This passage of play is what showed me that Scotland are a true, heads-up rugby team.
The reasoning behind this was that their wide men weren’t fully ready, weren’t correctly aligned, which stresses the need for another playmaker in the team. Admittedly, they’re doing rather admirably without one. But at some point, if Scotland are to enhance this attacking game they’ll need this playmaker. But I digress.
This play starts after Scotland had just moved from left to right over 2 phases, and have gone to contact with their 3 pod closest to the touchline. They switched direction, and immediately targeted the space.
We can see the 3 pod line up (yellow) outside of 9, with Russell (red) behind, and the standalone 1 pod highlighted (yellow/red dot) out a little wider. The width of the 3rd man in the 3 pod is another astute move from Townsend. This ploy means if necessary Scotland can target wider, providing a screen for Russell behind him. Along with this, it keeps the defensive fulcrum narrow, as fast running attackers usually fix a push defence and stops shooters, much like the 2nd prong in the England attack. This means the defence can’t push up past the narrow fulcrum of the All Blacks push. It also means Russell has time to assess his options once he’s received the pass due to the rest of the All Blacks defence remaining back as to effectively drift.
The centre carrier of the 3 pod, again uses his outside runner as a screen, passing behind to Russell. This is because Russell has identified space out wide, and in one swoop, wants to get the ball to it as quickly as possible. This action will get outside the All Black defensive fulcrum (purple), who again have been drawn in by the 3 pod. Also, just outside the Fulcrum, there could potentially be space created by any lazy runners from the 3 pod holding the drift. If the options out wide are flat enough, there could be a Splitter attack much like the Irish use.
However, in this case, the ball is right to be moved wide.
This is where again, as mentioned before in this series, I have the only gripe with the Scottish game. They again have not kept to Tenet number 1. The line off Russell is aligned way too deep. If that line is flatter. For me Scotland score. However, the line, in my opinion, did not expect the ball to be passed out to them. Which is why Russell takes the ball right to the line, he is able to do this easily, by the run of the wider forward in the 3 pod as explained above. The reasons for this is he wants to hold the drift as long as possible, as his runners are too deep. Namely, he wants to give them time to run up and take the ball flatter, as we can see below.
If that line is flat off Russell, for me, that is a clear exploitable overlap, and Scotland score.
Russell has done his best to salvage the situation, but as we can see Jones takes the ball deep. But against a drift defence the rest is history. The pass went inside to Hogg, who was covered by Beauden Barrett, and the game ended.
What could have been
International Rugby games are decided by fine margins and as has been shown, these are very evident here. A couple of changes in alignment and closer adherence to their tenets, I believe they would’ve won. However, “Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda” does not belong in rugby.
If you had some great build-up play but a knock on close to the line a team will later say, “we played well, and would’ve won had we got that try”. That team can’t say unlucky. They have to look at what caused that knock on and look into rectifying it. Rather than going. “Yes we’re fine to look at our build-up play, just need to nail that last pass next time”. That in itself is saying nothing is wrong, and we’ve got it basically done, and don’t need to improve. That last pass is the most important, and the difference between winning and losing.
Calcutta Cup and The Aviva
The trick here is against Ireland and England, they will be coming up against Rush 13 D. This D will get outside their 1 out 3 pod, and catch Russell on the inside, preventing the Scots from using their 2nd pod to wide options unless they stand detrimentally deep. If it gets out from this channel, the same D will catch the 2nd pod behind the gainline. They will do this all day, and attempt to stifle any quick ball the Scots will have. Therefore, the Scots opportunities will be limited. They have to take them, with no looking back thinking: “If we’d done this if we’d done that”.
We saw what happened when 2 tenets weren’t adhered to earlier. Scotland will have to keep this going if they are to beat Ireland and England in particular.
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.