Select Edition

Northern Northern
Southern Southern
Global Global

FEATURE 'New Zealand have a deeply ingrained knack of losing their discipline'

'New Zealand have a deeply ingrained knack of losing their discipline'
9 months ago

Rugby is such a multi-faceted game that a whole industry has been built around analysing data to unearth secrets and identify weak spots in opposition teams.

But it doesn’t take a smart software programme or experienced cruncher of numbers to understand the importance of maintaining discipline in the current climate.

The numbers are unequivocal that the key to being successful sits with being able to keep 15 players on the park, and the teams that most often do so, are likely to be most successful.

Ireland have put a huge focus on making smart decisions in the contact areas and maintaining a high level of accuracy in their general execution and application.

The critical aspects in which they have been world leaders are tackle and cleanout technique, the two areas where teams are most vulnerable to losing players to cards.

World Rugby has placed great importance on making the game safer, with the heaviest emphasis on lowering tackle heights, and Ireland’s disciplinary record almost tells the story of why they have been able to climb to and stay at number one in the world.

In their last 23 Tests, stretching back to June 2021, they have picked up just two yellow cards.

Scott Barrett was shown two yellow cards as New Zealand lost heavily to South Africa at Twickenham. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

France, who throughout 2021 and 2022 were vying with Ireland for that top spot, were almost as well disciplined, being shown one yellow and one red over that period.

The All Blacks, in stark contrast, have been among the least disciplined teams in the world game since 2020 and their inability to keep all their players on the field was a major contributing factor to the struggle they endured in the first three years after the last World Cup.

Between 2020 and 2022 they played 35 Tests and were shown 16 yellows and three reds. They won 24, lost nine and drew two for a 70%.

In five of those nine defeats, they were shown either a yellow or red card, and on one occasion both.

There was a clear trend: if the team was under pressure at the set-piece and being physically dominated at the breakdown, then they would be more likely to make bad decisions and be guilty of poor technique.

Their lack of discipline in defeat by Ireland in 2021, and in the second and third Tests of the July 2022 series, was crippling.

Unsurprisingly, New Zealand came into the 2023 season with a determination to clean things up, and after four Tests they had earned four victories and no cards.

The second 2022 match in Dunedin was the most powerful illustration of how the All Blacks could lose the plot in an incredibly short timeframe.

Ireland scored a try after a few minutes and New Zealand almost instantly collapsed in response.

Leicester Fainga’anuku was yellow carded for taking a player out in the air and a few minutes later Ofa Tu’ungafasi was in the bin for a high tackle.

Worse was to come when Angus Ta’avao was red carded before half-time for a high tackle and the All Blacks were reduced to 12 men for a short period.

When they lost to France in 2021, there was an untimely yellow card shown to Ardie Savea which opened the door for the hosts to regain momentum and charge to victory, while England’s three tries in the last 10 minutes at Twickenham in 2022 to salvage an unlikely draw came when the All Blacks only had 14 men on the field.

Unsurprisingly, New Zealand came into the 2023 season with a determination to clean things up, and after four Tests they had earned four victories and no cards.

Ahead of their fifth game, against South Africa at Twickenham, the topic of tackle technique was dominating the media agenda, with both Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola facing judicial hearings after being sent off in warm-up matches.

When he was asked whether he feared losing any player to a card in the final Test before the World Cup, All Blacks forwards coach Jason Ryan said: “There have been a lot of cards, but the rules are pretty obvious.

“You have just got to stay away from the head. You have got to get your tackle technique right and live under the ball. You have still got to be dominant though.”

All Blacks coach Ian Foster.
The record defeat left New Zealand head coach Ian Foster with much to ponder. (Photo by PA)

It was an answer which alluded to how hard the New Zealand have worked this year to drop their body heights and get their tackle technique right.

But after 40 minutes of the Test at Twickenham, the All Blacks were in chaos. Their clean disciplinary record was destroyed after Scott Barrett picked up a yellow card for not rolling away, Sam Cane was punished for pulling down a maul and then Barrett was shown a second yellow after 38 minutes for a dangerous cleanout.

Some may have felt cards were the source of New Zealand’s problems – but they were in fact a symptom as the South Africans were crushing the All Blacks physically.

The Boks won a penalty in the first scrum and never looked back. They had the All Blacks on the back foot with the power of their driving maul and they were able to dominate the collision areas.

New Zealand couldn’t win the ball, keep the ball or generate the speed of possession they wanted and as they felt that pressure of not being able to get into the game, their discipline frayed.

It wasn’t just the bad decisions by Cane and Barrett which epitomised the underlying lack of control, there were acts of ill-discipline everywhere.

We got an uppercut in a couple of areas we’ve been making some big strides.
Ian Foster

Jordie Barrett threw an intercept pass to gift the Boks a try. Beauden Barrett sliced a kick out of defence that set the South Africans up for another and the accuracy and cohesion which defined the All Blacks game in 2023, evaporated.

When the Boks went 35-0 ahead with 12 minutes left, it was hard not to recall Foster saying two days earlier: “You only have to go back to the last World Cup to see how cards dominated the pool stage, particularly.

“But if you define the word ‘discipline’ as ‘technique’, we can control that. We’re working hard to make sure our technique is as good as it needs to be.

“As a coach and a player, you want something you can control. We’re not helpless in this situation. We need to do what we need to do to minimise the risk.”

The All Blacks didn’t control the things they could, and it was a stunning reminder this World Cup could swing in unforeseen ways if teams are not on top of their discipline, and that it only takes one sin-binning for a Test to head in a dramatically different direction.

New Zealand were under intense pressure for the first 20 minutes and managed just 19% possession and 20% of the territory. Barrett’s first yellow only compounded things.

South Africa already had the edge at scrum time and reduced to seven men, the All Blacks were in an impossible place. And they unravelled.


Kurt-Lee Arendse
The Springboks inflicted the largest loss in All Blacks history at Twickenham (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)


As Foster said after the record defeat: “We got an uppercut in a couple of areas we’ve been making some big strides.

“We got squeezed today and exposed to a couple of habits we’ve got to sort out. It’s a great time for that to happen and it also reiterates you’ve got to keep your players on the park.

“Losing our form lock at that stage of the game against South Africa doesn’t make life any easier. As we go into a World Cup it’s a very clear reminder about the importance of set-piece, getting your scrum and lineout right and maintaining discipline.

“I’d rather have those lessons today a couple of weeks out from the World Cup than in a fortnight.”

Foster is right that it is better to stuff up the dress rehearsal than the opening night, but the fact the All Blacks fell off the wagon so close to the World Cup is still a concern.

It does seem New Zealand have a deeply ingrained knack of losing their discipline if they are losing the physical battle – something France will have noted and undoubtedly look to target the night the World Cup kicks off.


Dion 291 days ago

Firstly, World Rugby's offices are in Ireland, and I'm sure no one wants a riot outside them.
Secondly, ignoring the Idiocracy around the Angus carding, there's more holes in this theory than a block of Swiss cheese. Take this past game, rewatch how fast "Sir" was to blow that first penalty. If safety is paramount, there's no way that should be a penalty. Barret's second card, player targeted for the clean out went straight off his feet, hence was super low, and the untargeted player who copped it to the noggin was taking his time rolling away. Cane got pushed by an infringing Bok, and why is it Sam Whitelocks fault if SA loses control of the ball at the back of their ruck?
Talking of the TMO, if they can go back for a bobble on an awarded try, they sure can dig up Savea getting his ankle grabbed by a player on the grand, directly leasing to him not being involved in the first try under the sticks.
If that was a dominant maul, Jesus what should we call the Brumbies maul by comparison?
Speaking of Jesus, remember how he said seek and you will find? Obviously you and that Matt fella follow the words of Jesus.

CO 291 days ago

I didn't realize Gregor Paul was completely away with the fairies until reading this. Did he not get the memo that the inexperienced referee made a litany of officious errors resulting in NZ's best forward taking little part in the match and running it as a contest?

Gregor if he knew what was good for the game would demand rule changes to prevent turgid stinky matches played at a snails pace from occurring.

The judiciary quickly reiterated what anyone watching knew that Scott Barrett did nothing dangerous unlike Vermulen and Du Toit.

Rugby needs to get back to 15 aside as these Frankenstein parodies of rugby where wildly incompetent English referees take centre stage and become the stars of the show alongside TMO's installing themselves as clowns insisting on inserting themselves into the game with predictably monotonous regularity, dismissing true whilst ignoring striking the head....

Gregor parrots on about safety but how about Jacobson's safety after missing the 2019 world cup due to concussion?

That Gregor resides in NZ but wants to encourage the myth that NZ is unable to maintain discipline is perhaps a good time for him to reconsider where he lives, with that attitude he is best off back in blighty.

How does Gregor propose the Allblacks get their lineout and scrum right when their key lineout and scrum forward is removed from the game?

It's time rugby scribes demanded works rugby return to a 15 a side game like AFL.

Last week it was the Allblacks turn to play the pantomime villain and the Boks the saccharine sweet heroes that slayed the terrible four headed dragon that was attempting to dismember then by nefarious means.

Next month who will be exited out of rugby world cup with multiple players down?

Rugby needs to stop giving referees the power to end an eighty minutes contest twenty minutes in and yet drag it out for another ninety minutes.

Was is it the massive amount of Bok supporter's in the crowd influencing the inexperienced ref?

The largest losing margin by the Allblacks ever? May as well take a tyre off the flying Dutchman F1 car and claim you've beaten him while you're at it.

Gregor Paul surely winner of one of the worst if not the worst sporting summation article ever written, the Babe Ruth of shabby, amateur hour sports journalism.

Chesterfield 291 days ago

Selective information doesn’t really tell the true story that world rugby targeted the Home record of New Zealand as they want to ruin the legacy of the jumper. The calls on red cards regarding Angus Ta’avao and Andrew Porter were the determining factor in that Irish series and the lack of any punishment for Porter was one of the worst calls ever.
Likewise the lack of punishment for Vermeulen for striking Jacobson repeatedly in the head or the spear tackle off the ball on Roigard not mentioned. Shock jock trying to garner reaction by omitting pertinent data and facts is par for the course with this ordinary writer.

Damian 291 days ago

It's a low penalty count at RWC that counts. The match in the weekend and the Ireland series aren't reflective of recent form so just not relevant.

David 291 days ago

well just like every other team look at england they lost 2 players and had a loss to fiji

Jmann 291 days ago

I'd be more interested in who the refs were in those games. It is usually a more telling fact.

Gordon 291 days ago

Yes, okay, maybe. But you've conflated a few things here. You mention tackle technique, but none of the penalties in the game at Twickenham was from poor tackle technique. The first penalty was given away for dropping the elbow in the first scrum - that's always fairly marginal - difficult to say whether this was through dominance.
The biggest sin was they gave away penalties twice in a row for the same offence - getting their timing in the lineout drive wrong before they had the chance to be physically dominated. Regardless - although they were being hammered, they managed to stop SA from scoring for long periods. Perhaps SA outfoxed them in that regard by hanging in the air a couple of seconds longer than expected, resulting in driving too early.
Is there a trend in rustiness here? South Africa plays Australia using a largely second string squad at home, thrashing the hapless Australians. NZ beats Argentina with a first string squad, then goes home to wallop SA (in the first half) because the SA team that played were first string but hadn't been playing.
NZ play a largely second string squad against Australia, then travel to England and immediately get their timing wrong putting themselves under pressure. Maybe I'm grasping at straws but we shall see what happens against France.

john 291 days ago

"There was a clear trend: if the team was under pressure at the set-piece and being physically dominated at the breakdown, then they would be more likely to make bad decisions and be guilty of poor technique."

What you really mean is NZ players are coached to cheat every second of every minute of every game, if they can get away with it. Unfortunately referees were too scared to ping McCaw for it because he was so quick and good at it. Now the referees aren't intimidated by the All Blacks, the All Blacks are screwed.

They are using an outdated model that France and Ireland and even the Boks to some degree have moved beyond. Even the Boks ! Who once were easily the dumbest team in world rugby.

It is the reason the Wallabies are struggling with giving away numerous penalties because of the extent of kiwi coaching in Australia since Robbie useless Deans.
Tupou for example has only ever had kiwi coaches in Australia.

Jen 291 days ago

I just wish the reffing was more consistent. Sure, penalise when teams should be penalised but good lord, if an 80 minute game takes an extra 20 minutes or so, and the ball is only in play for 30 of that, there is something wrong.

Another 291 days ago

Total agreement with this article. Discipline and players staying on the pitch is the biggest weakness for the All Blacks currently. They need to adapt to playing against teams that are potentially more powerful than they are - which is actually nothing new, when you consider a team like the Springboks - and be able to work through space and use pace on the ball to be able to counter the threat. It is easier said than done but, historically, it was something the best ABs teams could do.

Load More Comments

Join free and tell us what you really think!

Sign up for free