In the first part of this series, Brumby Mode was introduced and examples given of why the All Blacks need to wise up to this tactic.

Whilst Brumby Mode is effective, and ideal for wet weather conditions, teams can wise up to it, and number on the fringes in greater detail.

This is not how the All Blacks usually play, and such contingencies would open up space out wide. However, it’s always important to vary your game and have Plan A through to Plan H if necessary. Particularly against the All Blacks.

you may advance and be absolutely IRRESISTIBLE if you make for the enemy’s weak points
Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Weakness: Rush 10 Triangle Defence
Tactics used for Weakness: Prong System, Flat passes, Chip kick

The All Blacks Rush 10 Triangle Defence is designed to pressure the first receiver, with the rest of the line sitting back dependent on the play. The result is a triangle running at the 10 channel. The drift portion, depending on numbers, have the choice of either moving up to the line once the ball comes outside 10, or drifting to push the play down towards the touchline.

In theory, this is excellent for play off 9. And aside from Brumby Mode is very workable to pressure the 10/”First Forward Pod” and cut out wide options. However, there is potential for a disconnect in this system where the shoot meets the drift portion.

This is best described as the 3 men making up the points of a triangle. A split here is highly likely.

Due to the speed of the last shooter, a gap can be created that can be susceptible to a hard runner off the 10 and general manipulation around this area. If you have players 1-2-3 in a flat line, the gaps can be small. If we can draw Player Two forward, which the triangle defence naturally allows you’re exploiting a gap between 1 and 3. This gap is inherently larger and more likely for line breaks.

Methods of exposing Rush 10 Triangle Defence

Due to the triangle nature of this point, it means a first receiver can manipulate the defence so his runners can target one of two channels. In this example, we will show 2 methods of doing so, for either to work, however, the 10 MUST, play flat to the line.

Method 1: Inside the last shooter

The 10 can commit the inside of the shoot portion, which is usually comprised of 3 players (yellow). The 10 then passes flat to a strike runner already going through the gap on the “Inside of the last shooter”. This leaves no time for the defence to react, as the angle of the triangle, allows the 10 to pass to a player already through the line. As you will see in these Lions stills and a video further down.

Rush 10 Fulcrum Defence against the Lions

The last shooter has been pre-occupied with Farrell’s screen option.

Rush 10 Fulcrum Defence against the Lions

Allowing George through the already sizeable gap.

Method 2: The shoot-drift gap

The 10 can commit the last shooter (final yellow), and short flat pass to the strike runner. This runner will be running a hard inside line to target the sizeable split in-between “The shoot-drift gap” indicated by yellow-red. This inside line helps to create space between himself and the first drift defender once through the line. (As you will see in the Ireland video).

Rush 10 Fulcrum Defence against Scotland

NOTE: There are countless variations and plays that could exploit these two channels. The purpose of these methods is to show the vulnerability located here.

Below, you can see how easily the gap forms in the All Blacks rush defence.

In England’s case. England’s “1st Prong” off 9 will draw the shoot portion, the pass will go behind to Ford, whom with flat play, can draw the last shooter, and launch a *short and flat* pass to his “2nd Prong”. This Prong will be running a hard inside line, targeting the channels as described above. The nature of two runners in said prong means the 10 has two options exploiting two vulnerable channels simultaneously, giving more options and putting the defence here in two minds.

Combine England’s Speed Forwards of Itoje and Simmonds into this Prong, at the minimum you are looking at an astronomical gain in metres, and very likely clean break. If not, the openside on 2nd phase will be very, very exploitable for England’s back-line.

This break, is not limited to the Prong system though. Ford-Farrell-Joseph will also target this area, using the improved distribution and alignment of the 10-12 axis.

How England will target

England will use their prong pattern and Ford’s delivery of pass to exploit the channels. The prong will screen Ford whom with his comfort of flat play, can pass according to one of the methods previously described. Making metres and a potential clean break. This particular run is possible due to Farrell improving his speed and bulk as to be a more effective direct runner and adding that to his bow for 12.

Lions Success

This is a similar example to England’s method and is a likely example of how England’s method will work on the “triangle”. As described earlier, in Method 1: Inside the last shooter the shooter runs up and Sexton commits the inside of the shooter portion. The ball is then passed to Jamie George when he is running through the “Inside of the last shooter”. As Laumape has actually rushed up past George when he receives the pass due to the “triangle” formed from the shoot-drift gap. With Farrell’s screen option also interesting Laumape more.

Sexton knew about this weakness having performed it previously in Chicago as will be seen next. But it was not performed to the frequency it was there. An oddity, as this proved highly effective.

On top of this, from this break came opportunity. Murray scored one phase after this with a simple pick and go. Knowing the All Black weakness around the fringes, he used this whilst they were still organising and attacked where it would hurt the most. The Irish 9 and 10 attacked two weaknesses over two phases. The result? The Lions were back in the game and back in the series.

Joe Schmidt

This leads nicely to one of the heroes! England are not the only ones to have noticed this. Joe Schmidt’s Ireland and their game, particularly in Chicago 2016, was varied to target this dog-leg. They introduced a new dynamic in their game solely to exploit it that differed from their normal patterns. Even when the “triangle push” was not as strong.

In this case, unlike the Lions example, they used Method 2: The shoot-drift gap, with Sexton targeting the last shooter, and his strike runner hitting The shoot-drift gap rather than inside. But it again shows how vulnerable this area is to a gap being created.

As we’ve discussed before, all defences have a weakness. One defensive system cannot cover all the bases, including the vaunted Andy Farrell Defence. This disconnect is a target and a huge weakness for teams with power and pace to target. What makes it even more dangerous are flat playing 10’s who can commit the shooter portion correctly. Ford plays flat for England, Sexton can do it for Ireland. Does your team have a 10 that can comfortably play that flat? If so, will they exploit this weakness?

Hurricanes

It’s incredibly silly to think a Kiwi team haven’t exploited this point as well. This is a great example of Method 2, and as will be explained later, all the small parts needed for this point to be successfully exploited, are executed brilliantly.

They scored their second try off set piece exploiting this exact point again, but this is a great example of why attention to detail is so important. Breaking a play down into all its lines, timings, alignments, and changing a little bit in each one so it’s a little bit better, can be the difference between the play’s success and failure. It all adds up. From Uhila committing the pointman’s inside shoulder to his flat pass to Abbot tracking his run ever so slightly outwards at the last second to draw the drift portion and increase the shoot-drift gap, to Barrett’s line, speed and flatness of his take. Great try, great execution and great coaching.

Lancaster’s England

Lancaster identified this back as early as 2014. England attempted to exploit it, however, whilst they got some success, with more focus on off the ball work like the Hurricanes, it could’ve been much more effective.

Whilst the Pop-pass worked the off the ball work was awful in comparison to the Hurricanes. The lines ran by Morgan on the inside and Brown’s screen were run with no intent to receive the ball in comparison to Wood. Wood’s line was so intently run in comparison to the others, that a screen pass to Brown would’ve yielded a break. Retallick should have been kept wide for fear of Brown, instead, he chose to step back in to tackle Wood, as Brown was near jogging. Morgan was offside to Webber (The 2nd receiver). Therefore, Franks didn’t worry about him and moved to close the space intended for Wood. These little mistakes telegraphed Wood as the strike runner. With proper intent and adjustment on both their lines, Franks and Retallick are held, and Wood goes through.

This was stopped with some beautiful anticipation from Cruden and McCaw. Eastmond here does his job. He draws Nonu as Pointman and puts Tuilagi through. Yarde however, was Cruden’s man. Instead of running through to support Tuilagi’s shoulder, he abruptly stops. Cruden could’ve been held with this line. Instead, he is allowed to move across, and snuff out the break.

Wallabies

The Wallabies sent runners here, but unlike Ireland, It wasn’t exploited half as well.

This was down to play off 10.

As we can see, Foley’s line has brought the Triangle onto his carriers, rather than himself which led to dominant hits on the strike runner. He didn’t target the inside of the shoot/Last shooter flat enough. The pass was given deeper with no screen option to interest the drift portion on the outside. All combined, it gave the AB defence an easy read.

That this wasn’t exploited, is criminal. If that “3 Pod” passes behind to Foley, and Hooper/Folau is in place of Moore to take the flat pass. That is a clean, untouched break. Just need a little heads up, and the skillsets to exploit it.

Here, the dummy runners are too far on the inside of the strike runner, not interesting the 1st Drift defender as a screen option to increase the gap. So whilst a half break is made outside the last shooter, again, it could’ve been more effective with smarter off the ball work.

Keys to exposing this weakness

  1. The 10/distributor playing flat to the inside shoulder of the relevant defender.
  2. The strike runner must run a hard line receiving the ball flat, and targeting either one of the 2 channels. It must be a hard inside line if Method 2 is used.
  3. A Screen option behind/alternate option outside the Strike runner to interest the Last shooter/1st Drift defender, increasing space for the hard line.

All of these are imperative. We saw the difference between Sexton passing deep and passing flat. Both lines were run on an inside angle. No difference there. The difference was in the alignment.

The actual breaks in the Irish and Lions options, both had screen options operating behind the strike runner. This presented multiple options to interest the 1st drift defender/Last shooter, meaning he stood wider to help the cover on the outside options, increasing the split gap. In the Hurricanes, it was Abbot and his crab run that drew the attention of the drift defender. Again; intent-full, off the ball work, making this point even more dangerous to the All Blacks. Lancaster’s England did not have this, and as such failed, whilst the others succeeded.

Of course. There’s other ways to target this gap. A team will need to create countless variations to target the “Shooter-Drift Gap” in this pattern of defence.

The Class of 99

One in 1999 was particularly beautiful.

This is one my favourite moves against this defence. The two first receivers run lines against the point and along the shooter portion of the defensive push, attracting the attention of the point player and the man inside. Splitting the defence and creating the gap for the 2nd receiver Scissors play.

Author: Conor Wilson

Recently retired from the Military, Skydiving and rare Steak Enthusiast and Coach and Player of the beautiful game of Rugby.

Joe Schmidt, Will Greenwood and Rod MacQueen are my heroes, and my proudest moment was putting Jason Robinson in for a try at a promotional Rugby day. It was truly beautiful.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Great as always Conor. Ideally, which positions comprise the 3 shooters? In an ideal world, who is the point? Does the SH make the call?

  2. Conor,

    Another great article! The part that I believed is not pushed in the modern game enough is what Itoje did but in addition being a legit option with what I will cal a running Flyhalf! What a counter to a triangle strike defense because no longer can the tip of that triangle come through cleanly which give more time to execute the pass ford made! That is not just the way to break a New Zealand defense but it is a great way to break any defense! But how nice would it be to throw the diamond behind Itoje as well then what can truly open up for attack structures! Japan found great success with it against France last year especially at the start of the second half but it is something that needs to become more consistent with every phase with a running 9! This shape of having somebody coming down on the 9 like Itoje could really help so many teams decide how great they can be and it is achievable it would require a different organization with different roles given to players! All systems have there place like the 1-3-3-1 and the 2-4-2 but I think we need to find away to keep defense from thinking they can launch at the offense by trying to hold the defense with somebody coming flat on the 9 every time with a consistent out the back who would then have a flat and out the back as well! Conor if what you are saying is true and Joseph the exhighlanders and current Japan coach could shock some people if he implements that system more consistently arounf the entire park and not just in one channel! It is possible to implement it and would be great change from the current 1–3-3-1 systems that is run everywhere

  3. Amazing article. I think a saw an article don’t remember where about the guy rushing up in Saracens defense and how to avoid those dog legs to be crrated. That kind of triangle tends to be actually a two-wave defensive wall or something like that. Where both inside and outside support drifts behind the shooter to protect both holes so the shooter only role is to hit the receiver and the rest of the defense cover and drifts behind him

    PD: it was from this video
    https://youtu.be/m_EPm3un3mA

  4. Conor,
    I went back to look at the try with Ford and Farrell running a nice line outside of Ford. It was interesting to see that all came off of a lineout and two to three phases to the forwards and then heading back to the weakside which Exeter has been a big proponent of trying to do when they switch to the weakside! I just wish that move by Itoje was used to never allow the triangle defense to really get to be effective!

    • Hi John,

      Very good point. In this case however you want to vary it up. Creating the triangle is the very way in which you can exploit this weak point. Hence Itoje can’t run that line all too often! But regardless. A very good observation with the link to Exeter. I’m a big fan of switching between Open and Blind mid phase as well as in open phase play myself. So can definitely see the appeal!

  5. Conor,
    I agree Itoje can’t run that line consistently because you want him carrying the back but some forward should run that line consistently off the 9. Definitely more often than is now to hold the defensive line throughout and be a legit option! If care or young’s can take it a bit closer to the line and then give to Itoje or whatever forward running this line they will get on the front foot and hold the defensive pressure! Just a different option something that should be used more often

    • Well Ironically. England have taken on a very similar defence to the All Blacks under John Mitchell. Who was coaching the Bulls when the Hurricanes made this break.

      So fully expecting the All Blacks to use the Hurricanes attacking example amongst others to break it. Especially with the inexperience in the system.

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