Exploiting space brings whole new style of play
RUGBY ANALYST:Teams are employing some new and revolutionary systems to unlock defences
WHILE WALKING to Thomond Park last Saturday I noticed two young lads cycling along the narrow South Circular Road. The fact there was an irate driver in the car behind them with another 15 cars behind him all bedecked in Munster colours made no real impact on their day or cycling style. Clearly the cars were at walking pace or I would not have kept up. Eventually the incensed driver, spotting a gap, slipped out past the boys, swinging a fist and beeping his car horn. To which one of the boys asked his mate: “How much space does he need?”
That evening in Thomond Park and the following day in Croke Park I kept repeating the young boy’s question. How much space does an attacker need? And to it I add: “Where is the best space found?”
To this end when watching a match, or for that matter any other code, I enjoy benchmarking the different systems employed by teams to unlock defences.
Leinster, for instance, appear to have brought a slightly new style of play to their game. Minutes into last Friday’s clash with Edinburgh it was obvious they were focusing on a certain type of door opening. Jonny Sexton took the ball deep inside Edinburgh’s half while drifting away from the pass. As he drifted, it forced the Edinburgh inside defence to make a decision which was partly blocked by a lazy Leinster runner. Not unlike Keith Earls in Ravenhill, Sexton drifted out as Earls did against Ulster’s defence, which sucked Edinburgh to him. Immediately outside Sexton was the rampaging Cian Healy running a brilliant line. He pulverised his way into the heart of Edinburgh, gaining yards and honey-potting even more Edinburgh players. This in turn gave Sexton a brilliant touchdown try just as Earls had started and finished the same move in Ravenhill.
In both cases the ball receiver fixed his immediate defender before drifting out to the next defender, freeing up fractions of space for the hard-running support player. Both Healy and Billy Holland, the support runners, were very, very close to the offload on the outside shoulder; the margins are tiny in this commonality.
It appears sides are now looking to unlock space where there is none and in doing so are ultimately unlocking great potential. Before either Earls or Sexton got the ball the defence was fine but a combination of their fix and run, and hard line from outside support, opened up all sorts of opportunity. It appears the best space to exploit is the one that didn’t exist moments earlier as this throws the defensive system into complete disarray. In the disarray quality players can maximise the advantage.
All four provinces are attempting phase one with degrees of success. Others, like Leinster, are much more comfortable with phase two, exploiting the newly-created space.