi doesn’t take the bait and stays in system and backpedals.

This patience forces Retallick to pass giving other Wallaby players time to track across.

In the end Samisoni Takiaho scores but had just one of the three covering Wallabies made a chop tackle on him, the try would have been prevented.

The system is content to give up metres to allow for a secure tackle.

Should the runner take the outside shoulder then it allows for a dominant tackle away from the inside cleaner which in turn hampers ruck efficiency and thereby ruck speed giving the defence more time to set.

Fisher knows what he wants and has clear principles which he values within his structures, because for him defence is comprised of “many” things.

“Speed off the ground, speed to set, spacing and nomination, connected line speed, high hustle on the inside looks after the inside shoulder of the outside, double ups, get in front stay in front, next action,” Fisher told the 8-9 Podcast when speaking generically about his defensive systems.

Most of these principles are present in this next clip.

NZ Game 2 tackle tech


Most evident in this clip is the double ups, every tackle is a two-man tackle with the first man going low and arresting momentum.

The speed off the ground by the tacklers is also notable as is the hustle of the inside defender.

The Wallabies results in these first four games with Fisher as defence coach was mixed but it is clear to see that the defensive system served them well.

The system served them even better in the Autumn Internationals where they kept Ireland to just 13 points and almost beat France in Paris.

Fisher is comfortable with how he sees the game and won’t bow to the rush defence gods; he prefers his line to have integrity and trust instead of “balls out line speed” which requires impeccable scramble defence.

It’s unlikely a Wallabies squad will be announced before the end of the regular season of Super Rugby Pacific, but the coaching team alone has the Wallabies set for a higher ceiling than 2023.

Fisher is a key cog in this team and for the Wallabies to win the hearts and minds of Australians once again they’ll need a strong defence as well as a captivating attack.

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Comments

8 Comments
R
Roger 86 days ago

You forget this is Rassie Erasmus who is still holding the Springbok keys. Even with Felix Jones orchestrating a really tight RWC SF last year. It still wasn't enough to get England past their particular Springbok Monkey in world cups. The reason is FJ was going off of what they did in 2019 not necessarily adapting to current Springboks. So yes, Australia can get passed England because let's be honest, England have a one track strategy, Springboks do not. Even with rush defense I wouldn't be surprised if Rassie continually tweaks it.

Also bear in mind Rassie is happy to sacrifice a few mid year and inter World Cup matches to pin point how opposition plays and how to again tweak strategies to get his Springboks in peak performance for the next World Cup. As much as most teams like to win games in front of them and try to win everything, Rassie always makes sure to learn and train for the greatest showdown International Rugby has to offer.

Tbh, most people remember World Cup wins and ignore intermediate losses as a result but will remember also WC losses, Ireland, even if they won games in the interim. So even if games are won against the Springboks, it's likely Rassie is just getting a feel for how opposition is moving and adapt accordingly…in time.

For Rassie, a loss is never a loss because he uses it as a chance to learn and improve. Sometimes during a game, again like the England match in last year's Semi Final.

C
Chris 86 days ago

It’ll be very interesting to see how Razor’s AB’s handle the new England rush D. It’s basically the Bok recipe they copied, so if England goes well then we know most likely the Boks will go well too. If England cops a hiding then we’ll have to study and adapt.

P
Perthstayer 86 days ago

An inside pass to attacker on the angle can make a drift defence look lead footed. Relies on fleet footed forward/s to get across from the breakdown. An argument for the smaller faster 7 perhaps?

H
Harry 86 days ago

Brilliant article! Harry of 8/9

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