Hi guys. The new year is here and as usual there new laws to understand before we can pour a brandy and sit down to watch rugby!
The changes we most interested in is at the ruck, where our window to attack the ball is now very small. First, the tackler can not “bounce” up and steal anymore – he must first retreat and come through the gate. Second, we now needing only one player over the ball to form a ruck, after which hands on the ball is illegal.
So it is harder now to poach and slow. What trends will we see? Is the fetcher going to die? What will the impact be on playing style? I took a look at the weekend game between Wales and England to get a flavour…
What is clearly happening is that teams just does not go into the breakdown anymore. If we look above the English only have the tackler in the ruck and the rest is in the line.
I did a quick count in the match of how often the defending team send in a extra player or players to contest at the breakdown. Wales only contest 34% of English ball and the English only contest 25% of Wales ball. Each team also only poach opposition ball on two occasions. Only four steals in the whole game.
If we considering how many breakdowns there is in a match, and how important it is to slow opposition ball, then it is very interesting to see how rarely this two teams did it.
Standing off the breakdown is not a new thing – we have seen teams like the All Blacks do it for a while. But the new laws is going to cement it and make it more extreme.
Above we see Joseph tackling Evans. Farrell is in the prime position to contest but the interesting thing is that he will not… Hard to believe hey? It can be because the blindside where May is standing is out numbered and Farrell felt he will rather bounce out to that side to get numbers up.
But we saw this the whole game from both teams! A tackle is made but no extra defenders comes in to contest. To me we are seeing a clear policy to leave the breakdown alone.
Why? Well, rugby is a numbers game and we want to use our player resource in the wisest way. If our window to attack the ball is now even smaller with the new laws, then we will rather not waste players by sending them to a situation that give us poor returns.
So what will it mean? If you are the defending team then unfortunately you now facing dangerous quick ball because you did not try to slow it. But a big positive is that you have more players on their feet, and more numbers in defence mean you have more options.
We will probably see a increase in defence linespeed and aggression. We will see more double tackles, as in the picture above. And we will see more attempts to hold the carrier up and force a turnover – the so call “choke” tackle. The point of slowing the ball is no longer at the breakdown, it is now at the collision.
In the meanwhile the attacking team have lovely clean ball, but they must still send in multiple players to make sure they secure it, even if the defence do not. And as we see in the first picture, after every breakdown there is now more defenders in the line than attackers. This mismatching will cause more structured attack patterns, more big carries, more tactical kicking and more focus on set piece as teams tries to first break down a defence before their x-factor guys can strike.
Return Of The Counter Ruck?
In the picture above we see the Wales tighthead Francis drive over the England ruck defence like a bus drive over a puppy.
It is just the wing May who is there to secure the ball with poor technique and he don’t stand a chance. If the defence is standing off the ruck, and the attack get lazy about protecting the ball, then maybe we will see more “blitz” counter-rucking by clever teams who is ready for it.
This only happen on two occasions in the match and here the Welsh quickly flood over the ball and turn it over. Maybe we will see teams using their pillar defenders to transform into counter-rucking units when the call is made.
Effect On Players
What about our poor fetcher? I think you agree it is a waste to choose a specialist for a role that is greatly diminished. The modern openside must offer us more than just a poaching and slowing ability.
As I mention earlier we still have to slow the opposition down, but that will now happen at the contact point and not at the breakdown. So our openside must be able to make dominant gain-line hits along with his big brothers in the rest of the pack.
Above we see the Wales openside Nividi who made one turnover and interfere at six rucks and that is fine. But his lock friend Jones interfere at eight rucks, so these days it is everybody’s job. Our modern openside must still have speed to play his important support role in defence and attack, but he must be more of a all-rounder on the park.
Anyway guys, we looking forward to the start of Super Rugby this weekend and how teams and players adapts to the laws. Now that you understand, you can pour that brandy before the game!
DISCLAIMER: English is Oom’s third language, after Rugby and Afrikaans.