The Breakdown

The Maori scored six tries against Canada, all from mistakes. Let’s take a closer look at what exactly went wrong on the defensive side of things for the home side.

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Disclaimer: this article is not intended to ridicule individual players or the team, merely to offer constructive criticism and potentially illuminate some details for the observer that might otherwise be overlooked.

TRY #1 (video)

This try is a direct result of a bizarre tactical decision to try and run from the shadow of their own posts. It’s all well and good to try and play positive rugby, but from there it was completely suicidal. There was never anything on. After the first good hit-up the ball should have been in the stands. Instead possession was gifted to the Maori, and they worked an overlap on the left after a couple phases of play. Canada was defending well up until that point.

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In the above picture Jones and Hearn recognize they are outnumbered and come up hard, but for some reason hold up instead of making the hit. Jones should have committed to nailing Bateman (#10) hard here, and at least forcing him to make the pass under pressure. Hearn should have jammed up Ngatai, instead he holds and softens at the last second. Hassler is already in no-man’s land. He should have attacked Robinson.

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By now the goose is cooked. Hassler is playing soft on his own goal line – a big no-no. He’s nearly on his heels and this is a simple 2-on-1 drill for Robinson. Even if Hassler makes the hit, the momentum of the carrier will take them over. Guildford might well have scored anyway with some slick hands, but the job should have been made a lot more difficult than it was.

TRY #2 (video)

A lovely throw by Barkwill to Phelan and Underwood nearly breaks through. So far so good. The support is there quickly and a nice corridor opens to attack on the right.

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Here we see what looks like a nice ruck, but appearances can be deceiving.

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Upon closer inspection Carpenter has flopped in from the side, Ardron is headed straight downwards, Hearn is ineffectively wrestling up high, and Jones has missed the ruck entirely.

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A half-second later we see Ardron and Carpenter have completely fallen over and sealed the ball off. Both Carpenter’s entry and Ardron’s motion could have been penalised. Hearn appears to have tried to roll his man off the ruck, but unsuccessfully. Underwood doesn’t place the ball properly and the ball shoots out the back.

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Gibson-Park picks up the loose ball and passes to Braid who is smashed by Phelan but manages to free Bateman. At this point despite the turnover we are in decent shape defensively. Barkwill does a great job to come across and point to his man, in this case Bateman. Trainor enters the line to take Ngatai. Hassler is marking Guildford on the outside. Dala can deal with Squire, and Carpenter is coming in behind on a cover angle. Notice the very canny support line of Gibson-Park.

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Barkwill has taken out Bateman, and Trainor has nabbed Ngatai. Hassler has Guildford lined up against the touchline, and Dala is closing in to help. Carpenter is still on his cover line, but starting to slow up because it looks like things are ok. They should be, but they are not. There is a big circle around Evans because he is in a bad spot already. His hips are totally committed to the sideline when he should be more squared up in case the pass comes back inside to Gibson-Park. Similarly, look at Hassler’s footwork. His hips are also turned and he is headed straight for the line instead of using it as his friend and shepherding Guildford into touch.

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Hassler over-commits and Guildford steps inside. Hassler dives and just manages to trip him up. He’s lucky – if he’d missed, Guildford would have easily beaten Evans as well. Carpenter and Jones have slowed down as they don’t want to over-commit themselves. Dala comes in to help and Guildford tries for a cheeky backhanded offload. A bit of luck for the Maori as the ball careens off Dala’s arm and Gibson-Park, in perfect position, picks it up and scores.

Some sloppy recycling and a couple wrong steps was all it took.

TRY #3 (video)

This one is a bit of genius from Robbie Robinson. A solid scrum and the Maori get some good go-forward. Hearn gets a little confused but makes the tackle. Ardron shoots and Gibson-Park takes the gape as he’s too quick for Dala on the post. Willison takes it on and trouble is brewing. A very speculative pass from Bateman is very nearly picked off by Trainor, a specialty of his. A couple more phases are stuffed, and the Maori are backed up to the 22.

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Robinson does what all classy fullbacks do, he picks out a mismatch and lines up Dala. He beats him on the outside but Dala just manages the tap-tackle. Alarm bells are ringing now.

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Gibson-Park stretches the defense by attacking the sideline, then bringing it back infield. Cue Robinson once more. This time he’s got his man. One of the quickest men on the pitch against one of the least agile with loads of space either side. Phelan has no chance to make this tackle. Mack and Evans are coming around as cover but it’s too late.

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This shot shows the gaps a little better. Phelan is caught in a bad situation. Most of his teammates have been sucked in on the short side. He should be the second defender off the ruck, but he’s too far away from Buydens. Jones, to his left, is so far away we can’t even see him in the frame. Phelan does the only thing he can do, but Robinson steps him with ease and goes through Mack to score.

Chalk this one down to a lack of communication and slow realignment. The Maori knew what they were doing and Canada couldn’t keep up.

TRY #4 (video)

This one is frustrating. Canada are in a great attacking position from a centre scrum. It gets a bit messy but Mack and Buydens do a great job of breaking the gainline. Good quick ball to Underwood and….

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…he chooses to kick! It’s unclear whose call this was but it was the wrong decision. Where Robinson recognized his mismatches, Underwood fails to see that Hoeata, a lock, is in front of him and there is a 3-on-2 to his right. Compounding this Guildford is holding back and the kick was a dud. Had Underwood simply ran straight and passed to Evans it would have been simple hands to set Braid, lurking just outside the frame, away down the sideline. Instead Guildford re-gathers and the Maori control the ball.

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Barkwill manages to disrupt and the ball pops loose, but there’s Guildford again to clean up the mess. He looks up and sees Phelan and Hassler there, but decides to have a crack anyway.

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Somehow he steps outside Phelan and inside Hassler in the space of a phone booth and leaves both untying their boots on the floor. Buydens gets stuck behind Mack and Guildford expertly aims for the outside shoulder. Mack makes the tackle but it’s an easy offload to Robinson who puts Gibson-Park over for his second with a perfectly executed 2-on-1 at pace.

Wrong option, two missed tackles, try.

TRY #5 (video)

Simple first phase training ground move from a scrum. The Maori bring Taylor in from the blindside wing and do a swap move with Willison running the dummy line and Bateman taking the ball in behind.

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For some reason four players commit to Willison and Bateman is wide open. Trainor pinching in is the worst sin as it leaves Ngatai totally unmarked and forces Hassler and Braid to make tough decisions.

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Braid decides to cut Ngatai off from the outside, leaving Hassler again caught in no-man’s land. Braid should have stayed out on Robinson, leaving Ngatai to Hassler. When Braid shoots in it’s a simple miss-pass to Robinson for a 2-on-0 from the posts to the touchline.

This was poor first phase defense, no way to hide it.

TRY #6 (video)

No pictures required here. Gilmour replaces Barkwill and Carpenter moves to hooker at a lineout. For some reason he’s asked to make a difficult throw to Ardron at the back, which doesn’t come off, and instead ends up in Christie’s hands. Gibson-Park puts a beauty into the corner and Braid slips. He almost recovers but panics and tries to pass and Barrett intercepts for the score. Had Carpenter been throwing to Ardron at the front of the lineout that might never have happened.

The team played with heart but they have to learn to use their heads as well. There were many more mistakes besides the ones pointed out above, and the Maori were far from their best. Accuracy simply must be a priority from now on. There was much to cheer about during the match but at some point this team has to start making greater strides. Now seems as good a time as any.

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