It’s a fairly simple old game this at times isn’t it?
At least, that is, the best teams make it look simple by cheating like fcuk at the breakdown! Quick ball is the lifeblood of any good attacking team. Say what you like about gamebreakers and speedsters out wide, if the ruck isn’t cleared within a short space of time (Bernard Jackman has spoken before about a 2-3 second ruck being optimum), then your attack is often slow, static and needs a reset, or a big burst to make yards.
Ritchie and his All Black mates are pass masters at this.
If you ever wonder why no matter who plays at 10 for BNZ, they always seem to have time and space, it’s likely because of this. Most effective off a quick phase ball, this smart tactic serves to make that next wave of attack even quicker, putting the defence on the back foot, and often leading to more significant gains around the ruck area.
This so called ‘golden meter’ is generally technically illegal. Often, players are so far past the tackled player that they become unbound, and could be pinged for off side, tackling players off the ball or obstruction. Yet, with so much going on in a game, only the top class refs will call this one continually. But it’s oh, so effective.
The technique involved is almost that of an offensive lineman in gridiron. Players get low, step over the ball and drive upwards, dipping and using their upper body to lever the opposing player out of the way.
So what’s the relevance? Well under the new Foley regime, Munster have been consistently honing this part of their game, and using it to make hay close in with big carriers like POM, Kilcoyne, Cronin and TOD.
The excellent Murray Kinsella called it out against Munster, and I noticed during the game how far they were rushing past the tackled man, offering that extra little bit of linespeed to their attack. Of course, Leinster were noticeably poor in that game, but the tempo of the Munster play rendered them even more ineffective. They attacked in waves. In a game Shane Jennings usually excels in, his absence was keenly felt.
Look closely here at the 23.34 timestamp and see how Stander takes out two men, thereby offering clean ball for his 9.
Against both Scarlets last week, and again versus Sale on Saturday, particularly for the first 15 minutes or so, Munster ramped up the tempo and were rewarded handsomely. Quick ball allowed Murray to snipe, or to bring in the big runners like Stander.
Watch here as Casey and co draw in Sale defenders for the first try by pushing well past the ball, and disallowing them from defending or slowing. Textbook stuff.
Foley was rightly critical of the poor referring after the game, with the breakdown a complete free for all, though Munster also benefitted, with O’Donnell in particular developing an 80 minute habit of coming from the side and clearing men out.
If we switch to Leinster, a key part of the poor start to the season in the blue corner has been the lack of quick ball, leading to scrum halfs needing to go digging, and a thus a slow attack relying on big carriers like Ruddock, Heaslip and Cronin to create a hole.
Traditionally, against teams like Ospreys or Glasgow in particular, Leinster have suffered when teams have slowed them down and taken liberties at the ruck. Yet even this season, when Leinster have been at their best, against Scarlets in the RDS, again this ruck ball came quick and the old ‘golden metre’ was implemented. See here how Toner and Kirchner offer that silver platter ball to Boss.
On Sunday, despite not playing to their full ability, Leinster scraped a win, due in no small part to another venture ‘past the parcel’. For Fanning’s try, Heaslip makes quick ball and Toner and D’arcy commit two Wasps defenders by pushing past them, again dipping upwards in the ruck. This opens the door for the ginger winger to nip in.
For both sides, tricky tests await against better breakdown teams this weekend, but a combination of a continuation of this sort of rucking and an obliging man in black would certainly help.