Defence is about physicality, being systematic, maintaining your workrate, keeping your intensity, having good vision skills, and having the ability to cope at all times with any changes in the opposition’s attack. At Edinburgh Rugby, we want to instil a sense of pride in our defence and, though not there yet, I really believe we have made good progress.
For the most part as last season developed, our defence became attuned to our collective expectations so that the average number of tries we were conceding per match reduced from four to two.
At the beginning of this season we played Leicester first up. We matched them physically and only conceded one try. We then played Newcastle and we conceded only two tries, one of which stemmed from a maul. Against Munster we again only conceded two tries, one of which was from a maul. Essentially, our ability to sustain our defence was good.
Against Ospreys, however, as we know to our cost, the moment you have a high error rate the defence is going to struggle. You can have spacing, alignment, you can have width, great systems and physicality, but if your kicking game is messy, if your handling is error-ridden, if you do not appear to reflect where the action is occurring on the field, it will lead to incidents that put the defence under pressure.
For example, if a team kicks off to you and you drop the ball and give them a scrum which leads to a penalty, and they kick to the line and then maul and score, you can see the try origin was the initial knock-on. If you had received the kick-off properly and kicked the ball into the right area of the field, you would never have had to defend in that area.
So, what I’m basically saying is invisible defence is the ability to do the right thing in the first place so that you need to defend less and especially to defend less in the wrong parts of the field.
What I think is important when you’re focusing on the defence is giving players confidence by taking away the doubt. Knowledge and repetition go a long way to helping with confidence.
A player must have both knowledge of the system and physicality. One without the other is going to lead to defensive problems. What we’re trying to do is groom a team of guys who understand the defensive system, know what’s required of them, know how to analyse the opposition, how to cope with what the opposition’s threats are and are physical enough to maintain the workload and intensity for 80 minutes.
We were able to achieve all this in our friendlies and the games leading up to the Ospreys match. I thought we defended particularly well against the powerful Leicester and Munster teams. Unfortunately, we let our standards slip against unbeaten top of the league Ospreys.
We got back on the horse in the second half against Scarlets and defended really well. From my perspective as defence coach, it was only errors that led to their two tries. This exemplifies what I was saying earlier.
Going forward, what is important for us to understand is that consistency comes in executing the basics correctly every single time we play.
We need to stick to our systems both on defence and in our kicking game. Many teams have learned that failure to do so will cost you games.
Your kick execution, aerial skills and chase lines have a major impact on your defence. When they don’t function, you will more than likely give the opposition broken field opportunities to attack you and it is really hard to recover from that.
However, if your kicking game is on song, you will have field position and the opportunity to force a turnover or gain set-piece possession, from which you can launch an attack.
I believe we are making good progress and will continue to work hard to make improvements.
• Omar Mouneimne is assistant coach at Edinburgh Rugby.