The importance of Matt Giteau’s return to Australia’s attack

Australia’s attack excels at creating line breaks in the channels outside 13. Despite three defeats in their June series, they scored 10 tries to England’s 9 and created 39 line breaks to England’s 19 (per ESPN), looking most threatening when they moved the ball into these wider channels. It’s in these areas that Israel Folau is most threatening; while he is closer to the action at outside centre, when he plays at fullback (as he will on Saturday) he is able to make arcing runs from behind his centres and hit the gap before turning downhill. Bernard Foley’s range & timing of passing, along with his angles of running at first receiver, help put Folau into this space. Australia were reasonably successful in this area despite starting a centre partnership of Samu Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani in two of the three tests; the return of Matt Giteau as a second ball-player to the midfield should make this even more of a threat on Saturday.

The All Blacks’ centre pairing has been the subject of a lot of debate in the wake of the departures of Conrad Smith & Ma’a Nonu. Seta Tamanivalu, Malakai Fekitoa and George Moala all got opportunities at 13 in the June tests, while Anton Lienert-Brown has also been named in their Rugby Championship squad. Fekitoa has been selected at outside centre alongside Ryan Crotty for Saturday’s game, who appears to be Hansen’s first-choice 12 for the moment. The  Highlanders centre is physically competent in defence – he moves well laterally, and is powerful in the tackle – but can have issues with his positioning; he sometimes gets caught slightly narrow when defending the 13 channel. If Australia continue to run Stephen Larkham’s classic set-piece patterns early in the game – bringing Kuridrani back against the grain on first phase ball – and Fekitoa begins to sit on his inside shoulder, space could open for Folau to exploit on the outside.

Expect Australia to attack the space on Fekitoa’s outside shoulder on first-phase ball after using Kuridrani as a crash option on their opening sets. In particular, they will likely look to find this space when Waisake Naholo is the openside wing; his decision-making in defence was exposed vs. Wales on a number of occasions. In addition, Giteau will happily take the space available if Fekitoa overcommits to Folau; there are few playmakers better at beating the inside shoulder of a drifting defender.Aus v NZ

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