Scottish coach lays down the law for Canes D

Last updated 05:00 03/07/2014
Clark Laidlaw
Robert Charles/Fairfax NZ
LAW CHANGE: Scottish coach Clark Laidlaw has adapted the Hurricanes' defensive strategy.

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Clark Laidlaw's message appears to be getting through.

The Scotsman started the year a bit like a maths teacher trying to convince a room full of uninterested students that algebra and geometry could be useful one day.

Laidlaw's fulltime coaching brief this season has been turning around the Hurricanes woeful defence without impacting on their natural aptitude for attack.

Saturday's 16-9 win over the Crusaders marked the second time this season that the Hurricanes have kept an opponent tryless, something that hadn't happened once over the past three years.

"We were all aware the Hurricanes loved to attack, so we had to find away to enthuse the players around wanting to defend," Laidlaw said ahead of Friday's crucial match against the Chiefs in Hamilton.

"We've had a [player] group that works together each week around [defensive] strategy. But also it's that we get excited about defending."

Laidlaw's philosophy is defence is a means to an attacking end, rather than simply a mechanism to stop the other team scoring.

"We don't want to be a team that just defends, but doesn't get the ball back. You will see in our defence it's built on trying to get the ball back so we can attack again," he said.

"It's not just trying to stop the opposition ... the players have been working together to get that mindset and attitude to defence.

"That it's not just soaking pressure up, it's getting the ball back so we can use our strengths, which has obviously been our attack."

Statistics confirm an upward trend. The Hurricanes are conceding 23.3 points per match this season, better than the Chiefs (25.2), Highlanders (26) and Blues (25.9), and second only in the New Zealand Conference to the Crusaders (21.5).

That's well down on Hammett's first three years in charge with 28.5 points per match conceded last season (ranked 12th), 26.8 in 2012 (10th), and 24.8 in 2011 (10th).

And crucially, the Hurricanes are not giving away as many kickable penalties.

"It was 11-9 for long periods of that second half, but apart from two penalties where the Crusaders took a quick tap and a scrum, we didn't give away those three points," Laidlaw said. "That's the sort of the things we're working on ... There aren't a lot of penalties there at the moment."

Again, statistics suggest the Hurricanes are doing OK in the discipline stakes.

Heading into last weekend's matches they have been conceding on average 10.2 penalties per match, second only in the New Zealand Conference to the Crusaders (9.3) and better than the Highlanders (10.6), Blues (10.5) and Chiefs (13.2).

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Laidlaw believes a positive mindset around defending takes some of the pressure off when the other side has the ball.

He also knows getting things right is even more crucial against the Chiefs, whose attack, particularly around the ruck, poses unique problems to a defensive system.

"They are the best in the competition at keeping the ball alive, they are the top team in the comp when it comes to offloads."

The Hurricanes thumped the Chiefs 45-8 at Westpac Stadium, but not before leaking a bunch of line breaks around the ruck in the first half.

Chiefs halfbacks August Pulu and Tawera Kerr-Barlow both like to draw in the first ruck defender and pop the ball into the gap they've created.

It's been a staple of the Chiefs defence for the past two seasons and even though well known to opponents remains difficult to stop when done well.

- The Dominion Post

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