Wallabies defence coach Nick Scrivener likes to keep things simple.
In the modern, numbers-driven game, where GPS trackers and analysts heap upon coaches mounds upon mounds of data, Scrivener takes a pared-back approach.
“I was once told that the best defence tactic is to pick blokes who want to tackle,” he said. “We’ve been working hard on having a good appetite for it, being physical. We want guys who show commitment and aggression and work rate week to week.”
It has been a work in progress for the Wallabies, who conceded an average of 3.14 tries per game during the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup series. After last weekend’s much-criticised grinding 6-0 win, which was the third time Australia held a Test rival tryless under Ewen McKenzie, the Wallabies have their average down to 1.3 tries per game across the spring tour and the first two Tests against France.
McKenzie has targeted defence as a priority this year, meaning it is now Scrivener’s time to shine. Not that the former Edinburgh and ARU national academy coach sat at the back and watched while the All Blacks tore through Australia’s defence to score six tries in the first Bledisloe Cup match last year.
“I had a fair bit to say after a couple of those games in the Championship,” he said.
“We put ourselves in the position a lot of the time of trying to play too much, and we were ill-disciplined at times, there were a lot of turnovers against New Zealand and South Africa that put our defence under enormous stress. We got the balance better as we moved forward and we saw it start to come to the fore on the spring tour.”
Going on Scrivener’s broad-based selection mantra – have arms, love to tackle – this weekend’s third Test against France could be Rob Horne’s opportunity to stake a claim for ongoing selection. Horne has emerged from a few injury-plagued seasons in the form of his life for the Waratahs and will start on the bench at his home ground on Saturday.
He hasn’t played in a gold jersey since the Wallabies’ second Test against the British and Irish Lions last year but was named in McKenzie’s squad to play France and replaced an injured Pat McCabe on the bench this week. “Missing out on the initial [Rugby Championship] squad was message enough [from McKenzie], I went away and worked extremely hard,” Horne said. “I’m not feeling vulnerable in my body anymore … I feel like I can contribute throughout the whole game and I feel a lot better for it. This is the best I’ve felt, no doubt. The past two seasons I’ve really enjoyed my footy and that’s contributed to getting my fitness levels up and playing the way I want to play.”
With the series sewn up, the Wallabies are resisting the temptation to look ahead to the Bledisloe Cup, but Scrivener conceded it was good preparation. “[France] are good at set piece as well as all the bells and whistles, the offloads. They muscled up last week on us in attack and defence and that’s what you’re going to get against any team you play,” he said. “The All Blacks like to offload, South Africa have developed their game … It’s been a good test for us in terms of the style of game, to experience a game that was reasonably loose to a game we had to win in a different way. That’s going to stand you in good stead.”