Category: November internationals

Statistical analysis: passing combinations, Ireland vs. Australia

The respective Autumn campaigns of Ireland and Australia sat at opposite extremes of the stylistic spectrum: Michael Cheika’s side alternated between incisive wide attack and moments of frustrating indiscipline and poor decision-making, while Joe Schmidt’s carried powerfully and was exceptionally accurate at tackle and breakdown. Despite claiming wins over New Zealand and Australia, a number of issues in attack which have been present throughout Schmidt’s tenure recurred in the 12 point loss to the All Blacks in Dublin, during which they spent long periods deep inside opposition territory and came away with no tries. This performance comes with the caveat that Jonny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw and CJ Stander – three key figures in their attack in Chicago – had all left the field within half an hour, but we have seen enough of Ireland’s attack with those players present over the past three seasons to tentatively assume that scoring five tries against the world champions was the exception that proves the rule: in order to be so ruthlessly successful, the attacking system they operate requires accuracy and intensity which is unsustainable over a series, season or World Cup cycle.

Contrast this to Australia, whose 1-3-3-1 system looks to have been enhanced by the addition of former New Zealand skills coach Mick Byrne to the coaching staff; in amongst the senseless infringements and maddening turnovers, they have been able to create wide line breaks regularly and finish these chances rather clinically. Their offloading game has clearly developed as the season has progressed, but Reece Hodge’s two ill-advised efforts in the first half are evidence that their decision-making and execution in this area still needs work. Sefa Naivalu’s effort on the left wing in the last five minutes of the test is another excellent example of their required technical progress: after manipulating his arms above the tackler he attempts to transfer the ball without readjusting the height of his hand, and the ball follows a path from high to low which is impossible for his teammate to regather. (Compare this to the supreme work of Anton Lienert-Brown – as Will Greenwood highlights here – who excels at lifting the ball into space for his team-mates from low to high.) As these skills continue to develop, however, Australia’s wide phase attack – which is already one of the best in the world – will continue to grow, and gives Michael Cheika a clear focus around which to build his gameplan.

The diagrams below (inspired by the stellar work of Dutch football blog 11tegen11.netrepresent an attempt to visualise both teams’ attacking styles by mapping common passing combinations from November’s test match. Each line between players represents two or more passes between these players (with passer and recipient indicated by the direction of the arrow), and the width of each line corresponds to the number of passes. Where a line emanates from one player but does not have a direct recipient, it indicates that the player made two or more passes from that position to a multitude of players but no more than one to any single player. The diagram does not attempt to map the x- and y-coordinates of each pass; arrows pointed in the direction of the right touchline indicate passing combinations made when the team was playing from left to right, and vice versa.

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The All Blacks, cynicism and the problem with ‘refereeing bias’

Rarely has a week gone by in this year’s international rugby calendar without a controversy relating to the All Blacks. Over the course of the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup, we saw Steve Hansen and his team accused of disrespect by Michael Cheika after a cartoon mocking the Australian coach appeared in an Auckland newspaper; Owen Franks’ contact with the face of Kane Douglas in a maul go unpunished; TJ Perenara’s try against South Africa at Ellis Park awarded despite questions over correct grounding; and an Australian try harshly ruled out for obstruction by Nigel Owens at Eden Park. Last weekend’s test match in Dublin was compelling in its physicality, but the treatment of two reckless tackles from Sam Cane and Malakai Fekitoa has led once more to furore over World Rugby’s disciplinary process.

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Catharsis

Ireland+v+New+Zealand+International+Match+OvFfrYMDCCcx.jpgThe emotional release which followed last Saturday’s historic victory over the All Blacks in Chicago was astounding. The atmosphere of drama, history and meaning began from the moment the Irish responded to the haka with a tribute to the late Anthony Foley – a moment that demonstrated why this still-nascent professional game must allow space for its traditions to be maintained, imbuing the game with colour and establishing a nexus with its amateur past which other sports have long since lost. It was heightened by New Zealand’s stirring fightback to 33-29 with 15 minutes remaining, and encapsulated by Jamie Heaslip sinking to his knees in a moment of introspection after shaking the hands of the opposition, contemplating the enormity of the 80 minutes which had passed.

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