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LONDON: It’s the gridiron-style tactic from Michael Cheika’s bag of tricks that has got the World Cup talking and it looms as a Wallabies weapon for the final.
The Wallabies will use their kick-off set-up against New Zealand in the World Cup final to ensure they are in the right mental frame for the trans-Tasman contest. The men in gold have mastered Cheika’s innovative restart, more familiar with the NFL than rugby union, to better challenge for possession at every opportunity.
That means lining up 10 metres behind halfway and hitting full speed by the time five-eighth Bernard Foley launches the ball into the air. Cheika used the same move at the NSW Waratahs to instil a new mentality from kick-offs, and winger Drew Mitchell said it was the “trigger” to be ready for action.
Instead of ambling down the field, wingers Mitchell and Adam Ashley-Cooper fly through the pack and attempt to leap above opposition players to pinch the ball, or at least put on extra pressure. “It’s one of those things where it can become a real tool,” Mitchell said.
“If you can put pressure on the receipt, or the kicker or wherever it may be then you may get a better outcome. For us it’s more of a trigger of a mindset thing than anything. If we’re starting on the 10-metre line and we don’t put in a hard chase then we’re even further off. It’s a good way for us to trigger the mind and say, ‘OK, we’re on here’ … really show our intent.”
There’s a method behind Cheika’s madness. He introduced the kick-off technique to the Wallabies when he took over the top job last year and said: “It’s symbolic, we’re prepared to run 10 metres to gain 20 centimetres at the other end if that’s what it takes.”
New Zealand kicker Dan Carter is an expert at giving his teammates plenty of time to chase through the kick-off and win back possession. It’s an area of the game that can often be neglected. But Wallabies five-eighth Foley said had poured hours of work into their restarts to make them a weapon instead of simply handing the opposition the ball.
“Those kicks we have worked on to maximise hang time and make them land where we want them to, and on players we think are maybe vulnerable,” Foley said. “We have a whole calling structure where we identify where the best place is to kick, and where [opponents] may be uneasy kicking out of. That’s a good mentality for us to be able to try and put them under pressure.”