In the original ‘Anatomy of a feint’ article, we looked at Liam Williams’ sidestep on Kieran Read in the first Lions’ test earlier this summer. At the time of writing, I was unaware of just how important that feint would be. Although in defeat, it not only brought about a galvanising try, but also revealed the mighty All Blacks to be fallible. So much of the summer’s tour was about the Lions believing that they were up to the task. The way Williams bypassed Read, with such fluid, almost nonchalant, ease was an edifying signal. One from which, I believe, so much subsequent tour success grew.
Today’s example is not so seminal. But nevertheless, it is a gleeful study. It comes from round seven of England’s Aviva Premiership and from a player whom, in my opinion, is the most elusive and enchanting runner in the league. It is an audacious piece of skill and one which showcases a supreme athlete in astonishing control of his body. The try won many plaudits, but rather than focus on the act of scoring, I just want to look at the middle of three sidesteps. There is a lot to admire.
This first wide shot gives a good idea as to where Telusa Veainu (in white) is, and what he has in front of him. The ball has been worked wide; good off the ball running and quick handling has pulled in the Newcastle midfield (bottom left). Veainu receives the ball on a lovely drift to the outside shoulder of the onrushing defender (Sinoti Sinoti – nearest to him in shot). It is important to note how wide Veainu’s teammate, winger Nick Malouf, is standing (far right of shot). This really helps Veainu to set up his subsequent mark (Alex Tait), who is positioned highest in shot (just in front of the yellow corner flag). In the picture below, I believe Veainu already has in mind what he is going to do, and he is given the idea by Tait and Malouf’s positioning as he receives the ball.
Having made it past Sinoti (this was a sidestep of sorts), Veainu advances into the space behind him. The straight running here is crucial as he needs to draw Tait in field. The photo below shows the mark (Tait) stepping off his left foot, beginning to be drawn in.
We are not far away from the crucial split second in which this sidestep occurs. The speed of Veainu is impressive and the alacrity with which he carries out this move is perhaps its most alluring feature. If you haven’t already, I suggest you watch the clip at full speed. In the frame below, you can see that Tait is now committed to Veainu; his shoulders and feet are directed at the Leicester fullback. The Tiger has Tait exactly where he wants him.
The frame below is the reveal. The previous second (and that is all it was) has been about Veainu trying to convince Tait that he was headed down a particular path. Now he reveals his true intention. It is too late for Tait. His bodyweight is committed (as you can see in the shot) and Veainu’s balance and strength is about to make the Falcon look a bit silly. Veainu has executed this perfectly; the timing is exquisite.
This next frame is wonderful. The angles and lines of each body working almost as one. Look at Veainu’s right foot and how it is pointing through Tait’s legs. Really, he is making this sidestep off the wrong foot. To move left to right, as he is doing, you would normally see players moving off their left foot. He is using the inside of his right leg to generate the shift in direction. The torque running through that leg (especially the knee and ankle) must be formidable. The fact this is also done on Kingston Park’s plastic pitch is also noteworthy. There is sufficient give in these pitches to create the purchase Veainu needs.
Once the left leg joins in, this sidestep looks almost routine. It appears as though Tait is to blame having over committed. But this is not the case; Veainu’s ability to change direction at such high speed creates the miss and illusion of fault.
The distance by which Veainu beats Tait is impressive. The Newcastle fullback, like Read in the summer, is the unfortunate stooge and the frames below capture just how daft he is feeling. His shoulders stoop, his eyes close, his face drops turfward.
In this shot, he looks almost comedic; incongruous with the moment. Sometimes sport leaves you unable to register what has just happened. Here, Tait is already trying to come to terms with it.
The final frame is lovely. Tait now turns, rooted to the spot, to observe what else his assailant can do. He makes no other movement. Sporting brilliance, that close up, will render you motionless. Veainu ends up scoring via another sidestep, this time a more conventional, ‘off the right’ step past Goneva. He is just about to execute this in the last frame.
Telusa Veainu is, for me, the most exciting finisher in the Aviva Premiership and these few seconds are a perfect tribute to his talent. I think it needs pointing out that Alex Tait is an excellent defender and veteran of over two hundred top flight games. I don’t believe he did anything wrong in this sequence, he was just the victim of a brilliant piece of skill.
You can watch the try here