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Analysis: Aaron Smith's passing masterclass picks Ireland apart

Murray Kinsella breaks down Saturday’s performance by the best passer in world rugby.

Smith was the All Blacks' heartbeat on Saturday.
Smith was the All Blacks' heartbeat on Saturday.
Image: Andrew Cornaga

Updated Jul 4th 2022, 12:00 PM

This analysis by Murray Kinsella is available in full exclusively to The42 Members.

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IT HAS ALWAYS been useful to this New Zealand team to be able to call on the best passer in world rugby. 

You could be forgiven for thinking that the difference in quality between the leading scrum-halves should be minimal given how much time they all spend working on their passing, but Aaron Smith is the clear number one in this area of the game. His passing borders on art at times.

Yesterday was a reminder of Smith’s sublime skills as the 33-year-old All Blacks halfback delivered a sensational performance in which he was his side’s true heartbeat.

In their first Test win, the All Blacks attack cleverly tested the Irish defence by harnessing Smith’s passing range, accuracy, and power.

Let’s take Ardie Savea’s second try as an example of what Smith brought.

AB1

It seems simple enough from Smith and in many ways it is. But the accuracy and speed of his pass helps Savea to exploit the Irish defence here, beating a poor tackle attempt from Garry Ringrose.

The All Blacks have a three-man pod of forwards coming around the corner here, made up of Ofa Tu’ungafasi [yellow below], Brodie Retallick [red], and Savea [blue].

AB2

As is standard, Beauden Barrett [green above] is loaded in behind the 3-pod to take a possible link pass from one of the forwards.

The obvious passing target for Smith here is Retallick in the middle of the 3-pod. We see this repeatedly across all of pro rugby, with that middle forward then either carrying, tipping-on a pass to the forward outside him, tipping-in a pass to the forward inside him, or swivelling to play a link pass to the back connected in behind.

The All Blacks’ subtle variation is to pass to the forward at the edge of the 3-pod, so Savea in this instance.

Some of you might remember an edition of this newsletter where we discussed a similar trait in the Lions’ attack early on in the 2021 tour, although they never quite followed through with that wrinkle in their attack shape.

This wider pass would generally mean the ball being in the air for longer, giving the defence time to react, but Smith’s speed and accuracy negates that potential drawback.

AB3

We can see from these clips how Smith’s pass catches Ireland slightly unaware. It’s clear that their defenders are initially expecting the ball to go to Retallick, who shows typically excellent animation with his hands up to receive a pass from Smith.

AB4

Retallick is a genuine option for Smith here, of course, but this is the third phase of an All Blacks lineout attack so it seems very clear that there is a real design element to his pass.

Smith’s excellent pass allows the All Blacks to get at the fifth Irish defender off the ruck, Ringrose. It’s a moment the outside centre would love to get a chance to go through again.

AB5

In the shot above, we can see that Ringrose has briefly sat back onto his heels…

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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