EXPERT SESSIONS AND ADVICE FROM QUALIFIED AND EXPERIENCED GRASSROOTS RUGBY COACHES

Stress a back-line defence with multiple options in attack

Using simple set-ups with your back-line alignment will give your decision-makers options to put the player in space through the gap. Work on this in training with relevant scenarios that are in tune with the game plan. By Jamie Turkington

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Key factors 

  • Choose the channel you want to attack and which set-up works best, based on the game plan and your strengths and their weaknesses. 
  • Encourage players to continually discuss what’s working and what can be improved. 
  • Most mistakes from a set-up occur because of running lines or communication problems. 
  • Training aims to increase accuracy – mistakes should be dealt with by the players. 

Key takeaways 

  • When attacking the narrow channel, the 10 must be flat. 
  • Always engage their 10, and force one of their centres to make a decision. 
  • Players must be confident enough to make the right call when they see the gap. 
  • When working with small numbers, cone off a no-go area by the set piece if you want to work on attack and defence on wide moves. 

Back play can be developed around set-ups each having multiple options. All set-ups have to be capable of attack into several channels; this means you can choose the appropriate set-up to target a variety of areas on the pitch.

The set up is relevant to the game plan and how the opposition defensive system operates. This allows you to make calls based on opposition weaknesses and our strengths. If the picture changes, you have multiple players the ball carrier can pass to.

In general, set-ups aim to attack either: 

  1. The close/mid-channel – that is, through their 10 and 12 
  2. The wide channel outside their 13, aiming to isolate defenders in the defensive system 

Close channel set-up 

The key is having players running different angles through each channel. The final choice on the pass is dependent on the defence and overall game plan. 

In a close channel set-up, the 10 should play with as much width as possible aiming to nullify the opposition back row and also challenge his opposite number to make a decision. 

Your next aim is to force the remaining defensive players into a decision – which player they are defending. Pulling them out of position and causing fragmentation in their defensive line. To do this, all the angles of run are practised. The players will know who is running where so they don’t obstruct each other or crowd the space. 

Once the ball is passed to 10, all the players are in motion. Each player must understand and fulfil their role. The pass can go to any player and the most effective decision in the set-up has the trigger call coming from the player who thinks identifies he’s in the best position to break the defensive line. Of course, more than one player may think that, and so your 10 must be aware of the preferred option. 

Options from a simple set up

  • From a one-pass play off 10, the 10 should have three options. 
  • All the lines of run are pre-determined. He engages their 10, and the other players run their angles, calling if they think they are in a good position to take the ball 

Some players will always back themselves to break the line and will want their hands on the ball. You need to educate them to make more team-based decisions so that we gain more effective team outcomes. 

Continual review 

On the field, once that set-up has been run once, the players need to be reflecting on the outcomes straightaway. They have to decide whether the outcome was achieved and what needs to develop for the next execution to ensure effectiveness. For instance how the opposition defend as a unit; are there any weaknesses in the system either in operation or with individual players. 

You can replicate this in training by ensuring the players continuingly reflect on the outcomes and look to themselves for ways to improve their play outcomes. 

As the game progress, it’s primarily the 10 who decides which set-up you’re going to use. He will be scanning the pitch, picking up feedback from the rest of the backs and looking at the trends in play. He, and the remainder of the backline, will be focused on what outcome they need to achieve – for example, attacking in certain channels to exploit identified weaknesses. 

These plays will work in the context of the game plan. For instance, there are set-ups you’ll use in certain areas of the pitch and others decide before the game depending on the opposition. 

For example in your own 22, you can use plays with primary objectives – gain territory. But the decision makers should be aware that we might gain our outcome more effectively from adapting the play. It does depend on momentum within the game. You are not running plays for the sake of them. There must be a clear outcome in mind. 

How to introduce the set ups in a no-fear environment

To begin with, take the lead on how the set-ups will look initially, and help the players to understand the advantages of those set-ups and their individual roles. In time they begin to take control, developing the plays as their own.

When there’s a mistake in the session, it’s often to do with the lines of run or the quality of communication. A player may be too late or too early or may fail to say when he wants the ball. The player should identify these mistakes so he doesn’t repeat it next time. 

Where there is inaccuracy it’s not normally a problem with the overall set-up but inaccuracies with the component parts. 

For repetitive mistakes, for instance, a player maybe weaker passing off one hand, so the pass falls short every time, the players need to have a corrective discussion to solve the problem. This may lead to the receiver arriving closer to that passer. 

If the problem persists, you might reduce the pressure or adjust the responsibilities of the other players. This can be done by limiting or adapting the options available. Essentially, it’s for the players to find the solution, with guidance if required. 

Key sources of errors in the play

During the session in the build-up to a match, you should be realistic on the space/ time that the players have to execute their plays within – the need to replicate the pressure of the game as much as possible, but try to limit or modify the contact. 

This session may be split about two-thirds attack and one-third defence. The priority is to work through agreed set-ups; if these are completed accurately we may explore other options. 

Training the last session together 

Your last session before a game, use attack v defence on the majority of occasions. At this point you won’t have two back lines normally, so you may have to co-opt some back rowers; this provides them with an opportunity to develop their defensive roles and understanding from set piece whilst allowing you to mimic defence in the close channels. 

For the wide channel plays, you could cone off the close channel, and place defenders in the wider channels to mimic defence in those areas of the pitch.


Article by Jamie Turkington, Ulster coach development and former Ireland U18s backs coach

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