Simply The Best.
Simply the best is probably the only way to accurately describe the All Blacks 2015 Rugby World Cup victory. There can be no doubt that they are the best team in the world today. Saturday’s Cup Final confirmed this to one and all.
And they are the best because they play devastatingly simple rugby, based on simple skills, refined to the highest possible level. There are no razzle-dazzle tricks, no complex game plans, no weird and wonderful “moves” that can go wrong. They simply do the basics of rugby so much better than anyone else.
There is much talk about the All Blacks taking rugby to a different level, and they do, but there is no secret to what they do, the reality is that they take the simple basics and refine them to a level that is just so much better than anyone else.
Think about their game plan. They play a game based on catching and passing the ball back and forth amongst ALL the players in their team. The avoid taking the ball into contact if they can possibly do so, and they work exceptionally hard at keeping the ball alive when they do go into contact. Yes they can, and do play the contact game when they have to. They will pick and go rather than go wide of they need to run down the minutes to the end of a game or while a player is in the sin-bin. Perhaps the opposition is starting to run it loose and wide on defence to try and smother the constant movement of the ball, so they will tie it up for a bit and suck you in, and then they revert to type and move the ball around.
The single, critical, aspect of their game that sets them apart from every other team on the planet is the way that every single member of the team can catch and pass the ball, offload in the tackle, and run support lines, either close in or into spaces. Every prop can handle the ball as well as a midfielder, every wing has learned to pass the ball instead of simply tucking the ball under an arm and charging for the corner.
Within that devastatingly simple game plan we find all kinds of simple variations. They use their wings to come in as close receivers at the rucks and mauls, running onto the ball at pace with the knowledge that they can, and will, catch the pop pass from the scrumhalf. They allow the wings to pick the ball on the fringes of the rucks and mauls for the same reason. Alternatively, they use tight forwards such as Dane Coles, or a loose-forward like Jerome Kaino or Kieran Read to support outside the wings. They are not out on the wing because they are lazy and are taking a break from the game. They are out there because they CAN play out there.
The running skills and footwork amongst the backs is refined and refined again, allowing them to spin out of tackles and bounce away from contact with deceptive ease. The jinking and stepping of the backs causes a number of problems for opponents, not least the way the runner can use his support players as a shield when stepping, spinning or jinking around and through them. It is almost obstruction, but not quite – there is nothing deliberate about the “obstruction” by the support runners, they simply hold their running lines, and they cannot be penalized for that! The runner’s footwork is so quick that the supporters are actually running interference…
The essence of All Black rugby is in the simplicity of their game, together with a sublime ability to use Speed, Surprise, and Space. The three “S’s” of rugby – refined.
If we look back at Saturday’s World Cup Final, we can see their entire rugby game at it’s very best.
They started the game with enormous pace – the first of those 3 S’s – Speed. They came at the Wallabies like a hurricane wind. Owen Franks flattened Israel Folau, Conrad Smith flattened Michael Hooper, and the massive Brodie Retallick charged down Will Genia’s kick, all in a matter of moments after the kick-off.
The speed with which the All Blacks set about the game certainly gave the Australian’s no chance to settle down and start to play their own game. They found themselves being rushed at every moment.
Richie McCaw and Jerome Kaino focused on taking up the space that Australia had planned to occupy at the breakdown, competing, and beating Pocock and Hooper to the ball, and over the ball. The quickness with which they turned the ball over and then immediately took it away from the contact area resulted in the formidable duo of Pocock and Hooper getting separated, and individually they are nowhere near as effective as they are when functioning as a unit. Hooper had to start chasing the ball around the field and adopt a more defensive role which prevented him from supporting David Pocock over the ball. A significant strength of this Aussie side negated by the Speed of the All Blacks, taking the ball into Space from the breakdown.
The marker was laid down in just one and a half minutes – just 90 seconds – during which the All Blacks turned over no less than 4 Australian balls on the ground!
The early loss of Matt Giteau was a huge loss for Australia. As he went down the tunnel for a concussion assessment the Australian backline lost their mentor; the brains and calm experience of Giteau could not be replaced by anyone. Kurtley Beale had a great game as a replacement, but he is no Matt Giteau.
The pace with which the All Blacks took the game to the Australians was evident in the tactical response by the Aussies. By the 20th minute they were kicking the ball into touch without looking for too much distance, rather ensuring that the ball would go deep into touch so that the All Blacks could not use a quick throw-in to maintain pressure. They needed those extra moments to catch their breath and calm things down a bit.
The Australian backs were lining up flatter and flatter on defence and their loose forwards, especially Hooper and Fardy, where running wide to defend as quickly as possible. (This also served to split that Pocock Hooper unity!)
On their own ball the Aussie backline was standing two or three meters deeper than usual, again a sign of the pressure that the New Zealanders were exerting through their loose-forwards and the backline defence.
Lest we forget, the Australians made a fist of it! This was a World Cup final, and they did their best! It is to their credit that they were only 6 to 3 down after 25 minutes. Lesser teams would have conceded a try or two under that kind of pressure!
The All Blacks played the game with their usual simple style, using the ball to do the work, sometimes slicing into the midfield through Ma’a Nonu, then taking it wide to the twinkle-toed running skills of Nehe Milner-Skudder or the power and pace of Julian Savea. Circling around all of this was the predatory skill and support of Ben Smith. When needed, they were physical in contact and in the tight-loose, but they took the ball away from contact at every opportunity.
By the time the first 40 minutes were history it was evident that Australia would have to find a rabbit in a hat somewhere if they were going to win this one. They looked a little rattled and bedraggled as they trooped off to gather their wits and plan the second half.
Ma’a Nonu’s 50 meter effort after Sonny Bill William’s overhead pass sealed the game for the All Blacks, just 90 seconds into the 2nd half. For those that wondered why Conrad Smith had been replaced by Sonny Bill Williams, SBW’s sublime handling skills featured twice in the buildup to that try.
The Aussies were given a brief sniff of a possible comeback when the All Blacks were reduced to 14 men with Nigel Owens giving Ben Smith a yellow card rest when he lifted Drew Mitchell’s legs beyond the horizontal. (I did think that Michael Hooper was also a candidate for a yellow given that he was the one that actually drove Mitchell into the ground after Smith had lifted the legs. After all, the law makes no distinction between who actually did the driving! Can you be penalized for late tackling or punching your own team mate??)
From the inevitable lineout drive that followed the penalty and card David Pocock powered over to give Aussies a little hope. The card given to Smith might have given the opportunity for the lineout drive, but his absence from the field made no difference. The Aussies powered through the All Black pack for this one.
His absence was certainly a contributing factor when Kuridrani finished off with a score after Drew Mitchell and Adam Ashley-Cooper had chased the ball into the All Black 22. If Smith had been in his regular position at 15 Will Genia’s chip kick would probably have been safely fielded and no try would have resulted.
Smith would have the last word too, when Drew Mitchell knocked on it was Ben Smith who first kicked ahead for Beauden Barrett to finish it off with the third try. (Did you see the left footed Dan Carter use his right boot for the conversion kick? I missed it on the day but caught it when watching the replay! Just a private moment for Dan..)
Before that try Dan Carter had secured the win with a cool as cucumber drop kick, although he did shout at the ball a bit as it sailed towards the uprights, and then that long penalty of over 40 meters to put the game beyond Australia..
When the final whistle sounded, New Zealand were the first team to win the Rugby World Cup three times, and the only side to successfully defend the title since the first RWC in 1987.
Some other records are worth mentioning – The All Blacks victory was their 14th successive win at the RWC, a tournament record.
Prior to Saturday the exclusive Double Gold Club consisted of Phil Kearns, Jason Little, Tim Horan, Dan Crowley, John Eales and Os du Randt – all of those who had earned two World Cup winners medals. On Saturday they were joined by 14 new inductees to this exclusive club,
Keven Mealamu , Owen and brother Ben Franks, Tony Woodcock, Sam Whitelock, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, Victor Vito, Dan Carter, Colin Slade, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith and Sonny Bill Williams.
Richie McCaw has captained New Zealand in 13 Rugby World Cup games, more than any other captain, and has played 148 test matches, yet another world record.
Two previous World Cups were decided by drop goals, Joel Stransky and Jonny Wilkenson’s efforts winning the cup in 1995 and 2003 respectively. Although Dan Carter’s drop kick was not the match winner, it was the sixth drop kick in a World Cup final.
Julian Savea finished as the tournament’s leading try scorer on eight, equaling the 8 scored by both Bryan Habana and Jonah Lomu.
Perhaps the most significant lesson to be learned from this World Cup? Defence does NOT win World Cups, tries do.
Some of my stand-out performances:
15 Ben Smith
Has an almost uncanny ability to break the first tackle when carrying the ball. Despite his yellow card he was a thorn in the Aussie side all day.
14 Nehe Milner-Skudder
Wow, what footwork, what speed, what running skills. One to watch for the next ten years or so!
10 Daniel Carter
What a way to end a stellar career. Thanks for the memories Dan.
7 Richie McCaw
So who is the real Boss of the ball on the ground? An awesome performance. Certainly one of the greatest players to have ever played the game.
6 Jerome Kaino
Came to the party big time! Helped Richie McCaw achieve dominance in broken play and knocked back any Aussie that dared take a run on the fringes.
2 Dane Coles
His speed around the field and superb handling skills sets him up to become one of the great hookers of all time. Lineouts were spot on.
23 Sonny Bill Williams (On for C Smith, 40 min)
His offloads in the tackle are a thing of beauty, and his overall ball skills are right up with the very best.
I guess that the All Blacks will say that there are no stand-out players, and that it was a team effort. They would be correct, they play as a team, all 15 focused, committed, and oriented towards one objective, to play Rugby the All Black way.