Hi guys. So we at the end of a Super Rugby season that go on longer than when my wife tell the story about how she buy the wrong size of a dress at the shop and then take it back to swap it but she don’t have the slip so there is a argument and they must call the manager but they do not have her size and so she ask for money back but they will only give her credit in the shop.
But it is all worth it because here we are with our wonderful Lions in their third straight final!
All the talk is how the Lions must defend against the Crusaders, but I think a much bigger problem is how the Lions can attack. Because simply, the Crusaders has one of the most effective and choking defence systems we have seen.
If you think a good attack can simply break them down then just ask guys like Perenara, Barrett, Milner-Skudder, Savea, Lam and Laumape who smash their heads against the red wall for 80 minutes. No my friend, it is like a Test defence. Twinkling toes and sexy shoes mean nothing here. You must have another plan.
Look at the picture above. It is the 7th phase of Hurricanes throwing everything at the Crusaders but they still in perfect organisation with numbers up and the cover for Barrett’s cross-kick.
What do the Crusaders do? They use their numbers to be aggressive, and to shut you down in every area. They will be at the rucks, they will smash you inside, they will rush you in the midfield, they will catch you on the outside, and they will cover your kicks. It is like they have 18 men on the field.
How do they do it? Firstly because of the physicality and excellence of their players in one-on-one tackles. Then because of their organisation, incredibly high work-rate, and finally their anticipation of play.
So what can the Lions do?
For me it is a mix of firstly being pragmatic, but then also seeing the opportunities. No defence is perfect, every defence must make a compromise. More on that later…
Work The Body
As we see above on some few occasions when the Hurricanes played tighter they create some fractures in the Crusaders lines. The Lions must do the same and wait to only play off quick ball. They must not try to be fancy if the Crusaders defence is on the front foot because they will be shut down and get into big trouble.
Like a boxer, the Lions must work the body first. They must play with tempo and power in the closer channels, protect the ball, recycle cleanly, and test the defence on both sides of the ruck. If you can win the gainline then the Crusaders can not come out of the blocks so fast, and then you can go wider and play on your terms. And the Crusaders likes to spread their men out, so give them a blood nose inside, disrupt them and make them come narrower.
The Lions must maul, maul and maul again. I am not convince that the Crusaders maul defence is the best, and I am suspecting they will give away penalties here, as we see above in the first two minutes when Whitelock illegally sack the Canes after a lineout. I think it is part of their preference to be aggressive, and for me it is a red flag and something the Lions must absolutely exploit. Make them do something they do not want to do, and tie up their forwards.
Play Against The Grain
The Crusaders is sometimes vulnerable to plays that come back inside. They like to be aggressive, so what can happen is that the rushing wave lose connection with the inside defenders and a chink appear between the two groups.
But the interesting thing is that when the Crusaders is drifting and not rushing they also sometimes show a weakness. It is almost as if the aggressive mindset is still present and they do not always follow the rules of drifting properly. They do not keep a proper connection, and they also turn their shoulders too much inside when they tracking the attacking players.
The Lions has two centres in Vorster and Mapoe who is particularly good at exploiting this kind of mistakes. They both run great lines and in Elton they have a 10 who can put them away. But as I say, they must first get that front-foot ball to play off!
One reason the Crusaders seems to have so many men on the field is because they anticipate play so well and get numbers to where the action will be. But that can sometimes mean they leave rucks too early as we see above, or they fold too many defenders too early before the ball actually come out.
Either way the Lions must always check at the last moment to see if the Crusaders is abandoning their posts, and then to get into the space fast with support. Ross Cronje in particular must be awake to breaks around the ruck, and also to change the direction of the attack if the Crusaders overload to one side too early.
Anyway guys, let us see what will happen. It will be about playing tight and smart, kicking well, playing for territory and putting pressure on the Crusaders lineout. And then maybe the small margins I mention above can come into play.
Enjoy the game!
DISCLAIMER: English is Oom’s third language, after Rugby and Afrikaans.