Justin Marshall 's Opinion

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

Justin Marshall: The trick to beating England defence

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Two moves can cause headaches for the visitors.

Aaron Cruden. Photo / Getty Images
Aaron Cruden. Photo / Getty Images

Today I'm going to talk about the narrowness of England's defence off set-piece, particularly the scrum.

This was a key to England's game plan at Auckland and I expect, with the odd subtle change, it to be a feature again under the roof in Dunedin. In this chalkboard column I will demonstrate how England's defence works, how it flummoxed the All Blacks in the first test, and how it can be combated at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

1From the set-piece, England's defence lines up narrow, but it gets very lateral very quickly. This all starts from the halfback. He is covering the inside channel, but as soon as the ball is passed to the first five-eighths, he flies out laterally to create the extra man in the line.

If anybody gets the ball outside the first five defenders - halfback, first-five, second-five, centre and, in this diagram, left wing - the fullback enters the line to take that player. The right wing sweeps in behind to cover the space normally occupied by the fullback.

2The All Blacks found a way around this very early in the match with a simple miss-pass from Aaron Cruden to Conrad Smith, who subsequently set Cory Jane free down the left. It was the old theory of the ball beating the man, and that was about as creative as the All Blacks got all night, but England adjusted and this move never troubled them again (there was perhaps one more chance to do damage with it in the second half but Beauden Barrett dropped the ball cold, and even then he looked covered).

Last week I wanted to do my chalkboard on England, but went with the All Blacks because I just didn't know what to expect. The All Blacks were in the same boat, which is why they didn't adjust as quickly as they would have liked. However, having done their review work, they will have spotted a few attack opportunities against this defensive pattern and will be more creative and manipulative.

3One of the reasons I've honed in on the England defensive pattern is because it was the same as what the successful Crusader teams of the past used. Under this system, the fullback was never asked to make too many tackles, but I can tell you two moves that caused us problems.

One is simply the blindside wing ranging up on the first-five's inside shoulder. The other is the cutback. Both hold defences and make it more difficult for the lateral scramble.

On a cutback, the first-five crabs across the field with the ball in two hands, the rest of the backline appear to be heading that way too, but one, usually but not exclusively the second-five, will suddenly prop off his foot and receive the ball while heading back in the direction of the scrum. It's up to him what he does now. He can change direction again, look for the blindside wing, or simply set up phase play.

No matter what he does, he's held defenders. They'll be aware of that for next time, meaning miss moves are likely to create a little more space in which to move, because the inside defenders will not be getting as wide as quickly.

- NZ Herald

Justin Marshall

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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