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

Justin Marshall: To nullify the Sharks' bite, look to attack


You can attribute a large part of the Highlanders' demise last week to their struggles at scrum time against the Sharks.

This was reminiscent, too, of the way the Crusaders succumbed to a short-staffed Sharks team in Christchurch during round robin play.

So, without resorting to the obvious, it is vital that the Crusaders avoid getting dragged into a set-piece arm wrestle against the same opposition tomorrow.

They can do this by taking an attacking mindset into the game, especially from deep within their own half.

In this Chalkboard column I will explain, 1: How the Crusaders can look to attack the Sharks from within their own 30m; and 2: Why this will nullify any advantage the Sharks might have in the scrum.

1. For argument's sake, let's say the Crusaders have a scrum on their 30m line on the right-hand side of the field.

The Sharks will almost certainly defend with their wings and fullback dropping back, anticipating the kick. This is the perfect opportunity for the Crusaders to seize the initiative and attack.

Having Dan Carter playing at No12, with his superb left boot, is an advantage. They can use Israel Dagg in the line as a running weapon rather than as a fourth kicking option behind Andy Ellis, Colin Slade and Carter.

While it might seem a risky ploy, the best coach I ever played under, Wayne Smith, was a strong proponent of the theory that this is the best time to attack. Robbie Deans also was a believer in this.

Because the Sharks have to set up for the possibility of a clearing kick, the Crusaders effectively have a seven-on-five situation in the backs.

They have several options. They can bring the blindside wing in close to the scrum and run him straight off the halfback. If the wing is Nemani Nadolo, he is going to commit the flankers in close.

Andy Ellis and Colin Slade, at halfback and first-five respectively, still have the option of a clearing kick, but I'd prefer to see the ball in Dan Carter's hands and let him make the decision: does he run, with Dagg coming into the line, or put in an attacking kick that keeps the ball in play.

The Sharks are a well-structured team - they love going from scrum to lineout to scrum. The Crusaders need to show them something they never saw in the round robin match and that's a bit of adventure.

2. You might ask why the Crusaders attacking from deep will nullify the Sharks' scrum advantage.

The answer is because the attacking options will occupy the thoughts of their power-packed loose forward trio, Ryan Kankowski, Marcell Coetzee and Willem Alberts.

If they know they're up against a team who is not prepared to play rugby deep in their own territory they can concentrate fully on pushing in the scrums and that makes them close to unstoppable.

If they have to worry about quickly disengaging to stop Nadolo in close, or to break wide because the Crusaders are running, they can't fully devote their energies to the push.

Really, apart from the potential to make handling errors at the wrong end of the park, there's only one real drawback to the attacking structure I have drawn up. If the wing is being brought in to run the channel close to the scrum, he is compromised if Ellis or Slade kick down the blind and fail to find touch. In this scenario, the Sharks' left wing would have a great opportunity to counter-attack.

The onus is then on Kieran Read and Richie McCaw, at No6, to cover the wing's territory and snuff out the counter.

In summary, the Crusaders cannot afford to get sucked into a grind again. Expect them to be far more enterprising this time around, including attacking from deep.

- NZ Herald

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

Justin Marshall played 81 test matches for the All Blacks, including four as captain. The halfback made his debut in 1995 against France and ended his career 10 years later with a series sweep over the British and Irish Lions. He won five Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, playing 105 games for the franchise. He commentates for Sky Television.

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