There are many variations to Ireland’s tactic of playing to their 3-3-1 pattern.

Here is another example of the play from a set piece, except it ends with a decoy move this time, rather than a Looper play.


It should also be noted, that the 2 “3 pods” do not always go the same way. Often, the 9 will pass *left* to a 3 pod, allow the ruck to be formed, then reverse the direction of attack and pass *right* to the next 3 pod. The second 3 pod go into contact before running the decoy play. Or in the more usual option, the 10 can take the ball out the back from this 3 pod and release the decoy play outside of him on the same phase.

Bear this in mind as it’s quite a fundamental play, but right now we will look at the decoy usage post 3-3 pattern.

The Decoy

The ball goes off the lineout and is passed from 8 to Henshaw on a crash ball where it is secured. This is shown below.

Six Nations (6 Nations): Ireland's patterns and tactics decoy and splitter

The ball is then passed to Best via a tracking run from 9, who does an interplay more likely for the set-piece move, then nearly stop halfway through. This move usually results in a wing coming from the openside to receive the pass from Best using the 9 as a dummy loop. However, it seems to have broken down. So Best takes the ball to contact. He is by himself. And as such, multiple forwards go in to ensure the ball is secured quickly.

Six Nations : Ireland's patterns and tactics decoy and splitter

The ball is then passed out to the 2 pod. It’s a 2 pod due to the overcommital of players to the Best ruck on the prior phase. Regardless, 2 players from the prior ruck move over to assist in clearing it out.

Six Nations : Ireland's patterns and tactics decoy and splitter

Once the ball has been secured, Ireland then reverses the attack direction. Ireland slips back with their next 3 pod to the openside taking it into contact. Here you can see that they have Sexton behind the pod. Sexton is there as a potential pop option from the pod to release the wide play quicker. Simultaneously, you can see the 1 pod outside of Sexton, ready for the next phase.

Six Nations : Ireland's patterns and tactics decoy and splitter

The ball is secured and comes to Sexton. Sexton takes the ball to the line and uses the 1 pod as a decoy runner, passing behind to Henshaw. Henshaw then gives the short ball to Ringrose.

Six Nations : Ireland's patterns and tactics decoy and splitter

Same principle as the 3-3-1 Looper, just a screen pass rather than the loop.

The Splitter

The Splitter pattern was being shown at the beginning of last year. Since then, it has been modified, not only in terms of interplay but more importantly, with the players who execute it.

In the Splitter variation, the 3 pods work in a similar fashion to other setups. However, there is some very clever work that happens around the pod in order for it to be effective.

Notably, there is a switch of direction between the 3 pods to kick-start an attack. Where a 3 pod can switch the direction of attack from the blindside to the open side instead of going the same way. This often combines with the same openside 3 pod passing directly behind to the 10 as a second receiver instead of going to contact. The 10 will then pass out to the backline on the openside. Who will be running a Looper or Decoy play.

The difference between the Splitter and this pattern is the angle and intent of the switch 3 pod, and finally, the defence reacting to the same play outside of the 10. This combo causes the early in-to-out/Drift and creates a hole for the 10.

Splitter example

The 1st 3 pod goes to contact as shown below. Not much has changed in their objective. They do go to contact, though the back two are tracking out which tries to draw some defenders away from the lead runner. Joey Carbery, a very fleet-footed 10, is out back as an alternate option.

Six Nations : Ireland's patterns and tactics decoy and splitter

The next 3 pod come around to the blindside.

Six Nations : Ireland's patterns and tactics decoy and splitter

The ball is then switched. There is a change of direction to the open called by Carbery. Carbery starts tracking out, ready to take the pass behind the pod. Now, normally in Ireland’s attacking pattern, this would be a switch to try and use the backline off the 10 as described above. The 1 pod forward would be integrated with the backline, as to ensure the ball is retained when the ball goes wide.

With the Splitter, it’s a little different.

Carbery and the Splitter

Six Nations : Ireland's patterns and tactics decoy and splitter

As Carbery is tracking out, the outside decoy play starts running as well, attracting the attention of the outside defence.

Six Nations : Ireland's patterns and tactics decoy and splitter

Now, pay attention to the 3 pod. This is what separates the Splitter from the standard out to the backline Looper/Decoy play.

The Decoy and usual backline option off Carbery is on if he wants it. There is an overlap, he could use it. But another option has been created via some very subtle trickery by the prior runners. The 3 pod, have caused an obstruction for the inside defender. If you have a look at the 3 pod, you see two Fijian players (green) up next to each other. This is because the Fijians have been stopped moving across as the 3 pod are blocking him. Which has opened up a gap for a very fleet-footed 10.

Six Nations : Ireland's patterns and tactics decoy and splitter

He takes it. The decoy runner off him is up flat coming through to become an immediate support player. They go onto score the try on the same phase.

Six Nations : Ireland's patterns and tactics decoy and splitter


Very effective, very clever, and very innovative. The outside defence is watching their arcs. In the heat of the moment, they don’t know their inside defence is obstructed. They don’t hear the call. All their analysis has pointed at the 10 taking the ball from the switch 3 pod, and passing down the backline, as such they act accordingly. It is a simple variation of a switch move.

In the past, defences have seen Ireland switch the direction of play to a 3 pod attacking on the other side of the ruck, thereby switching the direction of attack. They usually know that this pod will pass to the 10, who in turn will use the backline outside him. In turn, starting the premature drift. They don’t see the inside defence compromised by the 3 pod, creating space for the 10 to exploit. 

This in itself, is another example of multiple options from the England series. The same principle, executed differently.

For the first two parts of this series see the following; Part 1: Tenets and Part 2: 3-3-1 Looper.


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. Great series again, Conor. It’s quite an achievement for Schmidt to have harnessed the formerly all over the place passion and physicality into such a well disciplined and regimented machine. For me the work on for this 6 Nations is to keep the intensity up for the whole tournament.


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