Australia vs Wales: How Did the Welsh Make Their Possession Count?
Australia vs Wales: How Did the Welsh Make Their Possession Count?
Australia had won the five previous Rugby World Cup encounters between the sides prior to last night’s game, with the last Wales win coming in the first ever World Cup in 1987. Learn how Wales’ 29 – 25 win in Tokyo Stadium was a significant result in the context of the 2019 tournament.
Who turned field position into points?
The above Hudl Sportscode output window shows that only 8.5% of the game was played in the Wallabies 22m. This is in contrast to the 32% of action been spent in the Welsh 22m.
What is interesting though it that despite this, Wales registered 29 points, which is the highest Australia have conceded in a pool match in any World Cup,
The above statistic would suggest Gatland’s team were exceptionally clinical in turning field position into points. This is verified from the very first restart of the game where Wales counter ruck a poorly resourced Australian breakdown to turnover possession and 20 seconds later Dan Biggar slots the fastest drop goal in World Cup history. Wales would go on to kick a second drop goal later in the game through the boot of Rhys Patchell, and those six points proved crucial to the Welsh win.
Wales only made seven linebreaks in the Test match compared to twelve from Australia, which is relatively low number for a winning team. There was one area of their attack which was the catalyst to those seven linebreaks and compromised Australia’s defence repeatedly.
Width in Wales attack
Prior to the game, Australia would have anticipated Wales kick frequency to be high, but after the opening quarter Wales had only kicked the ball six times and two of these were attacking kicks in Australia’s half, one of which was the cross kick Hadleigh Parks latched onto for the opening Welsh try.
The below graphic illustrates the Wallabies holding three players in backfield preparing for a territorial Welsh kick. However, by over resourcing Australia’s backfield the Wallabies front line defence is then vulnerable to be attacked which is precisely what Wales elect to do on this occasion.
Parkes and right winger Josh Adams (circled) identify the run space and the ball is quickly shifted from right to left for Adams who makes a 40 metre break down the left touchline. Having had to scramble, the Wallabies immediately commit a breakdown infringement and are penalised by referee Romain Poite. This is an excellent example of Wales bucking the trend from potentially what Australia’s pre-match analysis had prepared them for.
In the below image is another demonstration of Wales width in attack profiting from a Wallabies kick. Wales’ attacking framework requires there to be a minimum of two attackers in the 15m channel and is predicated by a lot of off the ball work from its players In this instance, having just received a long kick from Australia, the highlighted player Justin Tipuric is retreating to the 15m channel by default to provide his team with width in their attack.
Parkes recognised that Australia’s defence is narrow with ten Wallabies defenders trapped inside the first post and steps up to first receiver. Whilst Tipuric is yet to be in position to receive possession, the expectation is that when the ball reaches the 15m channel he will be ready to go. This proves to be the case and the flanker provides the crucial extra number in attack for Wales to break down the left edge where Adams puts a kick through and causes Australia to scramble on their own try line.
Davies’ sniper role in the defensive line
What proved to be the game defining score of the game came just before half time. Wales scrumhalf Gareth Davies has been given licence by defence coach Shaun Edwards to operate as a ‘sniper’ in the Welsh defensive system. Essentially to look for intercepts like the one he scored from off a labored Will Genia pass.
Wallabies pre-game analysis would have prepared their players for this strategy and placed a restriction on any flat long passes as ball in airtime is precisely what Davies would be looking to exploit. However, it only took six minutes for the Welsh scrumhalf to expose exactly this scenario. In the below graphic Australia have set up two forwards outside of flyhalf Bernard Foley, with James O’Connor loaded in behind the forward pod as a second playmaker.
Davies has seen the cues that the Wallabies are likely to play to the forward pod so enters the defensive line directly opposite the forwards. Knowing that the scrumhalf is likely to shoot out of the line the recommended play would be the short transfer from Foley to the first forward, Isi Nasarani, who can then choose to carry, play a short pass to Tolu Latu or link out the back to O’Connor.
However, Foley plays into Davies’ hands, both metaphorically and literally, by playing the wide cut out pass directly to Latu which allows the scrumhalf enough time to intercept possession. Luckily for the Wallabies, O’Connor is in position to make the tackle on Davies immediately otherwise it would have been a try to Wales.
This most definitely should have been a warning sign for Australia to avoid any further wide flat passes to allow Davies to exploit. However, just before half time having just conceded three points through a Patchell penalty, Australia kick a short restart in an attempt to regain possession and set up their own scoring opportunity prior to the break.
The kick is accurate, and Adam Ashley-Cooper does exceptionally well to win back possession for his team. From the resulting wide area breakdown, Davies immediately inserts himself into the defensive line opposite Wallaby forward runners set off Will Genia.
Critically the Australian halfback lifts the ball and takes two steps before playing a wide and flat pass to the middle of the three forward runners. The combination of the two steps from Genia and the ball in airtime allowed the rapid Davies just enough time to make the impressive read from an onside position.
Using the Hudl Sportscode measurement tool and stopwatch Davies was able to cover 8.3 metres in 1.4 seconds to intercept the pass to score the try that gave Wales a 23 – 8 halftime lead.
For all of their territorial advantage, Australia were nowhere near as clinical as Wales in the attacking third. Wales had also clearly done their homework on the lack of width in the Wallabies defensive line and made several gains in the wider areas.
In the same vein, Australia were behind on their homework in terms of anticipating the Welsh would kick long, rather than keep the ball in hand more often.
However, the defensive effort of Wales must also be commended, making 183 tackles to Australia’s 92. (See Sportscode output window at the top of story).
Australia can point to the Kerevi penalty incident as a momentum turner, as it cost them three points in a crucial time in the match when Wales were under the pump, but Hooper’s decision to take a penalty when four points down late in the match instead of pressing for five points could be seen as an opportunity wasted to take the lead and change ultimate result.