How to beat the All Blacks

Alex Broun 00:59 15/08/2018
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World Rugby want to introduce a competition where the Rugby Championship and Six Nations sides meet to decide an overall champion.

As Wallabies fly-half Bernard Foley pointed out this week – beating the All Blacks is not just one of the toughest tasks in rugby, it is one of the toughest tasks in world sport.

The All Blacks are rated by many as not just the No1 rugby team in the world but the No1 sporting team, surpassing great organisations such as the New England Patriots (NFL), Real Madrid (football) and even the Golden State Warriors (NBA).

Certainly in the Steve Hansen era (2012 onwards) the All Blacks have been virtually unbeatable with an astonishing winning record of 91.17 percent (76W, 3D, 6L). That’s an average of just one loss a year.

But every side, no matter how great, has to have some chink in their armour.

The All Blacks have been beaten just three times since the 2015 Rugby World Cup – by Ireland in Chicago (2016), the British and Irish Lions in Wellington and the Wallabies in Brisbane (both 2017).

After closely examining these losses Sport360 came up with the blue print to breach perfection. Easier said than done – of course.

The Lions matched the All Blacks at the set-piece

The Lions matched the All Blacks at the set-piece

  1. Smash them upfront

As much as the All Blacks are all about razzle dazzle in the backline – the foundation of their play, as Hansen constantly re-iterates, is winning the battle upfront.

And although the All Blacks pack have the ability to pass and run better than most international centres, they are also happy to get down in the dirt and do the dirty work.

But if you can beat them up in those two facets, as the Lions did in Wellington in 2017, as well as win the collisions – you can lay a platform for victory.

The All Blacks as well as being the best team in the world are also the smartest, so even if you dominate them in the opening exchanges they will quickly find a way to adjust and put you on the back foot.

So as well as your dominant Plan A, you need to have an equally effective Plan B ready to go.

No one in the last three years has had that – and we must remember the sending off of Sonny Bill Williams in just the 22nd minute had a big role to play in that Lions win in Wellington.

Lions marauding against the All Blacks in 2017

Lions marauding against the All Blacks in 2017

  1. Win the breakdown battle

Whatever number any All Black has on their back, whether it be full-back or front row, they are able to play as a flanker when they find themselves over the breakdown.

Indeed some of the most telling turnovers in an All Blacks game are often won by a centre or winger.

This makes them incredibly dangerous to play against because even if you hold the ball through 15 superb phases and move 70 metres up field, if you leave the 16th ruck unprotected you can be sure the All Blacks machine will pounce and run 90 metres in the other direction to score.

Ireland and Australia both won the breakdown battle in Chicago and Brisbane respectively and it helped them attain famous victories.

But it must also be noted that the All Blacks played very badly in both these matches, which leads us to No3.

The All Blacks understandably got distracted by the Chicago celebrations

The All Blacks understandably got distracted by the Chicago celebrations

  1. Hope the All Blacks play badly

The ABs are peerless in world rugby but even the greatest have their off days.

This happened in Chicago in 2016 against Ireland and in Brisbane last year against Australia, in what were it must be stated, fairly meaningless matches.

In Chicago, the All Blacks seem to get caught up in the celebrations of the Cubs’ first World Series pennant in 108 years.

With Soldier Field heaving with local Irish fans, New Zealand greatly contributed to another famous century-long losing streak being broken as Ireland beat the All Blacks for the first time in 111 years.

Another factor was the All Blacks finally setting a new world record of 18 consecutive Test victories in their previous test, a record they had been trying to better for many years, so the hangover of that achievement also contributed.

Last year in Brisbane the All Blacks were simply exhausted, after drawing an epic series against the Lions, retaining the Bledisloe Cup and winning the Rugby Championship, and they simply had nothing to give against a Wallabies side desperate to save some face.

New Zealand also went into the game missing fly-half Beauden Barrett, full-back Ben Smith, first-choice props Joe Moody and Owen Franks, and the incomparable Brodie Retallick and still were in position to snatch it at the end and probably would have, if not for an uncharacteristic mistake at the breakdown by Sam Cane.

Ryan Crotty in a rare moment of panic against Australia in Brisbane in 2017

Ryan Crotty in a rare moment of panic against Australia in Brisbane in 2017

  1. Don’t make mistakes

Against New Zealand you cannot let the game become unstructured. If the game gets loose the All Blacks will kill you every – single – time.

No team is more damaging in open spaces than New Zealand with the most exciting ball runners on the planet and 23 players who are able to turn on Barbarians style brilliance at the flick of the switch.

The All Blacks think so quickly and in an instant can go from defence to attack. Before the opposition even knows what’s happening they are placing the ball under the black dot.

To counteract this you simply cannot give them any scraps.

Ireland did this in 2016 playing mistake free rugby and controlling the game brilliantly, slowly strangling the life out of the All Blacks, except for a period in the second half when they relaxed at 30-8 up and conceded 14 points in six minutes, before steadying the ship.

The Wallabies also made very few mistakes in Brisbane last October. The Lions made a litany of mistakes in Wellington but the All Blacks were so shattered physically, and shaken by the sending off of Williams (a real leader in the team) they could not take advantage.

An accurate kicking game is crucial to beat the All Blacks

An accurate kicking game is crucial to beat the All Blacks

  1. Don’t try to play rugby

It sounds very negative (and it is) but you cannot try and out All Blacks the All Blacks – because as soon as you start to throw it around they will hurt you.

It’s kick to the corners, go from set piece to set piece, hold the ball, pick and drive, keep it tight, don’t go wide, rolling mauls, up-and-under (if you’re kick chase is up to it) – stop-start stop-start.

If the game gets fluidity and momentum it plays right into the All Blacks hands and you will be on the end of a 50-point hiding.

Just ask the Wallabies who have been shellacked 42-8 and 57-37 in the opening Bledisloe’s of the last two seasons, try to play “All Blacks-lite rugby” as the Wallabies did those nights and it is all over.

You can score tries against the All Blacks, their line is not unbreachable, but they are the perfect example of the Alex Ferguson philosophy – you score, we’ll score more.

To beat New Zealand you have to take the opposite approach. It’s not great rugby, or the slightest bit entertaining, but you need to almost bore the All Blacks out of the game.

Unfortunately if you do that you’ll bore the crowd as well and that is not good for rugby long term.

No5 also requires, as do all the others, super-fast line speed in defence. You need to get up in the All Blacks faces, not give them any time or space, defend as if your life depends on it and don’t miss tackles.

The Aussies did this superbly in Brisbane making 90 of 99 tackles attempted for a tackle success rate of 91%. In comparison, New Zealand missed an astounding 26 tackles for a tackle success rate of just 85%.

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