Waratahs have superb ability to confuse defenders
March 6, 2014
The Whiteboard ... Brett McKay dissects key plays that may shape the Super Rugby tournament © Scrum.com
As far as starts to a Super Rugby game go, there haven't been too many better than how New South Wales Waratahs began their thumping of Queensland Reds in round three.
The game wasn't three minutes old when Israel Folau crossed for the first try of the night. And there'd been no real sign this interstate clash was about to be blown open like so few have in recent years. It had even started off like every previous garden-variety game: the Reds kicked off, the Waratahs kicked out of their own territory immediately, and the Reds worked a way back into the opposition half through the phases.
A Will Genia box kick went out on the full, though, and the Tahs began their own quest for metres into the Reds' half. The Reds then didn't roll away from a tackle, and the Waratahs lined up for set-piece ball just inside the Reds 22.
Still nothing to be concerned about just yet.
Stephen Hoiles won the lineout, and the first barnstorming Wycliff Palu run of the night served up quick, attacking phase ball for Nick Phipps. Even as Phipps went wide to his fly-half, Bernard Foley, the Reds' defensive line was well-formed and all the Tahs' runners looked well covered.
Or so we thought.
Foley ran slightly wider, straightening into the gap outside Reds captain James Horwil, before dummying to Adam Ashley-Cooper. Quade Cooper didn't really take the dummy, and the Reds fly-half could be seen motioning to his outside men to stay on the wider runners.
And herein began the problems for the Reds.
Bernard Foley's dummy to Adam Ashley-Cooper was key to the opening try by Israel Folau © Sky Sports / Fox Sports (Image Supplied)
Ashley-Cooper's run began from outside Cooper, but he was straightening his run to engage Cooper properly as Foley dummied the pass to him; this proved to be a crucial component in the play.
Whether dues to a lack of communication, or misheard communication, or even a lack of trust in Cooper's defensive abilities in the situation, Reds centre Anthony Fainga'a found himself on his heels before moving to the inside to cover Ashley-Cooper's run. This had the effect of putting Kurtley Beale on the outside of Fainga'a, and Foley was able to find Beale with a beautiful face pass.
Typically, the line Beale ran is used as the decoy with the dummy going to him and the pass going to the second-man runner - which in this instance was Ashley-Cooper. This could still have been an option for Foley, had Fainga'a stayed out on Beale, and had Cooper not fully covered Ashley-Cooper on the inside. But with Fainga'a caught in two minds and drifting in despite Cooper motioning for him to stay wide, Ashley-Cooper became the decoy, as the pass found Beale on the outside, as the still above shows so clearly. Fainga'a ended up tackling no-one.
The pass arriving when and where it did put Beale through the half-gap in an instant, and with the Reds' outside centre, Ben Tapuai, forced to come in to close down Beale, even more space opened on the outside for Israel Folau to drive the proverbial bus through. Lachie Turner couldn't get near his former team-mate, and Will Genia at the back had no chance of stopping Folau once the fullback was into the open territory.
The other major problem for the Reds was that fullback Aidan Toua was marking up way out wide near Turner, which meant that he was in no-man's land, and no chance of offering any last-line assistance, by the time the break by Folau was made.
The Waratahs were far too good for the Reds (video available only in Australia)
Waratahs winger Peter Betham made mention in the Sydney press this week that, with so much opposition focus on the likes of Foley, Beale, and Folau, it's possible to disappear in the eyes of the defenders and pop up in open space. Certainly in this instance, Fainga'a's misread on Ashley-Cooper meant that Folau indeed "reappeared" in space once the Reds had adjusted to cover the mistake. Turner's reaction out wider was one of "uh-oh" as he scrambled back in towards Folau.
And this is something the Waratahs will no doubt keep up their sleeve for the coming weeks.
A simple switch of where Beale and Ashley-Cooper run in this play could open the prospect of Beale from the second-man position essentially restarting the same play - with Folau becoming the new decoy runner dragging the wide defenders in as well. Then a wider pass behind Folau as the new decoy might find either of the Waratahs wingers with nothing but open space and a free run to the line.
Plays like this rarely come off in games as well as they do at training (or on the whiteboard, for that matter), but this new-found ability of the Tahs to confuse defenders so effectively means we should expect to see this play more often from them in coming weeks.
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