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. 

The Sportscode output window showing key stats from the match. The most interesting being possession inside the opposition 22. More on this below:

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.

The Wallabies sitting deep waiting for territorial kicks that often didn't come.

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.

With the Wallabies often caught narrow, Wales showed a commitment to width, especially in transition.

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.

Davies with an effective 'sniper' read on Australia's attacking structure. Foley has his pass picked off.

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.

Australia didn't learn their lesson and Davies intercepted Genia's slow pass to score a decisive try right on half time.

Conclusion

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.