Part 1 of the Rugby IQ Series looked at the different ways England and Australia slowed down the drift defence and preserved space on the outside. The article can be found here.
Part 2 showed how Exeter and Harlequins took advantage of weaknesses in the organisation of the defence to isolate slower players. The article can be found here.
Part 3 will look at different approaches to similar attacking situations by Worcester and Leicester. Full disclosure: I am a big Leicester Tigers fan, so I am trying very hard to be neutral.
Because of the November International series, Worcester Warriors had very little disruption to their team in this game. They were able to retain the complexity of their attacking structures. Leicester were, by contrast, forced to simplify the way they attacked. In this game both teams scored tries from similar situations. This article will not discuss events in the order they occurred. Instead, a direct comparison will be drawn between similar incidents.
The driving maul
On 43 minutes the Tigers have a close range lineout. They choose a simple call; Harry Thacker throws to the middle of the lineout. There is no deception and the jumper doesn’t have to move forwards or backwards. He can concentrate on timing his leap perfectly.
They have traded deception for simplicity because Leicester believe Worcester will not compete for the ball so close to the line. Instead, they correctly anticipate the Warriors will concentrate on stopping the driving maul.
Tigers set up a maul the standard way, with the catcher turning his back on the opposition. The remaining forwards join the maul evenly on both sides. The ball is smuggled to the back of the maul. Tigers rely on brute strength to push Worcester over the line, resulting in a try for Sam Harrison. The maul is executed very well, and is a Tigers trademark.
Worcester are able to call on more settled combinations than the Tigers in this game. This familiarity allows them to use more complicated techniques. While Leicester’s lineout drive was very simple, the Warriors use a shift drive.
Will Spencer (5) stands in the middle of the lineout. He wins the ball unopposed by Leicester. The Tigers are expecting the traditional driving maul to be formed around Spencer. However, Alafoti Fa’osiliva (6) is standing in the position normally taken up by the scrum half.
Spencer simultaneously lands and slips the ball to Fa’osiliva. He is coming on to the ball. He, therefore, has more momentum than a falling jumper could hope for. The maul forms around Fa’osiliva instead of Spencer. The Warriors pack is now not pushing directly against the main Tigers effort. Instead, it slips off the side and is able to surge over the line. Fa’osiliva scores a very well executed try.
Open field play
Unfortunately for the Tigers, their usual core of playmakers is missing. Ben Youngs and George Ford are away with England, while Matt Toomua has a knee injury. These three are the 9-10-12 that normally manufacture linebreaks and create tries for Leicester.
Without them, the Tigers have to rely on Worcester making defensive errors. In this case, the Warriors have obliged.
Leicester have managed to work their way deep into the Warriors 22. After a drive towards the posts they move the ball left. Adam Thomstone (11) has held his run and is calling for a short pass from Telusa Veainu (15). Veainu is running straight at Gerrit-Jan Van Velze (8). Van Velze is over 10 metres away from the defender outside him, Bryce Heem (14, off screen).
He cannot move because Veainu is running straight at him. Veainu has a reputation as a lethal side-stepper. Van Velze has no chance of moving across to also cover Thomstone. Thomstone is therefore unopposed, and certain to score.
Veainu makes a potentially costly mistake. He passes across Thomstone, and instead hits Michael Fitzgerald (4). Fitzgerald actually cuts back inside and aims for the same space Thomstone could have gone through. The hole is so large that he is still able to score and the situation is rescued.
In contrast to Leicester, Worcester have their creative core available. Their 9-10-12 axis of Francois Hougaard, Jono Lance and Ryan Mills are a new combination this season. However, Hougaard and Mills were at the Warriors last year, and Lance has settled quickly into his new surroundings.
Here, Mills (12) is at the front of a double playmaker pod. Alafoti Fa’osiliva (6) runs back towards the Tiger’s inside defence, holding the drift. With 5 Tigers defenders around the ruck area and only 3 Warriors, there must be extra numbers somewhere. Lance (10) calls for a pullback, so Mills gives him the ball.
Lance is now running at his opposite number Joe Ford (10). The defenders inside Ford are occupied by Fa’osiliva. Outside Ford, the defenders have to worry about Jackson Willison (13).
As a result, Worcester have isolated the Leicester 10 from the defenders either side of him. Josh Adams (11) is on Lance’s inside shoulder, therefore creating a 2v1 against Ford. Lance times the pass and puts Adams through the gap. Adams is then able to beat several players and produce a fantastic finish to convert the line break into a try.
The move is very complex and perfectly executed. Leicester do not appear to have made any significant defensive errors, they were simply manipulated by Mills, Lance and their support runners.
Worcester were able to score 5 tries and complete a remarkable 27-31 victory, their first ever at Welford Road.
They did not rely on Leicester mistakes. The Warriors created their tries. Jack Singleton finished a try of the season contender, Josh Adams got another from a Ryan Mills kick through and Mills himself also scored. Worcester Head Coach Gary Gold will be taking over the USA team after this season finishes.
American fans can certainly get excited by the job Gold is doing at Worcester, and what he might do for them in the future.
Author: Daniel Pugsley
I am a 31 year old from Yorkshire, England. I have played social rugby for 25 years in England, Japan, Italy, Poland and the UAE. I teach English as a foreign language, which explains why I’ve lived in so many places. I recently moved back to England and have had to take a break from playing, but I hope to pull on the boots again soon.