The accessibility of game tape from all levels of football has created a revolution in the NFL.
Coaches are scouring high-school level football for new plays in a ‘scheme war’, as the rate of innovation accelerates, even employing staff full-time just to search for new plays.
Information in Rugby as a whole is still in the relative dark ages. There is no ‘textbook’ of sorts, there are no widely accepted classification of styles of play, or explained reasons why teams do things their way. Many modern structures are here but the theories behind them remain in the dark.
These seem to be passed around by word-of-mouth and then adopted only by those who know someone who knows someone. As technology is adopted widely and video platforms like Hudl gather more and more tape from amateur levels up, rugby will undergo a similar revolution eventually, evolving the game at an exponential rate.
There are signs that this is on the horizon.
There has been one ‘trick’ play utilised by no less than three teams so far this season in the Premiership that shows that the speed of adoption is getting quicker and quicker.
A throwback to the olden days, teams have adopted a ‘zero jump’ lineout from the five-metre line in search of beating the opponent to the punch. A quick throw to a target at ‘2’, who never leaves the ground, enabling the team to get a head start on the mauling drive.
Typically in this situation the defence will not compete on the throw in order to prepare to flood the point of the maul with numbers. This has made jumping for the ball a disadvantage, as skilled defences can disarm a maul before it even gets started.
The Crusaders dismantled the Lions’ main weapon in the Super Rugby final leaving them searching for Plan B. If they had this play in the back pocket, maybe things would have been different for the Lions.
With 10 minutes remaining in their opening round clash with Saracens, the Newcastle Falcons kicked for the corner to set up an attacking lineout.
They run a 6-man lineout with a loose forward at halfback, indicating the maul will be used, but with only one lifter at the front the ‘2’ option doesn’t look likely.
Saracens key in on the tail of the lineout where they think the throw will go, stacking their big men at the back. At the front, one Saracens forward is left isolated with a lot of ground to defend.
The throw goes to ‘2’ without the jumper ever leaving the ground, while props Logovi’i Mulipola and reserve Adam Brocklebank latch on almost simultaneous to the catch.
In a split second the maul has formed leaving Saracens stunned.
The drive engages the only defender in front of it, and with no support behind him, it is destined to crash over before anyone can enter the maul correctly.
The lowest man wins, and the Falcons have all the leverage.
Saracens forwards try to join, from illegal angles but are too upright to do anything about this ‘Tsunami’ maul crashing through everything in its path.
They end up so far over the try line they could take it over the dead ball line if they wanted to.
They attacked the weakest point in the defensive lineout with a genius piece of innovation, taking away the defence’s ability to set by using a ‘zero jump’. The best thing is, you don’t even need a legitimate jumper at the ‘2’ spot to use this, which adds to the disguise. Any forward, and particularly one not considered an aerial athlete could take the catch and set up the maul.
The next week, Bath tried to run their own version of a ‘zero jump’ play by having Zach Mercer walk in at ‘2’ and take a quick throw.
And who else? Saracens themselves, who had been fooled by Newcastle with it, tried one against Gloucester on the weekend.
These two plays weren’t as effective as space wasn’t available at the front to use it, but they still got their maul going early to put pressure on the defence.
In Saracens case, using their main jumper Itoje at the front is always going to trigger alarm bells, as most opponents will be looking to defend him as Saracens’ primary lineout option.
The element of surprise is a beautiful thing and this play is catching on, showing teams are borrowing ideas from each other.
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