As you can probably guess the 1-3-3-1 pattern is not exactly free-flowing. It is highly regimented and geared for multiple phases across the park.

When Ireland want to cut loose they employ another pattern that combines with the 3 pod off 9. Cutting loose could be when the game opens up, momentum swings or they’ve made a break.

In open play, the Irish will combine and switch between the two depending on the game makeup. I will show you a small example later. First, though, I will be showing you phases where only the loose “Twos” pattern was being used.

In my opinion, this is basically Ireland’s version of a wide-wide pattern. Ireland uses the centre of the field as a transition zone, and the forward alignments in this are modelled accordingly. The play across the field has 2 levels of depth. But depth is relative. The forwards are at a depth that they can run onto the ball, but, the alignment is very flat at each level. It seems to vary, between either a 2-2-2 or a 2-2-1 across the field.

It is a far looser pattern. Particularly fluid, with the ball able to go across all the pods over either 1 or 2 phases. It requires more reaction to the defence, with the spare forwards providing decoy lines as they see fit.

The Twos

Here, Ireland has made a gainline advantage off a set piece move off the previous phase. They have the 1sttwo” pod standing close to the ruck. This pod is prepared to take the ball into contact. A method very similar to the first 3 pod in the 3-3-1 Looper.

The 2 pod gives the option of taking the ball into contact because the defensive line is still pretty solid. There is an overlap, but not so much that it won’t be stopped. Ireland knows that they have to restrict the line speed of the English before they go wide. Why? To get around the defensive fulcrum. As such they want to target the fringe, get gainline advantage and to release the ball then when they’re a little wide and England are on the back foot. Otherwise, the line speed will simply catch the Irish on the inside if they don’t use their runners fully effectively.

Six Nations (6 Nations) patterns tactics twos

The ball is secured with a forward in the previous ruck coming through to reinforce and secure possession. From here, the 9 passes to Sexton, who has lined up the second 2 pod, which is a valid receiver. However, as you can see, the length of Sexton’s pass has got the 2ndtwo” targeting the edge of the Fulcrum defence. An action like this shows us he knows there’s space out wide. Also, this pattern is the one Ireland utilise when the game is breaking up and looser, more maverick play is encouraged. Often they go wide immediately. Sexton fires the pass between the pod to Zebo. Who is then stood at the deeper level of depth, with a flattish line off him out of shot that we’ll see in a second.

Six Nations Ireland's patterns and tactics twos

Wide to Zebo

Zebo receives the pass. The 2nd 2 pod held a few defenders, but the English defensive system on the outside are still rushing up to try and catch Zebo before the pass is made. Cole was haring after Sexton to try and get to him before the pass was made. If not for Watson sprinting up to tackle Ringrose. Ringrose gets his pass away, and if he manages to pass to Henshaw. England are in trouble. However, Furlong (yellow circle/black dot) runs a great decoy line that holds the defence and stops the drift. Again, a great example of why Furlong in a 1 Pod role is so effective. Zebo passes behind to the 3rd 2 pod. This pod should have been standing flatter to the line to take full advantage of the overlap. But alas this does not happen.

Six Nations Ireland's patterns and tactics twos

The 3rd 2 pod make inroads. Not enough for a try-scoring capability, but enough that has troubled the English defence and got the crowd behind them. They have the momentum, and the urgency to attack continues. The pass goes out to Sexton, who again has set up the 2nd 2 pod. They haven’t done another charge close to the ruck, as the players have looked up and seen the defence misaligned out wide on the openside. Sexton then passes out to McGrath (yellow/red dot), who then runs a loop play to Ringrose behind him (red).

Six Nations Ireland's patterns and tactics twos

Better alignment

This alignment here is much, much better. England have noticed the danger earlier on in this phase. Cole was haring after Sexton to try and get to him before the pass was made and if not for Watson sprinting up to stop the pass. Ringrose gets his pass away. If that pass gets away. Henshaw is completely outside the Fulcrum defence, in a flat line, with no-one in front of him bar a sweeper in the backfield and a very dangerous run. On top of this, he has 1 forward outside him to assist in the ball retention, and also provide extra physicality that’s often needed close to the try lines.

Six Nations Ireland patterns tactics twos


This is an example of Ireland’s endeavour in attack since the World Cup. A completely different pattern to promote wide-wide play. The key element in this is the 2nd 2 pod. As we see from the above, it can either be used as a screen or a loop play. But the common ground here is that it does not go to contact. It is used as a tipping point, more than a smash ball from which the defence will be able to realign and settle the game down. It’s designed, as well as the 1 decoy runner, to hold the Fulcrum defence and allow the ball to go wide. This is much like the second prong in the English system.

Like I have said before, the system usually follows a 2-2-2 or a 2-2-1, however, whilst there are only 2 receivers in a pod, the breakdown philosophy is never lost. As such it’s not unusual to see a player coming from the previous ruck to assist a 2 pod if the ball is in jeopardy. The only pod that this doesn’t apply to is the 2nd pod, due to its status as the tipping pod, and therefore the breakdown here is not relevant as the ball does not go into contact here.

This shows the importance to Joe Schmidt of the breakdown, the imperative nature to get forwards in the wide pods to secure possession and maintain the attack.

The first three parts of this series can be found here; Part 1: Tenets, Part 2: 3-3-1 Looper and Part 3: Decoy & Splitter


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.


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