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# Basic Skills
Analysis: Retallick epitomises why All Blacks are best in the world
The 24-year-old second row has already been named the best individual player in the game.

HE’S STILL ONLY 24, but Brodie Retallick has already been capped 35 times by the All Blacks and was named World Player of the Year in 2014.

The very real prospect of the Rangiora man continuing to improve beyond his current level is a thrilling one for New Zealand and frightening for the rest of the rugby world.

Brodie Retallick Billy Stickland / INPHO Retallick helped to break Irish hearts in 2013. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Retallick looks certain to be one of the stars of this year’s World Cup in England as his form picks up with every game he plays. Tomorrow’s Rugby Championship clash against South Africa in Johannesburg will be the latest test on the path towards his peak, but there were typical markers of his quality last weekend against Argentina.


One of the things that ensures the All Blacks remain the best team in the world is their basic passing and handling skills. Steve Hansen’s side invariably have 15 players on the pitch who are entirely comfortable at catching and passing under pressure.

There is no room for forwards who can’t put a teammate into a hole in this Kiwi team; it’s non-negotiable and it’s one of the major reasons they constantly threaten the defence.

Retallick epitomises the All Blacks’ handling prowess, whereas some international locks are uncomfortable when asked to shift the ball accurately. Underlining the point is the fact that Retallick passed the ball almost twice as often as he carried it into contact against Argentina.

It was a similar story with five of his fellow All Blacks forwards, while three others in the matchday squad had equal pass/carry ratios. In contrast, only two of the 25 forwards involved in the Australia vs. South Africa meeting last weekend passed the ball more often than they carried.

Each team has a different tactical approach, of course, but Retallick is the perfect illustration of why New Zealand can attack in such a rounded fashion.

Tip On

While he does carry the ball well himself, the towering lock is synonymous with the ‘tip-on’ pass, which he shows off in the clip above.

Retallick is consistently looking for players running off him (as they invariably are) and delivers late passes close to the gainline that pose a different question to the defenders than a straightforward carry would.

A lock certainly needs to be able to provide effective carries, but that same player possessing passing skills opens up a whole range of possibilities.

Catch Pass

Above, we see a catch and pass in midfield that any centre would be proud of. It allows New Zealand to attack the space on the outside edge of the Argentina defence, whereas other teams might have had to use Retallick and Jerome Kaino as carriers in this scenario.

It’s technically superb from Retallick, who has his hands up and body open to accept the pass from Dan Carter in the still image below.

Catch Pass .1

Retallick moves the ball swiftly across his body in a clean, smooth motion and finishes the movement with his hands pointing at his target.

Catch Pass .2

Post-pass, Retallick isn’t falling away back down the pitch, admiring the beauty of the spiralling ball. Instead, he’s moved onto the prospect of his next job, staying alive after the pass and continuing this run upfield.

Catch Pass .3

As if to highlight exactly how much he brings to the Kiwis’ attack, Retallick gets back on the ball in a distributing role on the very next phase, after Sonny Bill Williams and Ma’a Nonu have been freed to make big yards in that space wide on the left.

This time it’s a shorter catch and pass from the lock, but it’s equally as impressive.

Catch:Pass 1 Phase Later

The All Blacks often use Retallick in the role as the link passer between scrum-half and an inside back, with the second row passing the ball behind one or more decoy-running forward players.

It’s a shape used by almost every professional team in the world and one that most will be very familiar with, but again Retallick is generally very sharp in this area too.

Head up

Aside from the actual technical strength of his passing, built up through repeated practice and good coaching, Retallick’s ability to actually look up during games is what makes him a good distributor.

There are many tactical geniuses among the ranks of international forwards, but similarly there are the those who simply go from collision to collision while leaving the thinking to their on-pitch gameplan leaders.

Again, the All Blacks basically have 15 of those, Retallick being one of them. While the likes of Dan Carter do boss their teammates around the park, the 24-year-old lock rarely needs to be told where to go next or when to release the ball.

We get a decent illustration of Retallick’s brains in the video above, after New Zealand have shifted the ball wide to the left. The second row is close to the bottom of the screen as the video begins, tracking the ball to that wide channel.

As Charles Piutau heads into contact, Retallick is already thinking about what comes next, slowing his run as he recognises that New Zealand have enough supporting bodies to resource the ruck that is going to ensue.

Brains .1

Retallick is already on the next phase of play in his head, setting himself up to act as first receiver, appreciating that New Zealand’s pattern needs a forward to accept the ball from the scrum-half in this situation.

After taking the ball, he’s got his head up for a quick glance to calculate whether his own carry or a tip-on pass will result in more gainline and more momentum for his team. On goes that pass again.

To seal the deal on a really excellent few seconds, the lock hammers into the ruck and clears an Argentinian body a couple of metres past the tackle point, completely removing him from the game and helping to ensure quick possession.

Brains .3

Retallick’s huge work-rate, which is driven by his outstanding levels of fitness, allow him these multi-action, effective involvements even after he has covered lots of ground to get into position.

Indeed, his rucking is a major strength of his game.

Clearing bodies

It goes without saying the above really; Hansen’s men are well renowned as the best rucking team in the world. Retallick is a leader in this field too, despite the gangly frame that could have made him an awkward presence.


Above we see him clear Marcos Ayerza away after the Pumas prop has assisted in the tackle on Nonu. Retallick always brings that nice edge of aggression to his clear-outs and we get a demonstration of a style that he’s particularly effective with here.

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Just as he drops down towards Ayerza, the intention being to roll the prop’s body away from and beyond the ball, Retallick dips his body weight towards his right shoulder, tucking his arm into his body as he does so.

That allows him to smash into Ayerza with that right shoulder and a huge amount of force behind it. The alternative might be to attempt to lever the Argentinian up and away with his arms, a process that would leave him unable to use his momentum in the most ideal fashion.

Retallick possesses the whole range of tricks when it comes to ruck time, however, and generally selects the perfect option.

Pop, Ruck

After another of his tip-on passes above, Retallick recognises swiftly that he’s not in a strong position to clear Pumas back row Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe towards his the visitors’ tryline.

Instead, he adapts in an instant and wraps in underneath the Toulon man’s shoulders, pulling him towards New Zealand’s line. Not ideal perhaps, but it ensures that the threat of Lobbe is removed and the ball is available for scrum-half TJ Perenara to play.


Defensively, Retallick is extremely strong around the fringes of the ruck, more often than not being somewhere near the top of the tackle charts, both in terms of raw numbers and in regard to the quality of his hits.

Narrow Hits

He regularly flirts with the offside line in his eagerness to ensure the opposition carriers don’t make it over the gainline, and that allows him to power into tackles and win the collisions.

Whatever about a lock’s passing range, rugby is also a combat at its very core. If second rows aren’t winning these contests, then the team suffers greatly. The above is a combined hit with Luke Romano; the All Blacks locks delivering in tandem.


When the opposition looks to kick the ball, Retallick is usually sniffing around for a blockdown, although Kieran Read is almost always on the same scent. This application of pressure is key to the All Blacks’ success; even when they’re not getting a hand to the ball, they’re close.

Retallick is constantly alert, tuned into the possibility of an opposition error, living the game in every moment. That concentration is a genuine skill too.


Above, the ball breaks loose after Richie McCaw causes havoc in the ruck and Retallick reacts in a flash, forcing Tomas Cubelli into a panicked pass attempt. From there, Read takes up the mantle to run onto the ball and score.


That Retallick offers all these skills around the pitch is what makes him so complete a player, not just a second row. We have not dwelt on his set-piece work, but he invariably competes well on the opposition throw and delivers clean ball from the New Zealand lineout.

At scrum time, he has overcome his long frame to offer real solidity in the loosehead lock position. The partial removal of the ‘hit’ from the scrum in recent years has only accentuated the importance of the second rows, and Retallick has responded by working hard to keep himself nice and low behind his loosehead props, using his impressive fitness to deliver real power.

The big work-on for Retallick and his fellow forwards from last weekend is their much-highlighted maul defence. We can be sure that the 24-year-old has put in the hours to ensure that the All Blacks will suffer less in that department.

Up against the bruising pair of Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager, Retallick will be keen to stamp his authority on this game. An enthralling second-row battle awaits, but Retallick usually has that little bit extra.

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