Coach: Disciplined defence key

2007-07-31 13:08

Sydney - Wallabies defence coach John Muggleton has predicted that the most disciplined defensive team will win the Rugby World Cup in France in September and October.

Muggleton was the architect of the Wallabies' successful defensive strategy at the 1999 World Cup, when they conceded only one try.

Then, it was enough to effectively stop their rivals' attacks, but that will not be the case in Paris.

"Defence will be extremely important," Muggleton said. "The best defensive sides will be the sides in the semi-finals.

"Scoring is at a premium. You saw the other day. The All Blacks scored an iffy try, we didn't score a try and the rest were penalty goals. What will be really important will be discipline in defence, in this World Cup.

"Whereas defence in the past two World Cups has been the key, it will be discipline in defence this time, which will be huge.

"Who can do it for 80 minutes? Who can not give away silly penalties and penalty goals - because penalty goals are going to win this World Cup. We need our players to be disciplined, as well as to be effective."

Australia's defence has changed dramatically since Muggleton pioneered ideas from rugby league in the late 1990s.

The biggest difference was the emphasis on defending against attack from turnover ball, which has been a significant trend in world rugby in recent years.

Quickly

"Defence has changed completely because the game has changed completely," Muggleton said. 'It is more about unstructured play now. Most tries are scored from unstructured play - turnovers, kick-returns. It has actually become a game where people really take the risk in attack, when they know the defence is not set.

"The emphasis now is how to go from attack to defence and doing that quickly. If you do lose the ball, what do you do, if they have the numbers?"

Australia's defensive rules at turnover are similar to transition defence in basketball, a game in which possession changes often.

"You've got to get them to waste space," Muggleton said. "You've got to make them pass the ball. You've got to make them play away from the scoring zone, while you get organised.

So what we do is actually back off and hope they'll pass the ball towards the sideline, use up passes and use up men so we end up with even numbers and we'll close it down.

"In the past, we've tried to run up and shut it down straight away and that's where you are disjointed in defence and they can find holes, draw a man and pass. They use up very few numbers, but they have an overlap so they score in the corner.

"Now we back off and let them play. We try and let them use up their advantage, shut them down eventually and try on the next phase to regain control."

Philosophy employed

Western Force and former All Blacks coach John Mitchell has stated that the missing link in the Wallabies' game is an ability to score tries from turnovers.

Of the 20 tries Australia have scored in 2007, only two have been from unstructured play. But Muggleton said the Wallabies had incorporated elements of the "offensive defence" philosophy employed by the All Blacks and Springboks.

"We've always had that emphasis when we've had slow ball from the opposition or we've had superior numbers or we've got them on a sideline," Muggleton said. "We have a call where we increase our line-speed, cut the field in half and really get stuck into them. We try to be effective first, aggressive second.

"If we can get a good hit, we'll get on that ball straight away and we'll turn that over. That's fine, but we don't try for that every time. The conditions have to be right for that to happen."

A feature of the Wallabies' recent defence has been an increase in speed off the line, which was also used effectively by the Brumbies in the Super 14 series.

"It's really personnel-based at this stage because George (Gregan) is so strong - George can fly at a bloke and make the tackle," Muggleton said. "Whether another halfback can do that, we'll see. You don't have to, at this stage, because George is there and he's playing well. It's a little bit more aggressive, but also smarter in that it's not done every time.

"You can't just rush at people and expect to come away with a good result every time.

"The key with that is getting everyone to know when it's on and when it's not on.

"It's coming along. I like to standardise things so everyone can do them. At the moment, the defence is a bit George Gregan-style defence, so we've got to work on that and make sure we can do it, no matter who is there."

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