All Blacks lineout woes long forgotten
Once decried as a gaping weakness, the All Blacks reckon their lineout has transformed into a genuine weapon this year.
A change of approach has seen New Zealand get the better of their opponents’ lineout in most of their 13 Test victories this year.
The set piece was at its best in Saturday’s 30-22 win over England at Twickenham.
While the All Blacks cleanly won all 10 of their throw-ins, delivering slick two-handed ball to halfback Aaron Smith, England stuttered when the late heat was applied.
They lost three throw-ins under pressure which All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says was critical over the final quarter after trailing 22-20.
The improvement is particularly satisfying for Hansen, who oversaw the New Zealand lineout for several years as assistant coach to Graham Henry.
He was harshly criticised when it faltered – most notably against a Springboks pack led by spring-heeled lock Victor Matfield in 2009.
Hansen praised the work this season of two players who didn’t even start at Twickenham – backup locks Luke Romano and Jeremy Thrush.
Their job has been to analyse opposition lineouts, which has helped the All Blacks win an average of three opposition throws each Test this year.
“There is a change in philosophy that we really want to compete,” Hansen said.
“We probably know the opposition lineouts as well as our own so when we get out there, it becomes easy.
“What we’ve got good at is being able to read and adjust and still get in the air.”
Hansen says the loose forwards are more viable options this year, along with the locks.
No.8 Keiran Read has been their chief lineout winner, with 41. Lock Sam Whitelock isn’t far behind with 38, including a team-high five off opposition throws.
They were part of the Crusaders pack who boasted the best lineout in Super Rugby this year.