Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Analysis: What Worked, What Didn't In San Francisco Against Sacramento

Photo: David Barpal
By Derek Sagehorn

On Sunday Sacramento won their first match by disrupting San Francisco’s lineouts, scrums and rucks. When I spoke to San Francisco coach Paul Keeler after the game, he highlighted Sacramento’s ability to cause havoc in the loose. In addition, he mentioned that he felt his players sometimes played out of pattern at times, trying to “do too much.”

When the System Works

San Francisco did really well when the executed the simple stuff. For example, here is a lineout ball for SF at the 10 meter mark of Sacramento—a good attacking position. SF wins possession, something they had been struggling with for much of the first half, and pushes the ball to the backs.
What flyhalf Volney Rouse and center Martini Talapusi do here is a simple “unders” that is well-executed.

Take the jump to read more.
Rouse takes the ball forward to challenge the defense in front of him. At the same time Talapusi is running a straight line towards the defense. Rouse steps inside and forces Sacramento flyhalf Harry Bennett to slow down prepare for a cutback. At this moment, Talapusi steps off his right foot and angles back towards Bennett’s outside shoulder.

Rouse and Talapusi have targeted Bennett and created a 2-on-1 in the middle of a prepared defensive line. Because Bennett has softened his line speed in anticipation of Rouse cutting back, he is not in a position to make a positive tackle on Talapusi. Rouse simply gives his center a soft pass and Talapusi breaks Bennett’s weak tackle.

Talapusi now angles towards the fullback and draws in two other defenders in pursuit. Notice the two attackers on their feet behind him ready to support him if he takes the tackle or looks for an off-load. Talapusi does well to drive into the contact and create separation, which allows him to make an easy pass from the deck to Rouse.

Because Talapusi has dragged the wing and another defender away from the left side, Rouse sees undefended space and heads for it. Try time (EDIT: Derek forgot to say TRY TIME!!!) San Francisco.

When Systems Breakdown

San Francisco did well in first, second and even third phase ball on Sunday. But they often broke down on fifth and later phases. On this possession in the first half, San Francisco has worked the left side of the field for several phases. They’ve used their centers and forwards to put Sacramento on the back foot. Having worked the blind for several phases, Michael Reid ships the ball to Rouse standing on the open, right-hand side.

Take a look at the numbers and you’ll see that Sacramento has the advantage. There are more Sacramento men on their feet ready to defend than there are San Francisco attackers. In this situation a long cut out pass to the wing is not a high probability play. A better use of this ball would have been to use big man Siupeli Sakalia just inside of the wing. Or even a kick for the corner. Instead Rouse throws a cut out pass to wing Michael Haley.

Haley doesn’t get a particularly good ball, but does well to make the first defender miss. Unfortunately Sacramento captain and fetcher John Quill is in the vicinity (circled in red). If there is someone you don’t want to be around when isolated, it is John Quill. After Haley is tackled, Quill gets over the top quickly. There isn’t much for the wing to do without support and he concedes a penalty for holding on in the tackle.

This possession had some promise and go forward. Unfortunately, neither of the San Francisco halfbacks identified the mismatch. It’s doubtful that this kind of play is in coach Keeler’s pattern. These, however, are the mistakes that new teams often struggle with early.   

Sacramento Capitalizes on Opportunity

For their part, Sacramento did a great job of sniffing out turnover opportunities and taking advantage of a defense in transition. When there is a turnover, rugby coaches sometimes ask that their teams make “two passes” immediately to find space. This is because a defense in transition is often unorganized. Moreover, there tends to be space in the backs, away from the site of turnover at the ruck or tackle area, for the attacking team to exploit.

For example, here San Francisco has a scrum in an excellent attacking position: in front of the posts on Sacramento’s 22. The backs are split, expecting second phase ball after an eight man pick to the right side.

Unfortunately, the San Francisco ball carrier mishandles the ball in contact and is tackled behind his own scrum. His support has to work hard to get behind him to secure possession. The Sacramento defender gets over the ball quickly and poaches it.

San Francisco are now in a bad position defensively. The majority of their backs are on the far left side and there are only a couple of defenders in front of the ball. Sacramento quickly produces the ball for Harry Bennett, who has taken a look downfield and can’t find anyone covering the kick.

Bennett puts the ball down the left sideline on a nicely weighted kick. This bit of opportunism and good decision-making allows Garrett Bender to make an athletic, one-handed pickup of the football at full-pace, and score a fantastic try.

Putting It All Together

With Sacramento making a second-half comeback, San Francisco were chasing the game at the 79 minute mark 30-25. San Francisco had several promising attacks end with knock-ons. On this particular play, San Francisco knocks on ten meters from the try line. Sacramento recovers and Bennett places a deep kick towards San Francisco’s corner.

Fullback Jake Anderson has covered the kick well here. But he has a decision to make. He is isolated in his own half. If this were minute 60 or even minute 70, he would likely kick the ball back and chase. But San Francisco wants to keep the ball in hand in order to score a try and tie. Anderson has a teammate on the other side of the field, the guy with his hand up waving. He’s asking his teammate to make a 35 meter pass while isolated in his own half. He’d probably do better to run towards Anderson and look for a shorter pass. Anderson is going to have to run it back himself and link up with his pack.

As Anderson runs towards the center of the field, there are several players that could have taken the ball off of him. Anderson backs himself instead. Unfortunately, those players don’t follow him in support. Anderson is tackled and isolated.

A Sacramento player quickly gets over the top and poaches the ball from Anderson. Now Sacramento is sniffing for an opportunity to put this game out of reach.

There are five Sacramento players on their feet on the left side of the ruck, with two more on the way. San Francisco has three players on their feet and they don’t look like they are ready to play defense. In fact, most of the other players on the bottom of the screen are looking for the next offensive rumble. The Sacramento halfback (Chris Saint I believe) senses the opportunity and inserts in the line.

From here it’s a simple overload that Sacramento exploits as Ryan Koewler goes over for the game-clinching score.

Sacramento did well to disrupt San Francisco in all phases of the game, but their ability to turn the ball over quickly and move it away stood out on film. San Francisco, showed flashes of brilliance, but will be working on sticking to pattern for their game against Denver this weekend. 

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