Why four strike moves is enough

Make best use of the backs in matches – concentrate your training on good skills and fast reactions.

When I work with a backline in training we only run through the moves at the very end of the session.

My time with the backs is spent working on all the aspects that allow a backs move to work, plus what we would do after the execution of that move. The work is specific to the player and their position.

Though there are generic skills in catching and passing, we concentrate on the detail for that player. We want a winger to be working on his try scoring skills, or a centre on his timing and engagement to the defensive line.

In a 30 minute backs session, the first 20 minutes will focus on pure core skills. If the players cannot pass and run effective lines, then there is no point in looking at the end product.

In the pure core skills part, we might be looking at one area we have identified in their game which needs developing. We then generate exercises to focus on these areas.


Top coaches will tell you that you need to train as you play. I am big believer in practising under pressure and therefore creating situations where the ball delivery is not perfect.

Moves and plays have to work from poor passes. Players have to learn not to panic if something goes wrong. They have to be able to play off mistakes and react to the situation.

I like to have a Plan A for the perfect execution and Plan B if there is poor delivery. Say the backs want the ball from the back of a lineout. We would employ Plan A. However, we would need to have Plan B in place if the ball only made it to the front of the lineout.

Training takes this into account. We practise Plan B scenarios. Players become reactionaries. We go through all the possible situations on the pitch and the perfect and imperfect outcomes. Players will know what to do if the ball is delivered well or poorly.


I want my players to look up and play the game across the whole pitch. They should be playing as much rugby when they are “off the ball” as when they are on it.

Most of the problems with back play initiate from players not being in position early enough to execute the move – not “loaded up” correctly. Each move has an optimum shape where the players are at the right depth and angle to create gaps in the defence. The running lines and pace will allow the penetrating runner to find a gap to go through.

My thinking is clear: we do not use target setting. If a ball delivery breaks down, we do not revert to sending up a centre to create another ruck, sometimes known as “hitting someone up”. I want the back line to be reloading into a better position to attack. Every play must challenge the defence.


From a scrum, the centres switch places as the ball is passed out. In particular, the centres aim at the best tacklers, with the intention of showing they will receive the ball. The winger runs around into position.


As 12 and 13 engage the defenders, 10 passes the ball to the winger who attacks the space between the centres.


Strike moves have one key principle, to create a 2 v 1 situation. We do this by getting the players scanning the defensive line for perceived weakness.

We then use “engagement” where there are four players attacking the defensive line to give the passer options. The best outcome is that a pass goes to a player in space who ghosts through the gap. But, we will flood the place where the ball carrier is, so if he can get his hands free, he will be able to offload the ball. We regard this as a line break.

Our process is therefore:

  1. Slow their defensive line speed with decoys.
  2. Run for spaces.
  3. Execute by passing the ball to the “live” man, the player in the most space.
  4. Flood through where the break is going to be made.

We have four places we aim to work through, their 10, 12, 13 and in the wide channel. The perceived weakness in defence will be identified and this channel exploited.


One way to break a good defensive line is to target the best defender. Since he will tend to make the tackle, we try to run moves that pull him out of the line.

We can do this by running a potential attacking player into his channel which forces him to come forward to tackle, therfore releasing other gaps to attack.


To slow the line speed of the opposition, we use standard methods of “block passes”, which is passing behind a player, and good running lines.

A good running line is either in to out or out to in, where the player changes his angle of run to make defenders have to adjust their line speed to accommodate the movement. If we are attacking the wide channels, then it requires two good passes only. It is a function of excellent execution, something we will have worked on in training.

Execution is also position specific. We want our distributors to work on distribution in training. It is their primary job, they have to be able to deliver the ball consistently and under pressure. They need to understand what is required of them.

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