Wealth of options England gains from tactic should have ABs taking notes
The driving maul is one facet of play England have used extremely effectively in this June series. While they might not have scored directly from a lineout and driving maul, Marland Yarde's try in Dunedin last week was the direct result of the options a good driving maul presents. I want to explain: A) Why it can be such a great attacking weapon, and; B) How to defend against it. A.When we analyse the way England have played in the first two tests and their impressive midweek win over a short-handed Crusaders side, we can see they are a well-balanced side with a very good set-piece. Part of their set-piece weaponry is the clever way they use the driving maul that commands the attention of forwards around the fringe. The key to a good driving maul is to get it moving straight away. To do that you have to make your catch, set your two blockers in place and drive forward as soon as the catcher gets back to ground. The moment you do that you command the attention of the defence. If it's static, or taking a while to get any momentum, the forwards on the fringe of the maul don't have to fully commit and are more alert to snuffing out attacks when the ball is released. England's maul is so well organised that they have forced the opposition to commit numbers straight away to negate the drive. What they like to do is bring one winger and the second-five in close to the maul, which puts a sense of doubt into the defending loosies' minds. This creates five attacking options, which are demonstrated in the accompanying graphic. Essentially, the wing and halfback can suddenly change direction and dart the blind; the halfback can take a couple of steps and hit the wing in close, a la Yarde in Dunedin; the halfback can miss the wing and hit the second-five; the halfback can miss them both and start a backline attack; or the ball carrier at the back can peel away on either the blind or open side and take the halfback with him. There are myriad attacking options, but it is knowing when to use them that is the key. The best time to free the ball to the halfback is when the maul is moving forward, but the temptation is often there for the forwards to keep it tucked under the arm because they can sense a try. But if the maul is moving forward, the defenders are moving backward, and that makes them passive tacklers. If the maul is static or is being shunted back, it allows the defenders to get on the front foot - they now have the momentum. England have become very good at creating try-scoring opportunities from the lineout and it is something I firmly believe New Zealand should learn from, rather than being stubborn and saying, "It's not the way we play rugby." With guys like Julian Savea and a group of good, running halfbacks, it could be another piece of our attacking arsenal. B.This sounds much simpler than it is, but the key to defending a driving lineout is to stop it, or sack the catcher, before it gets any forward momentum. What I mean by "sack" is that a player, and one player only, can try to get the ball-carrier (the lineout taker) to ground before the maul is formed. This is difficult with England because they set their blockers effectively. So if the maul is set and starting to rumble, it becomes all about body position and leg drive. As a defending team you are trying to approach from the correct angle and shunt the maul towards the touchline. To do this, you've got to try to get your shoulders under the butt-cheeks of the English forwards. New Zealand has got better at defending the lineout drive, but I sensed England have had them in trouble in this area over the past fortnight. If I was in the England camp, I would be looking to challenge the All Blacks even more with driving mauls.