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Analysis: How Tuilagi did damage


Analysis: How Manu Tuilagi did his damage at set-piece against Ireland

England 57 – Ireland 15

“We just want to see different ways of playing, we want to see a passing game, we were tight against Wales and as you saw last week in a test between two top teams there were no line breaks. We want to do that this weekend” – Eddie Jones – Pre Ireland on the Ford-Farrell axis.

As was evident, Jones definitely got his wish.

Whilst Ireland were obviously in a different stage of their preparation as their improvement against Wales showed, it’s obvious that England did a lot of things right.

As an England fan, the exciting part is that England can get so much better. This performance, as good as it was, was tainted with the unfamiliarity of combinations and game time in open play. With the improvements that you will see, their performance could get quite scary.

A couple of weeks ago there was an article detailing the England playmaking dynamics at 10-12/10-15. This game showed the benefits of the Ford-Farrell-Tuilagi combination quite brilliantly. Manu Tuilagi’s positioning at 13 was inspired. Stripped of the playmaking responsibilities he donned at 12, he got back to what he was good at. Hard, direct running outside of two very gifted playmakers. The work of George Ford and Owen Farrell, with assistance from Elliot Daly, combined with his angles of running perfectly. Resulting in him carrying against a thinner, compromised defensive line, leading to a more effective carry.

This comprises the first article in a mini-series! In this article, we’ll look at the effects of Tuilagi at 13 and how he combines in set-piece, while the second will show you in part two how the dynamic works in open play.

Off set-piece

England’s use of Manu Tuilagi and Joe Cokanasinga off set-piece harkens back to Eddie Jones’ days and philosophies as technical advisor to the Springboks in 2007.

Jones is very keen to establish trends in the attack off set-piece. His teams will in fact run one option within a play multiple times to ‘train’ the defence to hold for that option, or run it terrifyingly well once, before utilising the multiple options in the play to then strike at the weak points created by this commitment.

As such, we can see certain plays that England have generated and how they use this principle to enhance their other options. 


The very first move a young player will usually learn, we see the work here of Ford and Farrell on the inside. The two passes start the change from ‘Rush D’ to ‘Drift’ defence, with Farrell doing brilliantly to help it along.

He crabs across, helping Carty start his drift, whilst his motion on the pass is wonderful. Feinting a pass to Daly, he passes directly towards his line, revealing Tuilagi striking from a shielding position and again, from depth.

Tuilagi’s speed plus the crispness and deception of delivery means Tuilagi makes a run against the inside shoulder of Carty, smashing through and making considerable gainline. 

Pacific Wave

This play makes use of the sheer reputation that these guys have.

We see Tuilagi and Cokanasiga, both running full steam at the opposition with Daly behind as the slice option. The move starts with Ford running to the line to buy as much space for these two as possible.

Note that with the time they get and alignment, that a pass to Cokanasiga at the line could’ve sent him through. Whilst Tuilagi is the carrier, we can understand, how the threat of these two ball carriers, will force a defence to commit.

The scramble of the Irish inside defence shows how wary they are of this setup.

The next time they run this is from a very similar position. England knows that Ireland will be wary of the crash option now having endured it in the first half.

As such, they go for the slice option in Daly, who makes a lot of ground on the outside.

One incredibly nice touch in the work of George Ford is his line. Rather than run straight, he runs at a slight angle, so he arrives at the defensive line right next to Tuilagi, giving a better chance of attracting Tuilagi’s defender for greater gainline.

This is a key reason why the Irish scrumhalf sprints over to assist in the defence. Not only that, the pass to Cokanasiga, and the tunnel pass to Daly is also made easier.

Fijian Slice

This is a slice move, where you’ll have one decoy runner taking a hard line with an option running behind known as the ‘Screen’ option or ‘Slice’.

Very basic, yet in this case, the Irish defence is put in the worst possible scenario.

You have both Cokanasiga and Tuilagi involved in this move, the difference between the two being the distribution and channels targeted.

Tuilagi receives the second pass from Ford, meaning he targets the 10-12 channel and draws in Aki, historically a very nice channel to hit for an attacker.

On the second time the concept is used, Cokanasiga receives the third pass from Farrell out the back with Tuilagi’s angle targeting the 12-13 channel which draws in Ringrose.

With the flatness of the pass and delivery from Farrell, Cokanasinga runs into a huge amount of space, scoring the try.

This combo is derived from Jones desire to establish ‘power points’, where any two of Vunipola, Cokanasinga, Tuilagi or England’s power runners combine in their lines.

In this example, the Vunipola brothers combine to form the point. We see Tuilagi and Billy Vunipola often combine in the same pod.


Designed to sow confusion in the defensive line, they have proven very effective at constricting the opposition around this point, opening up space outside.

Alternatively, the defence can number up on a player too much, allowing the other carrier a run at weak shoulders. In the above stills, Billy Vunipola combined with Tuilagi to compress the short side and bring the winger up, allowing the kick chase for the try.

The first Pacific wave with Tuilagi and Cokanasinga is another perfect example.

With this in mind, you can see how the flat play off 9 espoused by England will be effective, with the possibility that pop passes between the men in the power points may also have been developed.

In the next article, we will discuss the Tuilagi at 13 dynamic in open play, and how it can be so effective.

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Analysis: How Manu Tuilagi did his damage at set-piece against Ireland
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