How the Wallabies build cohesion towards 2023

How the Wallabies build cohesion towards 2023

The introductory mission statement for the company, co-founded by ex-Wallaby proper Ben Darwin, Gain Line Analytics, reads in part as follows:

“We believe that great teams are more than just the sum of their parts; we believe great teams are the product of the connections and connections within the organization.”

A quote from Darwin himself, which can be found further down the page, reads: “We looked at hundreds of teams and thousands of players in unions, leagues, football, AFL, ice hockey and generally any sport that uses teamwork. Ultimately, we found that rather than looking at each individual player, it was better to see sports teams as a network of connected relationships.”

The company has created metrics to “measure the amount and intensity of bonds within a team”, adding that “cohesion is driven from the top of the organization down”.

That provides an interesting framework for understanding the events of the 2021 Rugby Championship.

The top of the All Blacks organization in the heyday of Sir Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith was always the best of its kind. It stood head and shoulders above the rest.

It was the best at generating innovations that broadened the horizons of the game. It had the deepest culture, which kept New Zealand ‘blue heads’ under pressure. The bonds within the team grew stronger, not weaker, in times of greatest need. Do you remember this, in the white heat of Dublin in 2013?

Twelve stages, 25 steps, one minute and 50 seconds of pure flawless excellence. That 2010-17 New Zealand side had excellent consistency.

A note from Darwin to the guard on an unrelated matter admirably describes the final passage of the offensive play on Lansdowne Road: “The more stable you are, the more understanding you have. Skill you can buy, but skill doesn’t manifest in chaos.”

On Saturday, in another titanic battle with the world champion Springboks, New Zealand lost a match in the closing seconds with the ball firmly under control. The skills may still be there, but the stability and understanding are not.

More questions have been raised about the cohesion of the teams involved in the Rugby Championship than answers have been found. Did New Zealand miss a trick by not appointing Dave Rennie or Scott Robertson as their head coach after the 2019 World Cup?

Rennie creates more stability in Australia ‘from above’ than Foster in his native country. Is South Africa’s cohesion under Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber still the best in the world, despite their third place?

Rennie will be excited about his team’s comeback after three consecutive defeats against their trans-Tasman rivals, to win four games in a row, including a double over the Boks.

Now that Rory Arnold, Will Skelton and Tolu Latu have suggested returning for the year-end tour to the UK and Japan, he can expect to build even more cohesion in his team.

As Darwin told the guard“We found that cohesion makes a 40 percent difference in performance…Most of it is about the talent you have access to.”

What does this cohesion look like on the field? We have already seen an example, in the All Blacks’ ability to execute their skills perfectly, when one mistake would have meant a losing conclusion to the game against Ireland.

It also lies in the ability to draw concrete lessons from past mistakes and develop greater understanding and confidence in the game patterns you intend to use. Both were testament to the Wallabies’ second win over the Gold Coast Pumas over the weekend.

First, let’s take a case study of how Australia has developed their understanding of and confidence in an attack pattern they like to use from lineout.

Here are two examples of that pattern from the first game against Argentina.

In either case, there’s a lure lineout drive designed to suck the Argentine forwards in, before moving the ball from hooker Folau Fainga’a to Rob Valentini on a cutback run into the space they’ve (hopefully) cleared. That’s the basic design of the piece.

While Valetini breaks the advantage line in both examples, a persistent problem remains: only four Argentine forwards have committed to the drive, so four remain in midfield as potential tacklers.

So how did the Wallabies develop the same attacking pattern from lineout further into the return leg? First, they threw the ball to the back of the line instead of forward, causing more Pumas to come forward on the wrong side of the game.

With ball won at the back, suddenly only two defensive forwards are involved (No. 2 Julian Montoya and No. 8 Rodrigo Bruni), and the others have been removed from the equation. That allows Rob Valetini to break the hooker-back-rower gap and easily link up with Andrew Kellaway on his inside, in an unobstructed support lane.

In the second period, the Wallabies were able to refine the same game even further and build an even better understanding of its possibilities.

The Pumas have filled the defenses around Fainga’a and Valetini with no fewer than four players – two forwards and two inside-backs – so on this occasion the Australian number 8 is a decoy.

Quade Cooper, who hangs behind it, instead follows his whore’s ball. The result is an easy run into space for Len Ikitau, and the ability to deliver a spectacular no-look offload for another attempt from Kellaway. Australia is still one step ahead of the game.

How did the Wallabies learn from their mistakes in the series of defeats against the All Blacks? They gave up five cheap interception attempts to New Zealand in the Bledisloe Cup series, so at Gold Coast Australia they cut the cut-out pass from their game.

Out of a total of 23 entries from midfield in one of the 15 meter channels, 18 were through linking to the next man, three via a cross kick and only two had the use of a long cut pass.

The kick pass from the midfield to the wing is a much safer method of getting the ball into the wide channels. There were two examples from Quade Cooper’s trunk, one for Jordan Petaia on the right.

The other to Michael Hooper on the left.

In both cases there is no chance of an interception and the chance of further attacks is excellent.

When Quade threw the cut-out pass, it was only when he was absolutely certain that the defense was entrusted to him and not focusing on the space in which the pass would be delivered.

All eyes are on number 10 of the Wallabies, and none are on the space between Cooper and Petaia at the time of delivery.

Let’s end with a try-scoring sequence with a merry mix of these two aspects of Australian cohesion-in-action. The third try of the game started with the move connecting Fainga’a and Valetini around the end of the lineout.

A few stages later it ended with Quad Cooper rejecting the long looping pass to Pete Samu on the right wing and instead single out Samu Kerevi with a beautiful double pump.

The view from behind the posts is a clear illustration of how the work of the ball by Kerevi, Petaia and Kellaway gives Quade an easy, risk-free option on the pass.

The connections between all the backline components are strong and everyone is doing their job. The connection is clear and obvious.


New Zealand may have bounced back to the top of the men’s World Rugby league over the course of the Rugby Championship, but purely in terms of Ben Darwin’s idea of ​​’cohesion’, the position isn’t quite as clear.

The top of the Kiwi organization (as represented by the coaching group led by Ian Foster) seems no more stable than those of their two main rivals.

Evidence from the past two weeks shows that the quality and intensity of the ties within the current All Blacks squad is also no stronger than in the Springboks.

In the two matches between the teams, it is South Africa that has outperformed in the physical exchanges and dominated most of the game in contact.

Meanwhile, Dave Rennie’s charges are building up momentum leading to the tour of Japan and the UK, and the two main games against England and Wales. With more experienced reinforcements on the way, they will have access to better talent and can be expected to further improve their level of cohesion.

In the meantime, evidence of a growing confidence in their playing patterns and ability to correct mistakes rather than repeat them will bring great satisfaction to the Wallabies head coach. Sitting on his current perch, he might be happier in Australia after all.

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