Scotland uses the 1-3-3-1, but they use it in a different way to Ireland who are quite regimented with it.
They use it differently to Australia, who are traditionally far more adventurous and Barbarians like. They use it almost similarly to New Zealand. The best way to describe this is that they use it astutely, and by forcing the defence to make late decisions. They use it close, they use it loosely. They are a team that has very good decision making across the park. And know how to use it best against the defence in front of them.
This owes no small part to Finn Russell, one of the players we will discuss later.
They use it to target the space, and when it’s on, they have multiple variations. These variations enable them to run into this space. In fact, due to their lack of predictability, this was one of the hardest articles I’ve ever had to write. As their decisions are made in the moment, rather than based on a sequence of play that’s practised over and over in training for a particular situation.
You have to imagine if it’s hard for a writer to guess what’s going to happen on a sofa with plenty of time, it’s going to be harder for a defence in the heat of battle. I will confess it’s an approach I am very impressed by. Sometimes their 3 pods are very close together. Sometimes they have spread apart. Regardless, the adaptability is to be admired.
Let’s look at a couple of situations where we can see their patterns in play, and show how the defensive line influenced the variations the Scots put into play. This has Townsend written all over it.
Whilst the Scottish are innovative in their use of the 1-3-3-1. They do follow it in terms of the phases across the field when the situation dictates as well. But unlike other teams, they’re not following a plan, or a sequence of play to prepare for the next phase. They are operating in the moment. Remember, they can switch at a moments notice, as we will show later. But for now, let us see the classic example.
Whilst this is a classic 1-3-3-1 across the pitch, we can already see from the below how the Scots are trying to vary up even that. This is not a tight knit 3 pod that we see with the Irish. The Irish structure is designed for proximity so the players can be in close to provide support at the breakdown. This is much looser.
We see the middle carrier act as the 1st receiver, who then launches a flat pass to the second receiver within the pod (yellow/red dot). Thereby shifting the point of attack within the pod. This allows the space for the 2nd receiver to alter his line and hopefully generate gainline advantage. Whereas the Irish pod is designed for ball retention, this is designed for the line break.
On top of this, we can see Finn Russell behind the pod. He can take the ball out of the back and pass on down the line at any time if he deems it the correct decision.
The carrier goes into touch, and with the fast running forwards, the quick ball is secured. Whilst the 9 was the passer on the prior phase, Finn Russell here steps in as the first receiver. This is important, as you can see the pod again, organised very loosely. Yet, the ball goes to the 3rd carrier in the pod (yellow/red dot). This is a skilful piece of passing and is a different picture to the defence than the pass to the middle carrier as in the prior phase. What I want you to remember from this pretty standard execution of the 1-3-3-1 pattern, is the spacing and variety within their 3 pod structures. Especially how the forwards are confident enough to be able to pass freely to one another. Passing freely like this is one of the tenets again, that will prove itself more and more relevant later.
The pass then again goes out to Finn Russell, who presented with no space, launches a grubber with Hogg and Maitland as chasers. This play results directly in a try.
The Scottish execution and frequency of which they chip through grubbers on the wings is far too great to be a one-off. It is a key area of their game, an area they have clearly worked on as a mainstay attacking strategy. We shall see in a later article exactly how effective this is.
If you haven’t already, take a look at Part 1: Tenets in this series.
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.