South Africa vs New Zealand: Diamonds make All Blacks better than the rest and … –

As pundits, we talk about their line speed, their vision, their understanding of the game, their ability to keep the ball moving. But the truth is actually much simpler. New Zealand have options because they set up their support runners in a way that allows them to decide what happens next.

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The power is with the attacking player, the one with the ball in their hands. It is almost as if they have worked backwards from the question: if you did not have to worry about where your support was coming from, what would you do? The answer is that all players would have a go; they would look for a gap, try to find space, dance a bit or run straight, weave, swerve, or even just put the hammer down and attempt to bulldoze their way through. In short, they would be freed up to attack and be direct.

Once you have that concept clear, all you have to do is create a system that ensures your runner is supported on both sides at all times and has the confidence to attack as they see fit. Should they get tackled or stopped, they can then pop the ball either left or right knowing that their teammates will be there to keep continuity going. Easy, and this where the diamond formation that the All Blacks run comes into its own.

The way they do it the runner with the ball forms the tip of a four point diamond. There are support runners left and right, with a final player bringing up the rear to create a flying baseball diamond shape. Using this structure of support, the attacking player can focus on breaking the gainline safe in the knowledge that both sides are covered. The ball can be moved, often without looking, into space because it will be picked up. Runners are coming.

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The All Blacks have become masters of this art, and it is something that their rivals in the Rugby Championship have been looking to emulate, often with spectacular, if less consistent, success. Lining up behind one another means that the shortest line from A to B, with B being the try Line, is straight ahead. Attack a player and move a defender one way, pop the ball up, the next attacker fills the gap, takes the pass and does the same. The team keeps going straight down the middle and the ball looks as if it is lighter than air, bobbing up and down the middle of the park.

The system is not necessarily new. Like all great rugby techniques it is an innovation and evolution of something that has been around for a very long time. I was coached a similar technique by Sir Ian McGeechan in 1997 on the Lions tour, and by Brian Ashton in 2002. Many readers will also remember the “truck and trailer” sessions they put in at their local clubs during training nights.

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The diamond is an improvement on that, giving players greater flexibility and allowing them to adapt and flow as the game develops around them. The key is in the set up. Ask a team of schoolkids in the UK or Ireland to set up a passing drill of four against two in a tight channel, and I am willing to bet that one of the kids will line up either on the left or right with their chums fanning out further in the direction the ball carrier has chosen. By doing this you will end up with a line that goes either right or left, and you will cede a lot of power to the defenders. They will know the way the ball is going, they will be able to measure their defence and marshal their game time.

Ask a Kiwi side to do the same drill, and I am also willing to bet that they will line up almost one behind the other, crocodile style. As they do this, they will be waiting for the attacker with the ball to decide which way they want to go, where they want to attack. When that decision has been made, the move started, only then will they split left and right, creating the diamond shape of support runners that gives the multiple options. When the ball moves again, the same happens over and over until either they score, or they run out of bodies or take contact. When that occurs, the diamond support runners, left, right and in-behind, smash the ruck or maul to ensure that the ball comes back, pressure is maintained and they look to go again.