Why Kiwis have attacking edge

New Zealand teams continue to lead the way on attack, writes Hurricanes assistant coach JOHN PLUMTREE.

Should South African Super Rugby teams copy New Zealand’s playing style? It’s a topic the media enjoys discussing with coaches and players every season.

What the Kiwi teams do very well is put attack structures in place that allow them to always look to get the ball to where the space is. For example, if the opposition wings have dropped back early for the long kick, New Zealand sides will look to pass the ball to the space left by those wings. If the wings are up flat on defence, then the kick-pass, of which Hurricanes and All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett is a master, might be on.

Successful attacking teams are always looking for mismatches in the defensive line, as there are always tired props or locks whose defensive incapabilities can be exploited.

Having quality game-drivers is important, especially when it comes to decision-making. They are normally the scrumhalf, flyhalf and fullback. It has become very hard to win games without such players, as defensive systems have improved over the years.

Having players with a high skill level is the other ingredient to a successful attacking game. Kiwi players love honing their skills, whether it’s improving their passing or their short and long kicking game. We often see the best players in Super Rugby showing a special skill that has created an opportunity to score. If you watch closely, you will see how the speed and accuracy of a backline’s passing gets the ball into space for a flying wing. All of these actions come from practising skills at speed and under pressure.

Having quality coaches who can encourage and implement techniques to improve the players’ skills is also important. You need to teach players to read situations that require a certain skill: a long flat pass because the defensive line has shortened, or a short pass – with a teammate running a good angle – to create a linebreak.

You hear coaches talking about ‘playing in the right areas’, but that often means kicking the ball away when it may have been better to pass the ball to space.

When I watched South African schoolboys playing rugby, I always felt there was a lot of kicking, probably because they are scared to make mistakes with the ball in hand. Instead, they try to dominate territory by kicking the ball long. It would be better for the kids to be coached and encouraged to use the ball and make decisions based on what the defensive picture looks like. I’m not saying they should not kick, but they should be looking to put a kick in that is right for the situation.

Also, having a good set piece and good skills at the breakdown to ensure continuity is important, and these skills need to be practised regularly.

If a team wants to compete and consistently win at a high level, then having a competent set piece, game-drivers and a high skill level is imperative. You also need an experienced coaching team who are all on the same page in terms of how the game should be played and coached.

In next month's magazine: Plumtree on the All Blacks-Lions Test series

Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images