Part 2 of the Rugby IQ series will look at 4 tries from the Exeter vs Harlequins game on 19th November 2017.

The game can be found here. If you haven’t seen Part 1 of the Rugby IQ series, you can find it here.

Exeter defensive pressure turns to counter attack

Rugby IQ: Exeter vs Harlequins

4 minutes into the game Exeter have forced Harlequins back a long way from the original gain line. As a result of the pressure, Quins have to stab a kick through. Ollie Woodburn is by contrast under no pressure to collect the kick. He has support nearby and not many defenders ahead of him. He, therefore, decides to run and makes good ground up the left touchline.

Rugby IQ: Exeter vs Harlequins

Exeter move infield. Nic White (9) is behind a pod of 3 forwards. He doesn’t want the ball, so Jonny Hill (5) gives a clever tip on to Thomas Waldrom (8). Exeter make ground. The position of the breakdown is now about 20 metres from the touchline. This allows Exeter to threaten the blindside, while also preserving space out wide.

Rugby IQ: Exeter vs Harlequins

A 2-pod attacks the centre of the Quins line. This is a smart setup from Gareth Steenson (10). He has identified the Quins front row (1,2,3) standing together with Matt Luamanu, who is not the most mobile 8. Steenson has seen the opportunity out wide. There is no overlap, but Quins have a defensive line with several less mobile players, against Chiefs backs.

Although hooker Dave Ward is agile and often plays in the back row, it is not ideal to have half the pack together and caught out in the open. The pod runs at these players. It holds the drift defence and Steenson pulls the ball back to Phil Dollman (15). Matt Luamanu (8) has spotted the danger. He knows if Dollman gets outside him then Chiefs have a 2v1 and will probably score. He shoots up and forces Dollman back inside, an excellent piece of defensive judgement.

Rugby IQ: Exeter vs Harlequins

Dollman is now running against the Quins front row. His footwork allows him to step through the defensive line.

Rugby IQ: Exeter vs Harlequins

Lachie Turner anticipates Dollman breaking through. He knows even if Dollman is stopped, he will not be needed at the ruck. It is worth a gamble. Turner is able to get on Dollman’s shoulder in time for Dollman to draw Marcus Smith. Turner has an easy run to the line.

Harlequins hit back from a lineout

Rugby IQ: Exeter vs Harlequins

On 9 minutes, Marcus Smith (10) gives the ball to Matt Luamanu (8) off a lineout. This is a smart setup from Quins. They have lost Jamie Roberts to a Wales call-up, and their centres James Lang and Harry Sloan are not as big. Instead of sacrificing that power, they use Luamanu as the carrier. Wales also used Toby Faletau in this way against Australia the week before. They had dropped Roberts in favour of the smaller Owen Williams.

Rugby IQ: Exeter vs Harlequins

From the next phase, Marcus Smith (10) seems well covered. However, he spots that he has a second row ahead of him. Jonny Hill (5) has stepped out of the line, and he is too far from the defender to his right. Smith attacks the space and makes a half break. He almost gets through, but Ollie Devoto (12) manages to stop him.

Rugby IQ: Exeter vs Harlequins

A few phases later, the momentum has stalled. The defence is also well organized out wide. In this situation, Smith (10) is fond of popping the ball back inside to a forward runner and chooses this option again. James Chisholm (6) takes the ball with a wall of defenders against him. However, he sees the Chiefs defence is weak around the previous ruck. He heads towards it, and a missed tackle later he breaks through and scores.

The Exeter backs score from a scrum

Rugby IQ: Exeter vs Harlequins

In the 22nd minute Chiefs have a scrum just inside the Quins half. They set up with a 3-pod involving Gareth Steenson (10), Ollie Devoto (12) and Ian Whitten (13). Devoto is first receiver. He heads straight towards the gap between Marcus Smith and his opposite number James Lang. Steenson loops around behind him. Lachie Turner (14) follows Steenson, while Ian Whitten goes with Devoto.

Rugby IQ: Exeter vs Harlequins

As the Chiefs centres take out Lang (12) and Smith (10), Devoto slips the ball to Steenson (10). He draws Harry Sloan (13) and passes to Turner (14). Turner now has a 3v1, while poor Alofa Alofa (14) is in an impossible situation. After good hands from Turner and Phil Dollman (15), Ollie Woodburn (11) scores in the corner.

Exeter attack from deep

Rugby IQ: Exeter vs Harlequins

In the 66th minute, Gareth Steenson (10) has the ball just outside his own 22. The Harlequins defence is not ideally organised. Quins have their front row (1,2,3) and Matt Luamanu (8) together in the line. The defence has grouped 4 slower players together. Therefore, they cannot drift across quickly and shut down the space out wide. This is the same mistake Steenson exploited for the Turner try. He attacks the inside shoulder of James Lang (12). Lang has to make sure Luamanu can get across before moving out to cover Phil Dollman (15). Steenson passes to Dollman, and together with Ollie Woodburn (out of shot), they make ground down the left wing.

Rugby IQ: Exeter vs Harlequins

As they move the ball back, Chiefs are set up in a loose 1-3-3-1 formation. The first pod contains Julian Salvi (7) Greg Holmes (18) and Thomas Waldrom (8) with Gareth Steenson (10) calling the shots. Steenson can see the Quins defence is outnumbered, so calls for the ball from Salvi. He moves the ball on to the next pod.

Rugby IQ: Exeter vs Harlequins

Sam Hill (23) is an inside centre by trade. He is controlling the second pod in the 1-3-3-1. Hill has called for the ball straight away from Steenson, rather than let Don Armand (6) and his 3-pod have it first. He has noticed the 5v2 overlap and wants to move the ball quickly. Hill draws both defenders and releases Lachie Turner. Jonny Hill (5) is actually the wide-man in the 1-3-3-1 and the pod is inside Turner. He sees Tim Visser (11) and Charlie Walker (23) will reach him. Hill is also covered by the defence. He turns the ball inside to Mitch Lees (4) instead. Exeter floods through and after good hands, Hill eventually scores.

Part 3 will be out soon. See you next time!

Author: Daniel Pugsley

I am a 30 year old from Yorkshire, England. I have played social rugby for 25 years in England, Japan, Italy, Poland and the UAE. I play for Abu Dhabi Harlequins 3rds and coach the U6s where my daughter plays. I teach English as a foreign language, which explains why I’ve lived in so many places. I am new to sports writing, but why should the Quins lads be the only ones to suffer my ramblings!

2 COMMENTS

  1. I’m loving this series Daniel, and your other analytical pieces on pod structures, 1-3-3-1 play etc. Exactly the kind of thoughtful, intelligent and well-explained analysis I came to this site for.

    • What a nice comment Simon, you officially made my day! I have 2 more articles coming out soon in a similar vein, hopefully you enjoy them too.

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