The origins of the All Blacks’ five-pointers against Italy in Rome last weekend were as follows: lineout, lineout, lineout, scrum and counter-attack. Little wonder then that the Waratahs this week handed coach Alan Gaffney a new portfolio concentrating entirely on attacking set-pieces.
The Waratahs also announced a new assistant coach, New Zealander Daryl Gibson, but they’ve clearly been keeping a close eye on how his compatriots have been really hurting sides year.
Of those set-piece All Blacks tries, the first two came from first phase, the third from fourth phase and the fourth from seven phases, but even in the latter the intent was there to strike immediately.
Runners were in motion either side of five-eighth Aaron Cruden and only good defence prevented him from squeezing through a gap close to the line.
For the Wallabies, Digby Ioane’s try from a scrum against Argentina stood out not only because of its excellence, but because of its rarity. How they could do with some of these rapier thrusts in Florence this weekend because the longer the game remains close the more it becomes a threat to fingernails.
The Wallabies do not want this side to get a sniff, or even be at arm’s length on the scoreboard. On last week’s evidence, this is a handy unit. Rising self-belief in front of a parochial crowd would make them an even more worrying commodity.
Talk this week about a more expansive approach from the Italians is not just hot air. Looking at how they played at times in Rome – with enterprise and some skill – you wonder what took them so long.
What also stood out is they have a bit of size away from the traditional source of their threat, the forwards. On the right wing Giovanbattista Venditti – who scored the try when Italy beat Scotland in the Six Nations this year – is a powerful runner, while fullback Andrea Masi’s new licence to counter-attack brought his footwork into the game.
The approach also suits their back row of openside Simone Favaro, the hard-working lineout target Alessandro Zanni and Sergio Parisse. The No.8’s reputation in the northern hemisphere has not always stood up against the powers of the southern hemisphere but the new desire to offload and support plays well to his undoubted athletic gifts.
The All Blacks were made to miss an uncommonly high percentage of tackles.
There is, however, a specific weakness to the Italians’ defensive structure if they keep to last week’s selections. It is one the Wallabies are familiar with, having also had to contend with the challenges it brings. The No.10, Luciano Orquera, is a fallible defender who they try to protect by taking him out of the defensive line. Instead, they shift Masi into the No.10 channel on opposition ball, with not entirely convincing results. The fullback got badly lost for the All Blacks’ opening try, over-running Cruden whose sharp feet took him inside in the break that led to Kieran Read’s score.
In Rome, Orquera was positioned on the wing in defensive situations, but his 170-centimetre, 78-kilogram frame can also provide an opportunity when Italy are set up to attack. In the first half the All Blacks nicked a lineout and threw it to No.6 Liam Messam, whose eyes lit up as he charged straight over the op of the little Italian. Orquera rather woozily returned to his feet and trotted off to the relative sanctuary of the wing once more. It remains a game for all sizes, but not if you can be exposed in a one-on-one contest. Accordingly, the crossfield kick probably now comes into the Wallabies’ thinking in Florence.
Of course, all this supposition goes out the window if the big men don’t attend to their business. We already know the Italian scrum will attack on their ball. They’ll probably pick up some penalties, too. That will mean less if the Wallabies can win their own feed with conviction and give the backs something to run onto.
In the background there is the knowledge that a certain news conference has been scheduled for Monday, with a talented but disaffected colleague apparently intent on exiting. A display of crisp, accurate attack would lessen the relevance of that event but the Italians do not have the appearance of fodder. First, the Wallabies must get the win.
Twitter – @whiskeycully
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.