Today’s article is a different one. It’s an opinion piece, more than an analysis one. It doesn’t analyse a team in particular, but rather, opens up about The Fox Pattern, a concept in attack I’ve been thinking about for a while. Is this the next evolution of attacking rugby?
This may sound cocky, and I apologise if it does. But this concept gave me the idea for a new Style of Play that I don’t think has ever been used. The reason is that the concept behind it is so unexplored, that even the All Blacks are still potentially years from realising this style in multi-phase play.
Attacking rugby like we’ve never seen?
To master it, you need to be a full time, professional rugby team. Believe me, I’ve tried with the alternative and it’s chaos. You need time to train it. The structures and dynamics are too complex. It is at the moment, entirely theoretical. However, I believe a team that can master the skill sets needed to implement it, can raise their attack to levels unheard of in rugby, and gain the ability to hurt any team in the World.
There are certain philosophies I apply in rugby. One of which, is that you need to choose your own path, both in the style of play you champion and your culture off the field. By extension, this means you cannot copy the paths of others.
Winning is an important thing, but to have your own style, to have people copy you, to admire you, that is the greatest gift.
The All Blacks Attacking Rugby
Take the All Blacks, with their fast all court game that they play. The one they play better than anyone in the world. No team will beat the All Blacks consistently and repeatedly, trying to play like the All Blacks. They’re the best at it, and due to their youth and academy cultures, will always be the best at it.
In fact, at their peak, the team that has the greatest win ratio against the All Blacks; South Africa, often played anything but.
At their best, they espoused incredible physicality, bruising defence, power runners, and an incredibly effective kicking game. This gameplan beat the All Blacks repeatedly. Since Graham Henry changed up the plan in 2009, this subsided. But the point comes across. Better to play your own game that works for you, and come up with new innovations within it, that you can play better than anyone else. Rather than striving for another teams game, that you can’t do half as well.
A changing game
The game is changing rapidly. The players are becoming faster, fitter, stronger, and more highly skilled. These are the qualities we see in the players as the game becomes more and more professional. A great side effect of this, is that the players, are now able to do things that weren’t possible before. This means that new ways of attack, are also possible.
This will be the subject for today. You’ll get a full unload from my rugby brain and where I believe the next frontier of attacking rugby lies. In Part Two, I will discuss my own theoretical pattern to play this game, and why the increasing professionalism of the game will allow this to happen.
The “Fox” Style of Attacking Rugby
The objective of the Fox Pattern is to implement a structure that will allow the capability to go Wide-Wide, over one phase. It is this concept, I believe is the next step in attacking rugby.
The concept requires six key facets of the game to successfully implement.
- Immense work-rate to rapidly realign the used side of the field.
- Subtlety of the reforming line until the last second.
- Detailed and experienced knowledge of Alignment.
- Excellent decision making in Two key channels
- Proficient use of catch and pass.
- Clear communication and hidden switch based running lines.
To help with the explanation, I’ll introduce you to one of my tools.
The above image is the grid breakdown I use. Each channel has its own code word, as LC/LB/LA after a while can be figured out by a smart team!
After every phase in attack, we must scan and shout the areas where the opposition is undermanned, and the same for us in defence. Using these code words, which most teams mistake for a move or player, we are able to quickly identify the two undermanned channels, that we can attack at any one time. This is an important concept; the idea is to NEVER attack one channel alone.
Fox Pattern Example
The “C” channels denote the Wings, but as we always attack 2 channels, we will have the channel next to it, “B” having running options in as well. This enables us to maintain the undermanned numbers in C by committing B.
If we’re on Ralph and are to attack Robbo, we will also in turn attack Ricky. This is because as we attack Robbo, players will move over from Ricky to fill in Robbo. Meaning Ricky will fast become the undermanned channel to target. As we have attacked channels, our players are running flat at Ricky and offering themselves as catch and pass options to target it.
Engage the Drift Defence
Now that we know the codes and grids, we must secondly understand, that the opposition drift defence, must be engaged to successfully employ the Fox Pattern. Because of this, we must know at any one point, the circumstances, the makeup of the line, and how many passes at which any opposition will switch from their Rush to Drift defence. As this will give us the invaluable information on where, and how much time we have to realign to apply Fox.
When a drift is engaged, very few times does the whole field remain connected. If a ball has gone From LA through to RC on an overlap, by the end, RC maybe well numbered, but those numbers have come from RA-RB. Therefore RA-RB can on the same phase, be hugely undermanned, as the players to fill it are still jogging over from LB-LA.
Knowing where a drift will happen, allows us to plan ahead for the eventual space. Let us take a look at some examples…
Drift 1 Example
As we can see here, the French have drifted out heavily. In their haste to cover Lucky (LC), they have inadvertently created an incredibly undermanned Larry. As the inside defence has not remained connected.
Ben Smith, due to his sensational skill, is able to use his footwork to exploit this gap.
Drift 2 Example
This is off set piece. I believe that set piece development of this concept will be seen before multi-phase development, due to the gap naturally created between forwards and backs.
As we can see, 12 AB’s are in the Ralph – Ricky Grids. All of them are looking one way, and completely ignoring Larry – Lucky. The Lions, on the other hand, have 7 players in these channels, against 3 All Blacks. This particular image perfectly illustrates the dynamics of the Fox Pattern and how it comes together. We will study this example later in “The Pattern”.
A key observation I want to note here is that in all of the slides the men within the used lines of the attack, are following the “Black Arrows” to get back into their pattern for the NEXT phase. They are moving over to either form the ruck, or organise into their patterns, be it 2-4-2 or a 1-3-3-1.
This re-positioning speed is admirable, but the Fox Pattern is one step ahead of this.
The Fox Pattern works on the principle that these players are quickly following the Black Arrows to align along the Green Line. This is under the guise of forming their pattern for next phase, until prompted with a reverse/scissors (Blue Arrow). When the reverse happens, they’re in position to switch from Black to Green running lines immediately.
This means receiving the pass from the scissors runner, and due to the earlier speed of re-positioning, running rapidly at the disconnect on the SAME phase. This is done at an alignment that allows for catch and pass. This means no ruck, NO time for the defence to adjust, and multiple players against few defenders.
In the next article, we will go through the pattern, as well as the technicalities, and requirements for it to work.
Author: Conor Wilson
Recently retired from the Military, Skydiving and rare Steak Enthusiast 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.