q.gif How many moves does your backline perform in a game? Do you concentrate more on wearing down your opponent with basic moves maintaining possession, or do you attempt fancy moves off the first phase to create advantages?

Joe Dryer, Woodlands Rugby Club, Houston, Texas

a.gif coach We prepare three or four patterns of play in the backs. Each pattern contains several possible lines of attack. For example, in the pattern we call "Irish", the flyhalf runs across field, dragging the defense sideways. When he is challenged by a tackler (the later, the better), the inside center runs to his inside hip on a scissors line. One step later the fullback crashes to his outside hip, preferably after "zigging" his running line somewhere. The outside center drifts very wide and flat. Now the flyhalf can give the ball to the inside center on the switch, to the fullback on a crash or to the outside center drifting, all within a second or two.

The idea is to pin down the defending flyhalf and to drag the defending outside center across field. This opens space for the flyhalf and fullback to attack the defending inside center in a fair amount of space.

If you should try the pattern, make sure that the outside center stretches the defense very wide. He must be as far away from the flyhalf as he possibly can be while remaining in range of a pass.

In addition the players will play simple "crash", "miss" and "switch" moves when they see an opportunity.

Normally we will take the first crack at the defense with forwards (a back row move or using the forwards left out of a shortened lineout). If the forwards manage to damage the defense, by reducing the numbers or establishing an attacking platform behind the bulk of the defense, we get out of whatever pattern was called and just play rugby. When we played Japan in San Francisco, we consistently created good attacking platforms by just running at them. We didn't play but a few prepared moves during the whole match, a 74-5 win.

But ordinarily it is difficult to damage modern defenses that consistently. The pattern of play is meant to be used when defenses are resilient to the stage that we have run out of dynamic forward options; then it is up to the backs to aim to disrupt the defense and open them up for a finishing attack.

Patterns like "Irish" tend to split up the backline by running a variety of converging and diverging lines, making it difficult for backs to support one another in the tackle. Recently we have also used a couple of patterns that aim for the opposite effect. We run the outside center hard upfield. Usually he is bracketed by the defending centers in the tackle. We send our inside center after his opposite and our fullback after the defending outside center. We ask them to slam the defenders and ruck them backwards. If we produce a quick ball moving the same direction, we have effectively erased the defending midfield and created space for our halfbacks and wings.

Dan Porter

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