TOKYO, 22 Sep - Almost all teams operate a pendulum defence with their back-three defenders – the two wingers and full-back. Typically the full-back stands in the middle of the pitch with the two wingers standing deeper than the defensive line, out towards their wings. When the attack moves the ball to the right, the winger on that side, the left-wing, will step into the line.
The full-back will move across to cover the left-wing and the right-wing will move into a central position. If the attack turns around and attacks the left-hand side, the back-three will slide. The right-wing will get into the line, the full-back will cover the right-wing and the left-wing will cover the middle of the pitch.
When the ball is kicked, the nearest defenders will converge so that even if a back-three player fails to catch the ball there is a second defender present to catch it or make the tackle.
Against South Africa, New Zealand had a deliberate plan to isolate the wingers. They wanted to kick the ball and win it back. They did not want to kick to Makazole Mapimpi or Cheslin Kolbe when they had space to catch the ball and run it back. As Kolbe demonstrated, he needed only a few centimetres to beat his opposite man.
One thing the All Blacks did was attack one way and then cut back quickly in the opposite direction to launch the kick. As the pendulum pulled the back-three over, it left the winger isolated on one side. The All Blacks could decide which of the two wings they wanted to target. If they felt they could isolate Kolbe against a larger player, like Ardie Savea, then they could move Savea out, attack away from the flanker, then switch back and kick towards Kolbe.
In the video above you can see how fly-half Richie Mo’unga, also pictured above, spots Mapimpi in the narrow defensive line. The winger, George Bridge, had just won a contested box kick on the nearside of the field and that pulled Mapimpi into midfield. Mo’unga sees the space and hits the perfect chip to give Sevu Reece a clean run on the outside.
When the try is scored it is Reece’s wing counterpart, Bridge, who crosses. One wing standing on the extremes of the pitch creates the opportunity for his fellow wing to score in the middle.
Bridge’s try changed the momentum of the game. After 19 minutes, Handre Pollard had a simple penalty attempt in front of the posts to reward early South African dominance. By the 27th minute, however, the score was 17-3 to the All Blacks and the game was pretty much done.
They had achieved that by kicking to compete in the air and kicking into a location where only their team-mates could get the ball. The challenge now is whether any nation they face in the next month can stop this tactic from being so effective.