In today’s article, we are going to delve into the advancement of Ireland’s Attacking Play.

Over the course of 2018, we saw a lot of moves that we have seen before, but we also saw new formations, tracking runners that weren’t used, and multiple other options within the Irish attack.

Therefore, we will predict what these plays will look like, and what new tricks the Six Nations teams can expect from Ireland’s new attacking plays.

Joe Schmidt’s Mantra

Whereas all teams sequence plays, Ireland’s plays are so detailed and methodical, that the intended phase for a penetrator to breach, may be on the 2nd, 4th and 7th phases. All the phases in-between, are in turn painstakingly designed to maximise chances of a break on those strike phases.

It’s almost NFL worthy in the depths of detail planned for these moves. The timings of the running lines, the obstruction roles, varying alignments, hand positioning, “subtle” glances, acceleration changes, decoy calls. The list goes on.

Fine margins, impacting the overall picture. This is the way of the Irish attack. Detail, detail, detail.

These details shine in the plays we will look at here, and seeing the depths they go into, explains a lot as to why Ireland are where they are.

Power Plays

These plays, are where they get the majority of their breaks, as such, they’ve focused on them to the point where I’d bet they could run them blindfolded. The Pareto Principle personified. Today’s focus will be on phase play however, and how he’s added dimensions around his attacking structures.

Ireland’s New Attacking Plays

Open Phase Play

Here, we can see the effects of Joe Schmidt’s rugby brain.

These moves have been built entirely around the 3-3-1 Looper and 3-2 structures of the Irish attacking pattern. Whilst there are many more, there are two very prominent families of moves that I saw, that weren’t all too visible in the Irish Attack series. These are our focus today.

These consist of:

  1. The “X” Runs
  2. The Outside Post

Let’s take a look at them.

The “X” Runs

The X Run family, best seen in the NZ game, was designed to target the Shoot-Drift gap of the All Black defence. Due to the Rush 10 nature of the John Mitchell Defence, they may also use this against England.

New Zealand 2018

This X Run, makes use of the Screen Runner set up, the next facet in the open play cycle.

As we can see here, Standers’ run moves him into the All Blacks line to hold Whitelock. If held, the Switch play from Aki gets Kearney through.

In future I suspect we may see a tracking run option behind Aki for the Gregan style back-pass. As targeting the Shoot-Drift gap that way created the best chance of a break.

Argentina 2018

Again, a variation on the switch with this targeting the fringe of the Puma defence. However, judging by 15’s starting angle of run, it’s not too high a leap to think he won’t cut back behind the 2nd receiver.

Marmion (9) also inserting himself into the line as a potential blocker, can be seen.

The Set X Run

Australia 2018

Here, we see two the LH/TH combo flanking Sexton, with 12 stood behind as the decoy runner. The set up designed for the classic Shoot-Drift Exploit.

We see the dogleg form. Tui reads it well, but with a better line from Henshaw, Healy goes through. I want you to note Furlong’s positioning. He comes in as the support cleaner to help secure possession. Yet I believe, there is a strike move here lying in wait. The reason? Let’s show you.

New Zealand 2018

This is near an identical play, though the props are reversed. However, instead of passing to his prop on a short ball, Furlong runs a scissors line. I believe there is a reason for this.

The move is stopped at source, as Read doesn’t bite on Sexton. Read biting on Sexton, is key to the moves success. Furlong’s line is run as a scissors as he wants to move along the shoot portion of the line, his objective to target Savea’s inside shoulder. If everything works out, Read is on the ground with Sexton, and Savea is firmly planted in place to tackle Ireland’s most powerful carrier in Furlong.

Healy in turn runs the scissors line off Furlong, going straight through the huge gaping hole now created with these two players taken out.

The Screen Runner

The Screen Runner is a tactic that is designed to target the transition zone. Known as the area where the Pillar, Post and Key meet the rest of the defensive line. This is best described as the area just outside D1-3 off the ruck.

Whereas before, the Irish team were strict about their use of 3 pods, they have incorporated the pull back pass as a much bigger part of their game. Sexton, as the recipient, is then able to target this area with the use of the screen runner. A lone forward standing off the pod. This tactic has proved so effective, another team have actually taken it for themselves.

Ireland’s New Attacking Plays

Here we can see the Pods, with the lone runner outside. His purpose is to act as a decoy/screen, to enable the 10 to have as much of a break as he can.

New Zealand 2018

A prime example, as van der Flier’s line helps slow Read, opening the gap for Sexton.

USA 2018

Performed by a more inexperienced Carbery, we can still see his natural speed and talent in the line he runs. He instead tries to go inside rather than behind Healy.

This means he is caught, but it shows the structure is now firmly in place. With the screen option being provided in from the pods on the outside dependent on the call of the 10. In instances, it’s identical to the 3-1-2 system written by Daniel Pugsley. A slight deviation on their 3-2 structure.

The 3-1-2 System

Inspired by Ireland’s new attacking plays?

There’s one team who have definitely found a use for this with the speed of their 10’s.

The All Blacks.

In an identical set to Sextons run against Read. Frizell fills the same role as van der Flier.

I could be totally wrong in this article. I fully admit that, and most of this article are predictions in terms of what I see on the field. But in terms of the last screen we can see how the obstruction lines are having an effect.

If Ireland keep doing well little bits of their IP will be taken by other teams. It’s the natural state, imitation is the highest form of flattery.

With Schmidt in play, Ireland will keep evolving and progressing their attacking play, so when a team has caught up. They’ve already moved on.

Innovation, Innovation, Innovation. At the World Cup. This could prove to be something impressive.

Let me know if you you’ve seen something similar with the Irish attacking plays?


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.


  1. Hi Conor, really interesting article! Do you have any though on how England can counter these plays (and assuming Mitchell would have done some analysis)? In the X run examples, the guard defenders are relatively passive (running laterally with no real press). Could a quicker press and awareness from the guard defenders help?

    It’s also interesting to see how these articles knit together. Daniel Pugsley talked about England 3-1-2 system last summer, and it appears from the the other recent article from the 1014 team that England stuck with it during the Autumn (albeit without the added carrying threats of vunipola x2 / Hughes). Does Ireland’s system have similarity?


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