Hi guys. Lot of talk about systems and styles and gameplans these days, but for me there is actually only one “game plan” in rugby – play to where the space is. Even the best defence teams will give you something if you know where to look. Because nothing is free in rugby. If they send men to your rucks then they have less guys in the line. If their wings want to come up to defend then there is space to kick behind them. Etcetera.
There is a lot of things wrong with the Bulls but today I want to look at times in the Hurricanes match where they use space well. It is some silver lines in the dark clouds for the boys from Pretoria!
The first example above is the try the Bulls score from Odendaal’s excellent chip over the rush. Canes is known for their high speed defence, but if you do that then you leave a big space behind you… The Bulls was ready and set up this move from a lineout in their own half. Odendaal chip from first receiver and four Bulls players immediately get into the space behind the rushing defence. Matthews take the ball and the rest is in history. I believe we must absolutely punish teams who rush us in this way. Firstly we want to create doubt in their next rush, but also if there is space on offer, we must take it.
Next above we see this excellent kick by flyhalf Schoeman. The Canes kicked off to the Bulls right hand side and chase hard, so the left wing Savea was up. The Bulls go through some phases across to the other side of the field but Savea stayed up in the line. That mean fullback Barrett is covering the middle of the field as well as Savea’s left wing for kicks. Normally a 10 won’t really kick across to the far side like this, but Schoeman see that Barrett is slightly out of position trying to cover both options, so he kick beautifully into the space that is available. Nothing is for free and we must make people pay the price.
Sometimes there is no space, but there is a opportunity to create space, as we see above. The Bulls called five-man lineout and set up a maul, which suck in many Canes forwards. When Paige get the ball at the back he see that the some of the Canes forwards is still on the blindside of the ruck. The Hurricanes “post” defender who must mark the scrumhalf is a milli-second slow to take his position, so that allow Rudi to attack the next defender, the “guard” Savea. Paige force Savea to commit to him long enough to open a space for Jesse Kriel, who have seen what is developing and attack the space that Rudi opened for him.
We can also use attacking structure to create space, as we see above. By presenting multiple options to the defence we create uncertainty, we force a commitment, and we can break their structure. That is when space appears. The Bulls has a three-man pod with Nonkontwana and De Jager flanking Jenkins, who was the receiver. We can see the Canes rush attacking the pod because Jenkins is holding onto the ball just long enough to commit them. He will pass out the backdoor to Jesse, who will offload to Schoeman who will make a great run. The important thing here is timing. Jenkins play the ball late, so it force the rushing Prinsep to come in, which create the dog leg for the gap. A defence with fast line speed can sometimes get disconnected and we must encourage that!
The holy grail of rugby is quick ball. If we can get over the advantage line and recycle quickly then the defence is on the back foot. The above is a perfect example.
It is the Bulls 7th phase and we can see that the Canes has not managed to fold to the far side of the ruck. Yes they tired, but 5 of the 6 Canes at that top ruck is replacement players! So that is not the whole story… If we look earlier in the phases we see the Bulls was starting to play flatter, carry more direct, challenge the defensive line, keep the ball alive and make meters. That is Lions type rugby… It all add up until space start to appear. The Canes was still aggressive on defence, so we must tip our hat to the Bull for this sequence.
It is difficult to see space when you are standing on a rugby field and not watching on TV! It start with analysing your opponent to see what space they offer and where they offer it. After that it come down to your players and if they are able to see the opportunities. And most important it is about guys communicating where the space is. A rugby team must be a animal with 30 eyes and 15 mouths.
The Bulls has not had a good season, but with John Mitchell coming in he will give them a strong foundation and hopefully encourage some of the good signs we have seen occasionally. Because rugby is not complicated. It is about doing the simple things well and to have the technical ability to take the space on offer.