We are only a couple of weeks into the season and already one of the big talking points is the Crusaders' back attack - more particularly the lack of attack.
For the past two seasons the Crusaders have persisted with the tactic of stacking their backs in a vertical formation in good attacking positions. I've seen other teams try this in the past and ditch it pretty quickly.
The Crusaders seem wedded to the tactic but it has only worked a couple of times and for me it has serious limitations. This leads me to suspect it is coach driven - player-driven tactics tend to get ditched really quickly when they're not working.
I will try to talk you through, 1. What I believe the Crusaders are trying to achieve with this formation, 2. Why it doesn't work and, 3. The knock-on effect that has for players like Israel Dagg.
1. Vertical stacking gives you countless 'target' options. What you are trying to do is use your short or close-in runners to punch through holes on the advantage line. This graphic demonstrates that when the first or second-five is taking it to the line, their primary option is to put the left wing or centre into gaps with short passes. This can either lead to tries direct from first phase, or at least get you behind the line so the defence is scrambling from phase play.
2. My major issue with this is the sheer narrowness of it. If you don't go through the target holes with the short runners, then any other option is lateral. The only way you can achieve width in this formation is for players to run across the field. That means that the defence can align themselves narrow, they can hold and, if the Crusaders go wide, drift across and push them out to the touchline. This is something defences have found all too easy to do.
3. Israel Dagg is one of the major reasons why this formation has more drawbacks than benefits. He is a brilliant open-field runner and has shown that numerous times for the All Blacks, but for two years now he has really struggled at the Crusaders, to the point where he has been dropped, twice. He needs to be getting the ball in wide positions AFTER other guys have been doing the straight work. The problem is the Crusaders don't have a tank in midfield any more. Ryan Crotty is a good player, but he will never have the physical presence of a Sonny Bill Williams or Robbie Fruean. He won't hold defences like those two, which allows the split second of space that guys like Dagg thrive in.
It's very early days, but the Crusaders are clearly grappling with their attack structures. For me, abandoning this formation would be a good place to start.