Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Scrambling ABs look to improve

Rule one for the All Black coaches and players is simple. They love their work but are never content with their production. The trick, as captain Richie McCaw signalled after Sydney, was to understand the areas to improve.

There's always space in that to-do column.

In Bledisloe 1, the All Blacks conceded two tries, with Will Genia's brilliant solo and James O'Connor's final-minute surge.

In Bledisloe 2, that tally was reduced to Israel Folau's late intercept.

Better, but as defence coach Brian McLean said, plenty to improve on. His men had covered well, scrambled magnificently - and had been forced to as the Wallabies busted more tackles than the All Blacks.

"They had a lot of possession for a long while at the start of the game. After 25 minutes it seemed the stats were high in the Wallabies' favour so our phase play defence was getting stressed, but we covered it," he said.

The All Blacks could improve a great deal.

In Sydney, the Wallabies had about two-thirds possession so the All Blacks operated without the ball for long periods and made several defensive lapses.

They had learned to scramble well, which was another gauge of the team's cohesion and solidarity. The systems were bedding in and individuals were backing each other hard.

"Last year against the Wallabies we got into difficult situations and then in the next phase our defensive system was back towards perfect alignment," McLean said.

The back three of Israel Dagg, Ben Smith and Julian Savea were a strong part of the communication but in the modern game everyone had to be switched on to defence.

"When I started coaching our props never made any tackles," said McLean. "If you go back to the early 90s, have a look at the defensive qualities of the front-rowers and compare that with our tight five. Some weeks they make more tackles than our loose forwards.

"Defence is complex but we try and make it simple. If you can't make it simple to people who study it a lot then the players can't act aggressively and that's what you want. That means the system has to be simple."

Sydney and Wellington felt similar. Some players improved on defence, others did not, but the scramble work was strong.

Head coach Steve Hansen gave a nod to his defensive coach and the strength of the players' work.

"Part of the Wallaby problem is our defence is scrambling really well. People are not giving up, they are chasing and that is probably key to it," he said.

Some of the goal-line saves from Aaron Smith, Conrad Smith and Kieran Read were huge in the Wellington game.

"They were amongst many who got back and made crucial tackles," the coach said.

"Even the try they [the Wallabies] did score, I thought Ben Smith worked really hard on it and didn't give up on it right to the death. When you have got that attitude sometimes you make some pretty good saves."

- NZ Herald

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