What is a pod?
A pod is a group of players who will attack the same space together. When it is used correctly, defenders don’t know which attacker will get the ball. Support is available for offloads and to resource the next breakdown. This makes defending against the pod very hard. As a result, attacking coaches have come up with many different ways of utilising pods. Let’s explore some of them.
The 1-3-3-1 system is a tactic used by many teams. It has two pods of 3 forwards in the middle of the pitch. Each pod has a back behind them, usually the 10 or 12. The back is making the decisions, so the ball carrier just has to concentrate on his job and listen.
These two midfield pods try to attract four or more defenders. If the pod manages to do this, there should be an overlap out wide due to the over-commitment of defenders. If the back thinks the pod have succeeded, he shouts for the ball. The back can then spread the ball wide to exploit the overlap. If not, the pod tries to get over the gain-line and generate fast ball. South Africa have been basing their whole attacking game plan around the tactic.
Forwards pod off 9
There are other uses of pods. The most common is the pod of forwards standing to one side of the ruck. The 9 gives the ball to the pod and they run at one of the defenders close to the ruck. This pod is used to generate quick ball and also potentially get over the gain-line. It has been a standard tactic for years at all levels of the game. It is especially useful when a team has slow ball and the defence is ready. The picture below shows this tactic in action.
A relatively more recent use of the pod is a grouping of 10, 12 and 13 usually off a lineout or scrum. The 10 starts nearest to the scrum-half but the 12 is the first receiver. The attacking 12 and 13 target the space between the defending 10 and 12. 10 checks his run. Because he slows down, he is now available for a pullback if defenders are sucked in. If not, 12 gets over gain-line and 13 is available for fast ruck or offload.
New Zealand used this for the Barrett try off a scrum against Scotland, shown below. Ollie Woodburn’s recent try for Exeter against Harlequins is another of many examples.
Dual playmaker pod
The dual playmaker pod is used quite often by Australia. Kurtley Beale is a very dangerous player with the ball in hand. Because of this threat, opposition defence coaches spend time preparing their defence to contain him. Australia uses this to their advantage.
Beale stands at the head of a pod of 4, with Bernard Foley behind him. While Beale threatens the line, the defence is on high alert. As a result, the pod attracts extra defenders. Beale then releases Foley out the back of the pod. If the defenders don’t come he attacks the line with men on either shoulder.
Flat line pod
The flat pod involves 2 or 3 runners in a straight line instead of a group. They all run at the same time, targetting different defenders. The 9 can pass to any of them, and the defence does not know who will receive the pass. This pod variation has resulted in several tries in the November Internationals. Rob Simmonds grabbed one against Wales, Jonny Gray scored against Australia, and both Henry Slade and Charlie Ewels helped themselves to 5 points against Samoa.
Teams at all levels of the game can use pods in attack. Pods are a useful tool, and there are even more variations than those shown above.
Author: Daniel Pugsley
I am a 31 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!