Inside Line: What we can learn from how 100-point All Blacks thrashed USA

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Will Jordan - AFP
Will Jordan - AFP

On a weekend of sporting thrashings, when Liverpool trounced Manchester United 5-0 and Pakistan pumped India by 10 wickets in cricket’s 20-over World Cup, the All Blacks were in a ruthless mood at FedEx Field.

Because a money-spinning meeting against USA Eagles took place outside of World Rugby’s designated November window for internationals, the hosts could not field players from European clubs. That meant fly-half AJ MacGinty, who was injured anyway, scrum-half Ruben de Haas, try-scoring front-rower Joe Taufete’e and others were absent.

Despite selecting a number of fairly inexperienced internationals, New Zealand duly racked up 16 tries during a massacre that ended 104-14. Few meaningful conclusions could be drawn, as many have pointed out. But the All Blacks are historically severe when it comes to these mismatches.

They have now amassed a century of points four times in Test matches, passing 80 on 11 occasions. Saturday represented their 39th win by 50 points or more from a total of 607 Tests. By comparison, England boast 18 wins of 50 points or more from 758 Tests.

Sam Whitelock  - AP
Sam Whitelock - AP

Clearly, facing top Test sides is completely different. Still, how often do New Zealand pull away from elite opponents with a decisive try or a series of tries in a short blitz? It is rare that they are disrupted and dragged down to the level of inferior teams.

With that in mind, even though their win over USA was unfulfilling as a contest, some principles of New Zealand’s clinical attack can be translated to tighter games.

Anytime, anywhere, any way

This table details how each of the All Blacks’ try-scoring possessions started on Saturday:

And this one shows how many phases each try took to finish:

Hopefully this pitch map, showing the number of phases needed (P) and how the try-scoring possession started, marries those two things to demonstrate the versatility of their attacking exhibition:

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Rugby

Key: KO - kick-off or restart, KR - kick-return, TO - turnover, SC - scrum, LO - lineout, QT - quick tap penalty

New Zealand’s first try arrived from the kick-off, back-rower Luke Jacobson dotting down with precisely 29 seconds on the clock:

The key man is full-back Damian McKenzie, who picks off USA centre Bryce Campbell in midfield before flicking an offload to George Bridge.

This screenshot shows skipper Sam Whitelock preparing to catch Luke Carty’s kick-off. Note the starting positions of right wing Will Jordan and Jacobson as well as McKenzie:

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Rugby

After New Zealand have recycled Whitelock’s carry, the ball is moved to Richie Mo’unga. Jordan and scrum-half Finlay Christie are already anticipating a line-break.

Mo’unga’s deep pass, behind the decoy runs of Jacobson and Braydon Ennor, gives McKenzie a one-on-one against Campbell…

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Rugby

…and this goose-step underlines New Zealand’s willingness to attack from anywhere on the field at any time in the match as long as an opportunity is there. Watch how Bridge readjusts as well.

He starts to creep in-field but quickly responds to McKenzie’s ‘overs’ line by backing away towards the touchline:

According to Opta, the All Blacks completed 259 passes, including 18 offloads. Their average of just over three passes per ruck is huge. They only kicked six times, two of which were chips leading to tries.

That approach may well be unsustainable against more robust and organised defences. But ball movement stresses the best opponents and New Zealand honed those skills this weekend.

This offload from McKenzie to Bridge, after USA wing Ryan James has pressed up, comes just after the carrier has crossed the 22. It threads the needle and sends its recipient into the clear before Christie links up to feed Jacobson:

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Rugby

Because teams leave up to four players covering the back-field, restarts often bring chances to attack. Indeed, for a neat feeling of symmetry, the 16th and final try scored by New Zealand also arrived from a USA restart. Again, the speed and ambition of McKenzie cause the initial break:

Patterns – but only as a starting point

Jordan’s second-half try from a switch with hooker Dane Coles at the back of a lineout shows a first-phase move functioning nicely:

In phase-play, New Zealand kept a pod of three in a central position with certain forwards such as Hoskins Sotutu hanging wide. Here, in the second half, they are in a 2-3-2-1 shape.

Lock Tupou Vaa’i is part of the breakdown and Jacobson adopts the scrum-half role. He passes to Beauden Barrett behind a three-man pod of tight-five heavies, comprising Josh Lord, George Bower and Tyrel Lomax.

Beyond them are Sam Cane and Sotutu:

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Rugby

Then, as you can see when centre Quinn Tupaea fires away a wide pass, Coles is hugging the far touchline:

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Rugby

Crucially, though, New Zealand reacted sharply to unstructured situations that arose when their attack grew scruffy – which it often did.

Here, just after half-time, a pull-back pass from Ethan de Groot drops to the floor and Mo’unga bats it on to McKenzie.

Dalton Papili’i and Angus Ta’avao, initially part of a two-man midfield pod, swarm around McKenzie and flood through to fashion a try:

Structure can be helpful, but New Zealand know when to abandon it and have players that feel comfortable when the game breaks up.

Everyone alert

De Groot, the 23-year-old loosehead prop playing in his third Test, had been responsible for New Zealand’s second try:

He snaffles a ricochet, as USA hooker Dylan Fawsitt attempts to intercept Vaa’i’s long pass, to run in. De Groot makes this look easy. The reactions are impressive:

There were similar examples of sharp handling and anticipation throughout the game. Watch Ta’avao’s first try:

The tighthead prop is at the tail of this lineout as Whitelock secures the ball…

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Rugby

…and is tracking up-field even before Christie has released his pass:

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Rugby

After a hat-trick in Washington, Jordan boasts 15 tries in 10 Tests. But it was his relentless link play that really caught the eye.

Across the nine try-scoring attacks that the All Blacks put together in the first half, Jordan touched the ball 11 times. Only in two of those attacks did he not touch the ball, and on both of those occasions he was next to the try-scorer as they crossed the line.

Mo’unga’s try was borne out of a Sotutu breakdown turnover inside the All Blacks’ 22. Look who ghosts into the first-receiver slot before latching on to Braydon Ennor’s offload:

Moments later, Jordan is in midfield chasing Mo’unga’s chip:

An intelligent footballer with a balanced running style and deft handling skills, Jordan is a worthy successor to the great Ben Smith in New Zealand’s ranks. The 23-year-old also personifies the hunger that is bred by intense competition for places.

USA Eagles were hapless. But New Zealand put them to the sword mercilessly. Expect some of the habits on show to translate to upcoming matches against Wales, Italy, Ireland and France.

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