The 20-year-old fullback has flourished in Leon MacDonald’s ‘shark attack’ system since arriving to the Mitre 10 Cup last season.
The rookie was one of the most exciting players in the competition last year, breaking tackles and running riot across the provincial scene.
After making the Crusaders squad, Jordan sat on the sidelines and wasn’t seen at all during Super Rugby. Back with the Makos, he is proving his debut season was no one-hit wonder with blistering play.
Jordan is a fullback with the complete range of skills, scorching speed, and best of all – a prescience when it comes to finding a gap or the try line. With such a damaging strike weapon at the back, Tasman has found many ways to get him involved.
Tasman’s unbalanced ‘Shark attack’ system
The Makos run an ‘unbalanced’ 2-3-2-1 pattern as their main phase play structure.
If you cut the field in half, you have a 5-3 split of your 8-man forward pack, hence why it is ‘unbalanced’ based on man numbers.
Standard modern day systems (1-3-3-1 and 2-4-2) will both generally be balanced with a 4-4 distribution of the forwards. If you draw a line down the middle of the field, you could see even numbers on each side but here you have a 5-3 split.
In this attack system, it becomes more uneven when you consider spacing.
Those five forwards are usually spread over 30-40% of the width of the field, with the other three over the remaining 60-70%. During play, you end up with a ‘strong’ short side and a ‘weak’ open side.
The ‘weak’ open side just means that protection is limited to just three forwards across the wide space. If the ball goes to ground in a tackle, backs have to be capable of cleaning.
On the other side, however, with five forwards in a short space, the ball can be controlled by playing back-and-forth within the short side off 9.
Tasman are looking to play a 3-man pod back to the middle off 9 after stretching wide through the backs. They have another two forwards in the current ruck as cleaners, who will reload with some backs for a short side option on the next phase.
All five forwards are within a rather condensed space, leaving the remaining three other forwards wide to the left in the ‘weak’ open side.
The three remaining forwards are visible in this example after the pod of three has carried and set a ruck. They have a two-forward setup outside Mitch Hunt (10) and the last runner in isolation.
We can see just how much width is available to the left for this open side phase play.
This pattern creates opportunities for the backs to use those massive open sides, providing a platform for a strike weapon like Jordan to wreak havoc on the edge.
He might pop up behind the two-forwards (below) or stay wider, one-man inside the winger like a traditional fullback.
Either side of the field can be ‘strong’ or ‘weak’ and Tasman float between the two depending on where play restarts or how they get the ball.
The backs are afforded frequent opportunities with expansive room to work with, but the Makos can still play what is in front and don’t always have to fire to the edge when going to the ‘weak’ open side.
Building on the above example, when the 10 utilises the two-man pod as a runner, instead of releasing the backs, the lurking back (13) can join to create a two-man clean to set a midfield ruck.
Around every corner, the Makos have a surprise waiting.
The three-man pod from the ‘strong’ side can re-load and Tasman can switch the point of attack back towards that way with more designed set plays.
Against North Harbour, they switch play and use a ‘trigger’ release from the three-man pod to play Hunt out the back.
Jordan tries to pop off his shoulder but interrupts the line of Lomax (3) resulting in an error. When they run the same play against Counties, they iron out the problems and Jordan explodes on the outside before setting up Wyatt Crockett with some impromptu dance moves.
We are getting into the dizzying array of pet plays that Tasman have installed into their pattern around the distribution skills of Hunt and speed of Jordan.
Controlled by young maestro Mitch Hunt, the Makos have built the most frenetic attack in the competition and one of the more innovative structures in World Rugby.
It is common to see Jordan pop up in both channels – playing the short side or getting room out wide. His ability to dodge defenders at the line with quick feet or use quick hands makes him a potential playmaker in this situation as well, and he has no troubles playing flat at the line.
On this short side raid, Jordan takes a loose pass and is able to wriggle for a second lunge, scoring a try out of nothing. On another occasion he fires a long ball in one catch-and-pass motion.
This is just scratching the surface of how Will Jordan is utilised in the Makos game, showing the ways they introduce him in their ‘strong’ short side and ‘weak’ open side phase play.
Their set-piece platform is another rabbit hole of attacking possibilities, with strikes off first, second and third phase they can potentially run. We detailed a couple of them here, breaking down the ‘mousetrap’ play.
Tasman’s system finds a way to maximise Jordan’s skills, many of which lead to big plays for the side. He had a whopping 209 run metres on five line breaks against Counties, beating nine defenders for good measure.
He is currently one of the top three or four most exciting prospects in New Zealand Rugby, on a path to play at the highest level. There are shades of Cullen with his line running, not seen since the Paekakariki Express was tearing apart teams in the late 90’s.
This is a special talent just getting started, and the scary part is he hasn’t even hit Super Rugby yet. The Crusaders have the heir to Ben Smith waiting in the wings, and potentially the next great All Blacks fullback.
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