Rugby's New Look Attacking System

March 31, 2017

Rugby’s present day attack – It’s a joy to watch.

An example: George Ford at 10 receiving quick ball, then taking it to the line, two forwards by his side hitting genuine angled runs at the gain line. Yet, the ball is palmed out the back to Owen Farrell at 12 who has come from deep on the opposite angle. He either darts through untouched or throws out one of his trademark bullets to the winger who goes in at the corner.

Sound Familiar?

It should do as these days it is inevitable that you will see this attacking structure in pretty much any game you watch.

So why has it suddenly become Rugby’s most effective system to use in attack?

I could have used any 10 or 12 at any club to illustrate the play, but I think Ford and Farrell is of great significance.

Both are household names in Rugby League and it is from League that this play originated. League converts such as Phil Larder, Mike Ford, Andy Farrell and Shaun Edwards have certainly inspired this new look attractive brand of Rugby. 

How Does It Work?

Known as the ‘lead’ or ‘block’ play, the system works by essentially using these ‘lead’ runners to make defenders ‘bite’.

The lead runner(s) run a line at the inside shoulder of a defender (also known as an unders line). If it’s a convincing enough line it will make the defender think twice about moving off him to cover the player coming out the back (usually running a line opposite to that of the lead – known as an overs line). i.e. the defender will ‘bite’.

This ultimately results in an overlap, which is the whole purpose of the play. 

For good attacking sides this lead runner will only need to hold that defender for a quarter of a second because as play unfolds, you will inevitably see the knock on effect further out in the defensive line, where centres, wingers or players on the edges have less time to make a decision and more space to cover.

In Rugby, most defensive systems are based around working from the inside and pushing out. This attacking system is based on attempting to stop the opposition from working out from the inside. It is the lead runners that achieve this.

Theory into practice...

A great example of this system can be seen in Wales recent defeat to England in round 2 of the six nations. At 37min 30secs, Wales’ Rhys Webb takes the ball to England’s defensive line whilst Scott Williams offers a perfect line on Owen Farrell’s inside shoulder. Farrell bites creating a huge gap for Liam Williams, who receives the ball on the trail to go over untouched. Perfectly executed!

Biggest Mistakes Made

Although it looks simple, it is a very hard play to master, with structure, timing and decisions making all extremely key.  

So often I see amateur players getting it so wrong – you must have a good understanding of the move to perform it so effectively.

Coaching Points

1) The lead runner must offer the perfect line. This takes practice. Too often I see a lead just running a straight line angle from start to finish just for the sake of it because that’s the line he has been told to run in training. You must look at what’s in front of you (the defender) run to his inside shoulder and make him bite.

2) As the lead you must also be a genuine option. People sometimes refer to this lead run as a ‘decoy’. However, I am not a fan of this as it makes players assume they are there just to run a line and not receive the pass, should a gap appear.

3) The player who could potentially receive the ball out the back (also known as the ‘trail’) should be deep enough so that when he receives the ball he has time and space.

Another mistake at amateur level is the ‘trail’ thinking that the play is over once he has the ball in hand. It’s important that he then looks for supporting players on his outside as he will almost certainly be now in a 3 v 2 or 2 v 1 situation.

4) The ball player must play what’s in front of him. He must not have already decided who he is going to hit before he has even got the ball. He must wait until the last second and then make the correct decision depending on the defenders movements.


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