Creating Space With Off-Ball Movement

One of the things that we see time and again in our practice sessions is guys trying to attack a well-organized and/or quicker defensive line by trying to go wide. Unless the attacking team has more numbers to create an overlap or a significant speed mismatch on the edge, the defense can easily string out a wide attack and use the sideline to isolate the attacking winger.

An effective way to attack a well organized defense is to create space by making your cuts BEFORE you receive the ball and using the defensive slide against it. The example below is based off of a plain-old “straight out” call and doesn’t require coordinated switches or any exotic deception. It DOES require that the attacking line set up steep and run their lines hard to force defenders to commit. Let’s run through it:

1. As the ball comes out from a ruck or set-piece, the attacking line makes a hard sprint to the hole outside of the. This line is not dramatic — only 10-15 degrees — as you want to drag your defender into the hole rather than shifting responsibility to the outside player.

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2. After one or two hard steps, the first attacker makes a pass to the second attacker who has made a hard cut back to the space that the drifting defender has vacated. Note that this cut is made BEFORE receiving the ball so that the second attacker is receiving the ball as he is accelerating through the hole.

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3. This change of direction will “fix” the defender and force him to commit to the ball carrier who is coming back to his soft shoulder. With this defender effectively eliminated from the rest of the defense, the soft spot in the line is BEHIND the player. A good defensive line will come up together and span the field with overlapping tackle areas, but a fixed player cannot cover as much space to his left/right.

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A couple things to note about this example:

  • All of the cuts/changes in direction are made BEFORE the attacker receives the ball. If you are trying to “create” with the ball in your hands it’s next to impossible for your teammates to support you effectively.
  • None of these line are lateral and should be 10-15 degree variations. This keeps the attacking team moving upfield towards the gain line and does not allow the defending players to react and shift or bump responsibility.
  • This is not a set “play” — it is a variation on a simple “straight out” call. It is up to a player in the backline to take initiative and create space and the responsibility of his teammates to react and support. Collective improvisation is what makes rugby so much fun to play and watch.

Next time we are running some touch or backline drills, work on ways to create by altering direction, pace, and spacing without the ball in your hands. This is easy to do regardless of footspeed or skill level, but identifying and reacting takes reps.

3 Comments
  1. This is the most fundamental understanding of offensive running. The key to this is changing speeds. In our practices, when we run lines, too much emphasis is put on running at full speed. The key is to be running at full speed when you hit the defender/get the ball. You need to be able to walk-run-sprint-jog-sprint-etc. at a moments notice in order to take advantage of what the defense gives you. Its the rapid changing of your angle and changing of your speed that will create gaps in the defense. All it takes is a slight angle change and increase in speed and your trajectory will change greatly, making a defender miss.

  2. Can we maybe remove the call signs for the plays? Otherwise, we’re likely going to have to change them.

    • I can tell that someone has spent time in the intelligence community. Edited, but to be honest I don’t think that there are going to be a) a ton of teams stealing our calls online or b) really that better off knowing when we don’t really have a play on…

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