Rugby Attack|Manipulate Defence To Create Space

April 7, 2015 — Leave a comment

No. Nothing’s wrong.

I know this isn’t a kicking article, but their are some silky rugby league skills on show in this example, nonetheless!

My favourite game concept is by far “Counter Attack”, helping players, units and teams become more effective (ruthless) from receiving kicks, turnovers and fractured ball.

With these situations you have a short ‘window of opportunity’ in which you can capitalise on yet to be aligned defensive shape.

But what about when the defence is already set?

Yes. You’ve got to find ways to manipulate them to create space. Insert all of the cliches here, and I’m sure you can picture all the 2v2, 3v2 drills & progressions you run at training.

Below is a great example of what can be achieved even when the defence knows which way you are attacking.

What we don’t often get to test at training with one dimensional 3v2’s is sustained effort and support play off the ball. So much work needs to be done by a team, generally, before they find this match up on the field.

Think – engage ruck defence, fix edge defenders, backs holding their run with width and depth etc…

Watch the clip below (40secs) and observe the following:

* The intent of the attacking team to quickly shift the ball outside the ruck and edge defence.

* The lead runners on each pass play providing option and engaging defence

* Find the point at which the space becomes apparent. What is the posture of the defence? Which way are they moving, if at all?

* The attacking winger’s decision to take the tackle near the sideline, and speed of his play the ball.

* The whole movement is carried out at speed.


1. The halves have decided the point of attack is wide on the other side of the pitch. Perhaps targeting the last 3 defenders in the line.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 8.59.49 am

2. The first receiver (halfback) after drifting slightly, squares up and ‘digs’ into the defensive line attracting interest. This is the beginning of creating the space out wide. Draw and pass.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 9.00.52 am

3. With a lead runner going through taking out two defenders, you can now see the opposition beginning to scramble across. Good width and depth from the attack to preserve space for the winger.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 9.01.13 am

4. Good momentum onto the ball. Beginning to develop a ‘front foot’ feel about this play. Important to note that now is where the work is being done to get the advantage on the next play or at contact. Again support runners provide options and commit defenders.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 9.01.35 am

5.The ball carrier continues to draw and pass, further fixing two more defenders and the outside man is in two minds. Asking questions of the defence is key in creating this space. Draw and pass. Lots of grass appearing now.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 9.01.56 am

6. The ball carrier again delays his pass preserving the remaining space for his winger as the defence slides (scrambles). The last in this exchange of passes see the winger receive the ball and still achieve some good carry metres.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 9.02.19 am

7. With the sideline (14th defender) quickly approaching as well the cover from the inside, the winger is presented with his choice. Foot race? Or, take the tackle and re load? (For any effective play after this, there MUST be a team mate move into dummy half quickly to get advantage from the PTB).

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 9.02.37 am

8. The winger takes no chances close to the sideline and takes the tackle. Note he doesn’t ‘fight’ for any length of time as getting to his feet to play the ball quickly is the only objective. This is the critical piece of this attacking puzzle. The work has been done to fracture (get around) the defence on the last play. With many defenders still trying to get back on side, the ball carrier knows exactly the space to attack and wastes no time.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 9.02.58 am

9. The result, although not a try on this occasion is great field position. The ball carrier chooses the space where the ref is standing and puts his foot on the gas. The defensive posture hasn’t been given time to recover. The reward from the first exchange of passes indeed!

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 9.03.29 am


Whilst I’m certainly not saying that generic attack v defensive grids aren’t effective, be sure you are adding the necessary context to provide decision making opportunities to both. At least ensure you are progressing to opposed plays more than your players take on ‘fresh air’.

Modified or conditioned games will provide the necessary elements required for your players to communicate, support, make decisions and execute within the context of competition. It is repeat, or sustained group effort on display in this article. Everyone playing a role on and off the ball, for more than one play at a time…

Rugby League is about building pressure, & creating field position from which to strike. When you are clear, and work to a team process, great things can happen.

By Stuart Lierich

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