The Lab is an explorative look at left-field rugby strategies dreamed up by @bensmithrugby. Many of these may not work in practice but the idea is to think creatively and create something new to think about.
Modern ‘last-man’ set-piece defence systems employed by teams use rolling back-two coverage to defend first phase scrum attacks.
The fullback no longer tracks in behind the line tracking the ball, instead setting up behind the openside winger. If the ball spreads to the open edge, he is supposed to bite down and take the last man.
If that happens, the opposite wing must ‘roll’ over to provide cover in a pendulum motion as a sweeper role. If the defence also decides to use the halfback to rush and provide pressure, the blind winger is the only second-line of support.
The Highlanders have been a team that kicks from first-phase more than anyone else in professional rugby, looking for ways to exploit this system by continually making short kicks in behind. Taking inspiration from Tony Brown’s playbook, this trick play would be a great change-up and offer huge reward by targetting a blind spot in the defence.
Finding the space
If we find a winger that is susceptible to over-committing early with his sweep coverage, there is the potential to utilise that space in behind him.
We need a play design that encourages the wing to roll over as much as possible, in order to expand that available space.
Before this play, the Highlanders had both Lima Sopoaga (10) behind the scrum and Waisake Naholo (14) on the touchline, drawing the attention of George Bridge (11) in that corridor, which won’t work for this trick play.
We need to try and bring him across as much as possible by keeping an empty blindside, similar to what the Crusaders have below here by bringing that winger over next to the 10.
Our 10 is going to attempt a banana kick back over the scrum into this space for our halfback, who will feed the scrum but then retreat to an onside position down the blind corridor and become our kick chaser.
The halfback will make it appear to be an 8-9 truck-and-trailer but this will be a guise.
The true purpose of our halfback will be to get open and receive this banana kick. If we have a Number 8 who has a decent pass, we can make this work.
The 8 will feed 10 directly and our halfback will push out towards the blind side corridor, buying time to make sure the flyhalf puts him onside, but still gathering speed for his ‘wheel’ route.
Our 10 can approach the line and attempt a banana kick back over the scrum into the path of the halfback slipping around the side.
The halfback will be wide open if we can get the rolling ‘sweep’ winger to drift infield enough. With the pass to the 10 from the scrum base, the defence will move that way, anticipating an open side play. The presence of our bind side winger can should help draw the ‘sweep’ winger infield.
The flyhalf can use his body language and head position to also draw the ‘sweep’ winger coming across, looking to his outside options as long as possible.
A banana kick from the outside of the foot would keep the 10’s body square or even still facing to the open side, also helping to sell the play.
All the loose forwards will break and head to the open side once the 10 is identified as the recipient, and all our halfback has to do is evade some big tight five forwards and get up the sideline.
With the defending fullback on the opposite side of the field, if our 9 makes the catch in full stride, the only player who can stop him will be the sweeping wing, who will have to circle back to try and make a cover tackle.
If we can get bait the wing too far infield, there will be no one home to stop the halfback going the distance.
A flyhalf with a repertoire of short attacking kicks is also required, making halves combinations like Will Genia/Quade Cooper, Danny Care/Marcus Smith, Aaron Smith/Lima Sopoaga suitable candidates to try this halfback banana trick play.
Have you seen this or used this concept already? Send your feedback to @bensmithrugby on Twitter.
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