As we know from the prior articles Ireland essentially have two attack patterns (or families); namely the 1-3-3-1 Looper and the Twos.

But this does not mean that Ireland sticks to them rigidly. They have variations, they have cases where they mix patterns. They have interplay within the 3 pod systems to paint a different picture. I cannot physically show all the plays and the variations based on the patterns of the Irish team. Professional teams study for months to do that. Remember the patterns in play are a framework. They can be stuck too, but any successful and smart team will alternate. This is what we want to show here.

Threes and Twos

Here we can see the start of what appears to be a standard 3-3-1 pattern. Yet if we have a closer look the pass from 9 is way too long to allow a full 3-3-1 backline pattern. Those passes are far shorter. This is because it’s a combo of the two. The 3 pod, goes to contact.

Ireland's Six Nations (6 Nations) patterns - part 1.

Paddy Jackson then takes the ball as the first receiver to increase cut out space and passes between a “twos” pod. Trying to exploit the outside defence.

Ireland's Six Nations (6 Nations) patterns - part 2.

This shows another way of how the Irish can mix it up in phase play. But again, it combines elements from two of their existing patterns. It’s intriguing how they improvise to overcome and attack in certain situations.

Example 2

This does seem to be a pattern that they fall back to as almost 22m to 22m line areas. They mix and match of course. But this particular mix I’ve noted has happened mainly in the area of the field listed above.

Let us look at another example. Here, is the same principle. We see Paddy Jackson stepping into the first receiver, and passing out to a 3 pod with go forward from the prior phase.

Ireland's Six Nations (6 Nations) patterns - part 3.

Once the pod has gone to contact, Paddy Jackson again steps in as first receiver and crabs across the field, with a two pod wide split running off him. In this case, he has three options.

He can run the scissors play to Toner, he can launch a flat pass to Stander coming in hard on the angle, and last but not least, he can pass between the two, connecting with Zebo. Zebo is a little deep, but again, it shows the importance of multiple options.

Ireland's Six Nations (6 Nations) patterns - part 4.

He connects with Stander, and the ball goes to ground.

Ireland's Six Nations (6 Nations) patterns - part 5.

3-3 Pod Interplay

The Irish present us with the picture below here. A 3 pod 1 pass off the ruck, with Sexton behind, Zebo outside him and another 3 pod off him. Same setup as the 3-3-1 Looper, but simultaneously, very different.

What is different is the varying depths, the greater distance between the ready to run pods and Zebo on the open. This example will show why the 1-3-3-1 can be very ineffective in wide-wide play.

Ineffective in wide-wide

The pass is shifted out to the first carrier in the pod.

Ireland's Six Nations (6 Nations) patterns - part 6.

The carrier passes to the centre carrier, who loops the pass back to Sexton.

Ireland's Six Nations (6 Nations) patterns - part 7.

This is where the problems start.

Sexton uses the 3rd carrier (blue) in the pod as a decoy, but due to the flatness of his position, he is already offside. The static nature of this means the defence simply drift in to out early. To be effective, he should be 5 metres back, running onto the ball as a valid option, however, this would put him too deep. Being too deep means the drift will work against them. Toner in contrast is the first runner of the 2nd 3 pod. Shown (yellow/black dot) here, he runs the decoy line to screen Zebo. Due to his depth, he is the only effective decoy runner. The only one who gets a hard run on to commit defenders.

Ireland's Six Nations (6 Nations) patterns - part 8.

Zebo has a very deep line off him here, and like Sexton, his decoy runner is static. Sean O’Brien (yellow/black dot) is normally a monstrous runner. Yet, completely ineffective here, as he is way too flat to make a run on the ball. ANY run would put him offside, as such the defence just drifts off him.

Ireland's Six Nations (6 Nations) patterns - part 9.

Zebo’s Pass is given late. But the static nature of the earlier line has committed so few defenders that it isn’t enough. As we can see here, the attack is well numbered.

Ireland's Six Nations (6 Nations) patterns - part 10.


This shows two things:

  1. The 1-3-3-1 is not effective going wide across 1 phase.
  2. intricate moves do not cover up the basics.

The basics needed here are effective running lines using Ireland’s carriers and better alignment. Ireland only offered one effective runner as a decoy, and this was because they were so flat, any hard runs by their players would’ve sent them offside.

However, the conundrum here is that if the whole line had stood deeper and their decoy runners as listed above had ran those lines, they’d be at such a depth, that the defence would have had the time to hold out wide and then drift off them. Meaning the movement within the pattern, however intricate, does not cover up for its natural ineffective alignment.

Had the line off Zebo been flatter, the gainline may have been reached. But the usage of the 1-3-3-1 is not conducive to enhance the potency of wide-wide play. It does, however, show Ireland’s increased variations, but one that sticks to a framework that in this case, restricts them, not enhances them.

For the rest of this series see the following links; Part 1: Tenets, Part 2: 3-3-1 Looper, Part 3: Decoy & Splitter, Part 4: Twos, Part 5: Success factors and Part 6: Key players.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this. Please let us know if you have and if it has increased your enjoyment and understanding of the Irish gameplan. Now off to game day.


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. Wow Conor, what a week to release a seven part series on Ireland’s attack! We certainly saw a lot of possession retention and predictability as mentioned by you. I’d be interested in your review of how the attack went in Saturday.

    However, you will need to do yet another article on the get nowhere for two minutes, cross kick to gain a bit of territory, go nowhere for two more minutes, then drop a goal from 45m!

    • Cheers JD, was a nervy finish wasn’t it! I think Irelands 3-3-1 Plays definitely saw usage. As did the 3-2 mixes. But ultimately Irelands defence and kicking game suited the conditions. Especially towards the end.

      I’m back at work after surgery now. So will be a little less busy in the front. But will try and get something out! Gotta be careful we don’t get TNO excited either 😛

      But I will say it was great composure though very safety first rugby in those 40 phases. But. Ireland specialise in that as one of their tenets. Standing start. French D was ok until that cross kick. And Ire just continued to grind them.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here