While other international sides modify structures slightly to suit their purposes, Scotland is busy re-writing the book from scratch. In this Scotland v Italy 6 Nations clash, Scotland played barbarian-style rugby at times while also retaining a ruthless streak. This is how Gregor Townsend is breaking the mould of how a test team should play.

Scotland v Italy | How to tear a defence in half

Scotland’s strike moves are perhaps the most frightening in world rugby. The goal of many of the moves used here against Italy was to tear the defensive line in half.

Scotland use every player perfectly to tear Italy apart
Scotland use every player perfectly to tear Italy apart

Scotland uses two decoy runners moving straight and fast to pull the Italian defence apart. Kinghorn then runs a subtle angle, which the now flat-footed defenders can’t react to. The use of the Blindside winger in the move also gives Scotland an extra option.

Here Scotland try an old-school switch.

Scotland switch direction and force Italy to scramble
Scotland switch direction and force Italy to scramble

Notice the Italian defenders are pulled in one direction, but Scotland are already moving to attack. They have a slight upper hand from two simple passes. Italy are now out of position and are beaten on the outside.

Italy now have to make uncomfortable defensive decisions
Italy’s defence is now too compressed

These strike moves are very professionally executed and work by compressing defenders in tight by using dummy-runners. Scotland are willing to think outside the box during their phase play as well, which brings us to more Gregor Townsend genius.

Scotland v Italy | How Gregor Townsend breaks the rules

When I say Gregor Townsend ‘breaks the rules’, I don’t mean the laws of the game. I mean the arbitrary rules by which most people think international rugby should be played. Most coaches are too risk-averse to try Barbarians style plan in a test match, but Gregor Townsend tries it in this game.

They start with a totally normal crash ball. Nothing to see here.

Scotland make a dent
Scotland make a dent

But in the very next phase, the camera zooms out to reveal a pre-planned maul.

Scotland purposefully build a maul in open play
Scotland purposefully build a maul in open play

On this occasion, they make a mistake. But the intent to set this up is there. If this was to work in a game, it would draw defenders in and basically give Scotland a de-facto scrum. Unpredictability is a strength for Scotland, and you can read about Scotland’s other strengths and weaknesses in this 6 Nations below.

Scotland’s Strengths and Weaknesses for the Upcoming 6 Nations

In this next example, Russell takes full advantage of the deep dead-ball lines at Murrayfield and Stuart Hogg’s acceleration to put him in for a try. This is very resourceful, intelligent play.

Scotland use their home field advantage
Scotland use their home field advantage

And that brings us to the player who stood out most during this win.

Scotland v Italy | How Finn Russell is playing in slow-motion

Finn Russell seemed to have time and space to burn every time he touched the ball. The first thing to note is how his kicking game is never telegraphed to the opposition. He takes the ball right to the line in two hands before finding space between the Italian fullback and winger.

Russell puts in a perfect kick
Russell puts in a perfect kick

These kicks can be used to mercilessly pin teams back in their own half.

This time Russell kicks again and finds grass right behind the Italian line. Because northern hemisphere teams are using their 9’s in the defensive line instead of as sweepers, this space is always present. He almost exploits it with this kick.

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Russell is great at drawing defenders in, waiting for them to come to him before finding space. Below his passing game comes into play. Watch the time and space he has now generated for himself as the Italian defenders hold off, unsure what to expect. It’s almost like the game goes into slow-motion when he gets the ball.

Russell draws defenders
Russell draws defenders

He holds the ball in two hands, pulling defenders towards him. He then slips a pass to Strauss at the final moment. Scotland has now manufactured the space to score.

Scotland score after Russell draws defenders
Scotland score after Russell draws defenders

While Russell is constantly improving at the dark arts of the no.10 position, he will soon be up against teams with much more aggressive and physical defensive lines. Do you think he can play just as well under more intense pressure? let us know your thoughts.

5 COMMENTS

  1. A really well structured analysis of how Scotland play. I love how you build up the tactics from ground up; certainly helps an arm chair fan like me. For a long time Scotland have been the best team to watch in the NH for me (despite being an England fan). I would love to see Finn Russel behind a big ugly Lions pack – if he carries on like this that could come true soon. Scotland V Ireland shaping up to be a massive deciding factor for both teams – whichever wins has got a great platform for the rest of the tournament.

  2. Russell’s ability to disguise his next move is something that Glasgow Warriors are well used to. The difference this season is that more and more of his moves are coming off, whether this is due to his increasing confidence having more time with his Racing or just a natural progression in his game will no doubt be discovered in the next weeks. His passing is something to behold and now his kicking is improving in every game. The new Russell appears to baffle his team mates less than previously too. He has often been unfairly criticised for not contributing enough, but if he and his back line click then Scotland will have a chance against just about any opponent.

    • Like England last year Scotland are being massively impacted by injury. I really hope they can get most of them back for the World Cup – I get the feeling that this Scotland team could do great things. Watch out for Japan though!!!

  3. Presume Gregor Townsend wrote this all thats missing is a bit at the start and a bit at the end.
    “Once upon a time” & “and they all lived happily ever after

  4. Grand Townsend. My advice for teams is also to STOP copying NZ rugby. That’s what they want cause they have the antidote for that also. Play unorthodox and creative. Don’t even consider the basics to be the basics anymore. Example : Make every line-out you get a 4 man line-out for either of the two half’s of play. Don’t waist your energy to push at opponents when it’s there scrum put-in. Practice pulling a scrum machine and do same during game, with caution to injury. This will catch opponents off guard and balance, whilst you have good opportunity to steal ball. Don’t do this 5 meters from your own goal line though….

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