Defence 'glue' vital to win Super Rugby title
April 3, 2013
George Whitelock (left) may not offer a lot in attack but his defensive contribution is key for the Crusaders © Getty Images
When teams go through their off-season preparations of signing players and announcing their acquisitions, the first thing people think about is attack. But when it comes down to the winning of competitions and championships, it us purely and simply about who has the best defence.
If you look at the teams you believe can go on and win the Super Rugby final this season, your choice is probably based on the simple fact that they can defend their line better than anyone else.
And when you talk about defence, you talk about the players who are the glue in your defensive systems - the guys who make the key decisions who are generally loose forwards or mid-field backs.
If you are strong defensively in those key positions you are always going to have a very good team defence. Decision-making on defence is almost more important that decision-making on attack because you can control the opposition. The Crusaders demonstrated these points in their defeat of the Stormers.
Their 'glue' players were, Ryan Crotty, Matt Todd, who played very well, and George Whitelock, who may not have the attacking flair to be a key member of the All Blacks, but who has the defensive ability to play a key role for the Crusaders.
There are some key things to consider in defence.
Good teams, if they feel under pressure and it appears inevitable they will break you down and score a try, are prepared to push the boundaries and concede three points.
This has been the staple diet of the Crusaders for a long time. The physical nature in which they play the game, their intent on the defensive side of the ball to never let the opposition get a roll on, or gain any momentum, will challenge at every opportunity, whether it be at the breakdown, off the line or in the tackle.
It comes down to the nature of the players they have. They have probably the best defensive loose forward in the modern game in Richie McCaw, and probably the most disruptive.
There are great defenders in world rugby like McCaw and Conrad Smith. If you talk about the All Blacks you almost certainly notice McCaw and Smith when they aren't there because they are masters in the two toughest defending positions in the game.
As much as we talk about attack being about decision-making, it is about where and how you challenge the opposition.
The first way is to attack the source. You attack the re-start whether it is a scrum or a lineout. That creates your pressure, and turnovers.
The second way is through attacking the breakdown. That's where the decision is over the opportunity to turn over possession that's either on the ball or taking space. If it's on the ball that is classic McCaw, David Pocock, Adam Thomson, George Smith, Heinrich Brussow, Rene Ranger or Conrad Smith.
Or you attack space beyond the ball with guys who are physical around the breakdown, like McCaw, again, Keiran Read, Schalk Burger or, in most recent times, Steven Luatua attacking the space.
The other way to create a turnover, or no momentum, is to do what the Chiefs do where very rarely do they attack the breakdown but attack you with line speed. They get off the line and force you to make a play behind the advantage line.
A common ploy the Chiefs use is to judge defence at the tackle by the time opposition players spend on the ground or how long they are out of the play. They commit few players to the breakdown, have 15 people on their feet and then they use line speed. The key guy to watch is the third defender and quite often it is Liam Messam, or Sam Cane. They come forward very quickly and attack the first receiver.
When teams are able to defend a number of ways they are so difficult to play against. If you make a mistake, they will counter it.
So, if you over-kick to the breakdown, they will pressure you with line speed somewhere else. If you under-commit to a breakdown they will turn you over in that position. That's where the Chiefs, the Crusaders, the Stormers and the Brumbies have been so effective. They are multi-defensive teams and are very hard to play.
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