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

Justin Marshall: How the Blues can beat the Sharks

Rene Ranger of the Blues offloads the ball during the round 6 super rugby match between the Blues and the Jaguares. Photo / Getty Images.
Rene Ranger of the Blues offloads the ball during the round 6 super rugby match between the Blues and the Jaguares. Photo / Getty Images.

The Blues were good last week against the Chiefs but have a big challenge ahead of them tomorrow against the Sharks, a team against whom they contested the inaugural Super Rugby final way back in 1996 and who have been a consistently strong force since.

The South Africans have plenty of talent among their outside backs, good decision makers at No9 and No10, and, of course a robust pack typical of those from the Republic.

I believe the Sharks will look to put the Blues under pressure by kicking to them.

As illustrated in the picture, their inside backs, Cobus Reinach and Joe Pietersen, will put deep and contestable kicks toward the Blues' back three of Lolagi Visinia, Rieko Ioane and Tevita Li, and it will be up to that very young trio to work together to defuse the threat.

It's important those men control the back field because they will get a barrage of kicks.

Centre Rene Ranger, also an experienced outside back, has a role to play here too as he must get back to offer help when he can.

So, here is how the Blues can use the Sharks' tactics against them - with a smart counter-attack.

If the Blues don't kick the ball back to the Sharks, they must run it back confidently.

My picture shows the set piece of scrum or lineout, where the traffic is, and where the space is. The traffic will include 16 forwards and two halfbacks. That's where the Sharks want the Blues to run - they will want to smash them there.

Finding space is the key, so the Blues' 13 and 14 must track back to provide options for the counter-attack, and then create the space by engaging with and drawing the traffic.
You can't just fling the ball out wide because all the traffic will drift there too.

You must manipulate the defence. In this case, 11 passes to 15 and then 15 runs back towards the Sharks' line, drawing defenders to that zone. The 11 then gets the ball back from 15 on a return pass heading back out towards the space who then goes wide to 13 and 14. The return ball is the key because it has brought the defence in.

That's a basic example of how to launch a counter-attack, and players such as Ranger, Ioane, Li and Visinia are all capable of doing it well.

If they are switched on and working as a team they should go a long way to creating a platform for their team's success.

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