Creative Player Positioning Tactics for Rugby Union
by Frank Coffman
All the world's a [rugby match],
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one [rugger] in [his or her] time plays many parts
--Shakespeare, As You Like It, 2. 7. 139-142 [some liberties taken, apologies to Will]
One potential for tactical innovation is too rarely exploited in the game of Rugby Union, this despite the fact that the Laws of the Gameallow for it and the modern game cries out for it. I am referring to what I will here call "creative positioning" -- the intentional shifting of players from their "normal" positions and into tactically innovative and potentially powerful combinations and new advantage-laden scenarios for the winning of a match. These shifts of position need not be for the duration of the rugby match. Most often they are used a handful of times in the course of any match, but they have the distinction of being "moves" of the positional sort that can result in some nifty "moves" in the form of ploys and some decided excitement in the course of the match.
The excitement can come quite often from the simple novelty of the position for the opponent. The unfamiliar causes concern -- perhaps even a touch of "fear of the unknown" is introduced. The question implanted in the opponent -- the thought, "What have we here?" or "What in the Hell are they up to now?" -- is often enough to allow the move to succeed. The other great factor that can and does yield exciting and innovative rugby is the creation through the move of a decided mismatch. This mismatch is usually one of size and strength. There are few things more awe-inspiring for a defending back than to see an agile lock or a great bull of a prop bearing down at pace and with support! Sometimes this temporary positional switching can "mark" a player who has been scouted or otherwise identified as a "weak link" [See my note on "Backline Attack: Breaking the Weak Link" for a further discussion of this concept.]
I will list a few possible "creative positionings" to illustrate these points with specific examples:
- The scrum half exchanges position with the right flanker at our put-in. The "pack back" [a "back" who is usually a member of the forward pack] then drives into the defending flanker (his usual opposite) on the right of the scrum, crossing the gain line and supported by both #8 and scrum half.
- The outside center exchanges position with one of the loose forwards (this can be either flanker or even the #8 [have the out center take the flank and one of the flankers take #8 if this results in the stronger scrum -- experiment, dont be afraid to shuffle three or even four players]. At the won ball, the BIG pack-back outcenter switches with the fly half, bringing the ball back to his fellow forwards. The regular outcenter is now free in the next phase to be -- wonder of wonder's! -- an outcenter or fill in somewhere in the backline and not potentially "stuck in" as is likely in the version of this ploy without the positional switch.
- The centers change position so that our burlier, "heavy tank," inside center is face to face with an outside center who has been determined through scouting or other information -- even observations and assessments made during the course of the match! -- to be a "weak link" in the opposition backline.
- The normal outside center packs as a flanker and both our inside center and the new "pack back" outside center (ne flanker) drive at their outcenter "weak link."
- A prop or #8 takes the place of the scrum half at our line out, the normal scrum half dropping back 10 for support or to collect a redistribution for a tactical kick. The BIG "scrum half" has a go at crossing the gain line quickly with support.
- Our backs at the breakdown arrive quickly and in force, yelling "Our ruck!" or something like that. They ruck or maul with the ferocity and intensity of forwards (practice this to some extent), gaining the next phase ball for a BIG backline comprised of the loose forwards and the "heavy gang" who drive forward in close support -- or, if tactically "open" move the ball along looking for the break, selling dummies, looping the man just passed to, scissoring, dummy scissoring (practice this as well). The ensuing phase finds a complete set of regular backs ready to go!
The modern game (let alone the older, traditional game) has no real place for the "I'm the next Barry John! -- none other than I dare play flyhalf" kind of mentality, no real place for the inflexible player -- however skilled or competent at his or her "position." To use a cliche (but a true one): "There's no 'I' in 'TEAM.'" And although there's a "ME" in "TEAM" -- it's ass backwards and divisive. Be inventive: create, experiment, don't be overly set in the ways of tradition or set in the ways of "position." The game is changing (by Law) to a more open contest. As coaches and players and strategist-tacticians, we must be open to that change.
Copyright © 5 June 2000 by Frank Coffman, all rights reserved. Contact the author for permissions or with questions, comments, additional ideas. Join us at the [tacticalrugby] e-group and contribute to our efforts.