Justin Marshall

Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall Chalkboard: How the Crusaders use Read so effectively

The Crusaders use Kieran Read like an extra back. Photo / Getty Images
The Crusaders use Kieran Read like an extra back. Photo / Getty Images

In the past couple of weeks the Crusaders have started to look a lot more dangerous than they did earlier in the season. One of the principal reasons for this is they have started to use star No 8 Kieran Read the way the All Blacks do. In this Chalkboard column I'll explain: 1. What that role is and how it differs from traditional No 8 play, and 2. The way the Chiefs might look to counteract it tomorrow.

1. The days of No 8 charging at the first five-eighth off the back of the scrum - think Buck Shelford and Zinzan Brooke as two masters of this - are gone. Defensive strategies and scrum laws have put paid to this and the onus is now to clear the ball from this set-piece.

But No 8s are still traditionally strong ball-runners, in Read's case this is particularly true, so the challenge for coaches was how to inject them into the game following a scrum. Most drift towards the first breakdown and are then brought into the game either punching in close off the ruck as first receiver, or running off the first receivers inside or outside shoulder.

This is how Read was being used by the Crusaders in the early round and in this capacity he is very good, but it's not when he's at his brilliant best. The Crusaders' coaching staff probably felt they had to use him this way to make up for the absence of Richie McCaw, blunt it was slightly blunting their attacking potential.

How the All Blacks, and the Crusaders over the past couple of rounds, use him is different. What Read does is when there is a wide set scrum, he drops straight back when the ball is cleared, rather than being drawn towards the breakdown.

He then becomes effectively an extra back. He places himself inside the wing, either as the third- or second-last player in the backline. He's thinking two or three phases ahead, when he will hit the ball at pace, draw in at least two backs to tackle him, while he slips one of those brilliant offloads of his to the wing. He does it time and time again.

This is near unstoppable and it's also unique to Read. There is no other No 8 in world rugby, not even Pierre Spies, who can do this.

2. Which makes it all sound a bit ominous for the Chiefs, but as there is with every attacking strategy, there's are ways to manipulate it to your advantage.

If they are concerned solely with stopping Read, the Chiefs could mimic the Crusaders and have one of their strong loosies drop back from the scrum and essentially man mark. Coaches are reluctant to do this, they want their loosies chasing the breakdown, rather than taking themselves out of the game for something that might happen two or three phases down the track.

So what the Chiefs might do is pour their energies into defensively attacking where the Crusaders are now a man down - the breakdown itself. We saw England do this brilliantly at Twickenham in 2012. Even though Read's running role was a little closer in back then, he still wasn't committing to breakdown, so England attacked them there and dominated that facet of the game.

With Read ranging wide, the Crusaders will be a forward down. Often it is Sam Whitelock who is asked to shoulder Read's breakdown burden, so the Chiefs should look to be relentless there, dragging the lock into breakdown after breakdown, wearing him out.

That's the key: disrupt the Crusaders breakdown flow, depriving Read of the front-foot attacking ball he needs to do so much damage out wide.

But it's not easy.

- NZ Herald

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