In this, the third article on Wales we take a look at their use of the 1-3-3-1 system via some examples.

The Welsh have a long openside which they can use in this example. They have lined up a 3 pod off 9 at a relatively good alignment. However, they are taking the ball near static. This means when the centre carrier receives it; he starts to crab out, near jogging rather than running.

The Welsh 1-3-3-1 (1331) part 1

This is important and will be looked into later. Shown below is the result of this lethargy.

Wales have committed 2 defenders into this with their 3, which is not dissimilar to Ireland. However, the difference between the two teams is the speed of the ball from the breakdown. The carrier has taken time to get to the ground, and Rhys Webb in this move is walking to the breakdown. He is walking because the outside runners are not ready. This behaviour suggests that Wales need work in re-positioning in attack. This is where the experience of Jonathan Davies comes to the fore. These subtle nuances are where he is worth his weight in gold.

As for the 3 attackers, they have held 2 defenders. This simply means there are more numbers in the defensive line than the offensive one. Coupled with taking time to re-align Wales are giving themselves more of a job to do.

Priestland giving options

On the next phase, we can see Priestland taking the ball flat and running trying to hold the inside defence. We can also see the 3 pod as highlighted, and the 3rd carrier in the pod running up to take a well-weighted flat pass. This accuracy in execution denies the defence the time to adjust. In this case, the runners run quite hard and straight, and notably, make metres. However, the blue player, who is the tip on option, is very deep in his alignment off the 3 pod. This can allow the defensive line more time than necessary to drift off onto them. Standing flatter minimises this.

The next stage is the 1 pod, and as we can see here, we have Rhys Priestland positioned with a very deep backline behind him. We also have a full defensively numbered blindside, which will be shown more in the next image.

The play to the 1 pod is run, and as we can see we have Sam Cross, running a hard line. Cross, with the 3 pod strikes in the prior phases, should be targeting the edge of a defensive line. This sort of targeting allows the backline to take the screen pass and make metres. Instead, we see them running a very heavily occupied blindside. His line should be closer to Priestland who in an ideal world, would be running the ball to the line to commit the inside defence, so the edge of the line is forced to fix on Cross.

He is trying to do this, but numbers have merely drifted across with the plays.

Second string Welsh team

This is a second string Wales team, and this must be taken into account with their combinations. Experience counts for a significant amount on a normal day but when you are trying to play a different way it is even more important.

The below image shows that they are quite reliant on their pattern. This is in complete contrast to the Scots, whose ethos is to use it to hit the space. Even in this situation, the blind is numbered. Yet, here we have a glaring hole, a back on his open, and two props to beat. Rhys Webb has that break in the bag, and it doesn’t happen. Why? Communication break down maybe? Not sure, but something has gone wrong. Perhaps time in the saddle is needed.

To their credit, the Georgians have done their analysis and seen what the Welsh are doing, so are drifting over at a rate of knots to counter it. This, however, will leave opportunities on the openside. Wales need to start recognising this to employ heads-up rugby. When they can start getting this working the systems will be more effective.

Variation: 1-3-3-Tip on – 1 Screen Option

This is another variation of the previous pattern. It is very similar, if not identical to the Irish pattern of the 3-3-1 backline set up. The difference is the intention. The Welsh are trying to get around the defence too early, with long passes before the defensive line is constricted. This means that the passes are targeting areas that are equally occupied by defenders. The Irish first use the 2 “3 pods” and 1 pod very close together to try and constrict the defence. In this way, they give their backline as much of an overlap as possible. We will show the way the Welsh have worked this, and show situations in later passages where the same principles have been effective.

Here we see a standard 3 pod, the ball has been passed to the middle carrier, and he is going into contact with the support carriers coming in to clear out. Again, the approach to the line by the player is very lethargic and does not attract as many players as you might hope. Rhys Priestland is behind ready to take the pop pass. This interaction between forwards and backs needs to be worked on as it doesn’t happen as often as it should. But this can be worked on.

The long pass

The ball is passed via a long pass from the base of the ruck to the next 3 pod. The centre carrier who takes it is static moves forward 1 metre before passing behind to Priestland, the pass, however, is made just after the decoy runner has moved offside. This, as well as the static nature of the pod in general, is allowing the defence marking the 3 pod option to drift off early. This is the effect of the pod itself being a bit too flat. The pod only needs to be two metres deeper, and this would work. This would allow the depth needed for the players to run hard onto the ball. The decoy runners also need to be a little deeper off the carrier to realistically run the effective and viable decoy line without overrunning.

We see Priestland take the ball from behind and use the 1 pod as a valid screen option to pass behind. This is a good option. The 1 pod is running a good line at the space highlighted, and again could be a valuable line in himself, as there is a good chance he would make a half break. If his line cuts an inside angle from 2 metres further out to the blindside, that could be a full break. The pass goes behind to Williams however, understandably as one of Wales’s most dangerous runners.

He catches the ball, but, he is not out far enough to use his outside break, and due to the earlier phases, is quickly set upon by some very astute Georgian defence, who have read the play. He manages to roll out a little but is quickly tackled by the pod drifting defence spoken about earlier.

Next up

This is an example of where the long passing between the pods didn’t work due to the numbering of the defensive line. In the next article, we shall see an example where this principle was used, the correct decision making prevailed, and it was executed to great effect.

For the first articles in this series see the following – Part 1: Introduction and Part 2: The Tenets.


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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