The 'butterfly' and Slide 2.0: Tactics to watch out for this Six Nations
When the Six Nations starts this weekend, watch out for these four tactics.
The slide 2.0
A year ago, we highlighted ‘The Slide’. This trendy strike-move, adopted by teams around the world usually run from lineouts, has maintained its popularity. It sees one ball-playing centre stand at first-receiver as another centre runs a hard, out-to-in angle off their shoulder. Meanwhile, the fly-half and the blindside wing arc around in a second wave.
Usually, ‘The Slide’ has included a pull-back pass from the centre to the fly-half. More and more, though, the blindside wing has been the second-receiver, either cutting through the defensive line or linking with their full-back further wide.
Here, in England’s first game of the autumn, Joe Cokanasiga and Manu Tuilagi were propelled at the gain-line together with Marcus Smith hanging deeper:
Argentina do not expect Cokanasiga to take Owen Farrell’s pass, and a break ensues:
The previous day, Wales centre Nick Tompkins had sent Rio Dyer to the try-line against New Zealand:
Sale Sharks opened up Harlequins thanks to Sam James’ feeding Arron Reed rather Rob du Preez:
And Dan Kelly’s pass to Harry Simmons, behind Matt Scott, and across the face of Handré Pollard, sliced the Ospreys:
In this case, Harlequins use an arcing Josh Bassett as the second receiver. The burly left wing brushes off the blitzing Lukhanyo Am before linking with the rest of his backline. Cadan Murley benefits out wide:
Teams around the Six Nations employ this basic shape, and will be cycling through different options all tournament.
Eben Etzebeth appears to be on a one-man mission to rid the world of caterpillar rucks. His solo try against Harlequins was a reward for months of interrogating binds as scrum-halves had been preparing to clear:
The caterpillar ruck itself is a strange modern-day creation encouraged by referees’ continued reluctance to hurry-up box-kicks. It feels slightly unfair that kicking sides are beginning to capitalise on these delays. But the more attractive butterfly can emerge from these caterpillars.
Defenders have begun to pre-empt box-kicks and retreat prematurely in a bid to shield catchers from chasers. This is known as ‘escorting’, but does surrender space for attacks to take with a pass, rather than a kick, from scrum-half.
And this is not restricted to narrow runs around the fringes. South Africa and Saracens are two teams that have launched wider attacks from fake caterpillars, their scrum-halves swivelling from a crouched position to probe defences that have perhaps dropped their wings:
Running from deep may be fairly rare, especially in close contests towards the start of the Six Nations, but this is a situation to monitor; another dimension to the cat-and-mouse kicking exchanges.
Yes, driving mauls are bound to be an influential factor during the Championship. Teams can gain a huge advantage by converting close-range lineouts into tries and stalling the opposition in such a pivotal battleground
In the bid to turn pressure into points – into tries rather than penalty goals – sides have been unfurling choreographed moves close to the opposition try line.
The key has been the number of options within any given shape. Leinster have been among the pioneers. Here, against Racing 92, Josh van der Flier shunts over from Caelan Doris’ pull-back:
A month or so later, Michael Ala’alatoa scores against Gloucester as Leinster go to a different variation of the same play:
It is a safe bet, given their strong Leinster contingent, that Ireland might fancy reprising the shape from a close-range penalty. These moves replicate phase-play patterns and the aim is for misdirection to allow a runner to hit a gap, making it easier to bypass the defender opposite them.
Even funkier plays are available. Check out this try from Faf de Klerk’s Yokohama Canon Eagles just last weekend:
The possibilities are intriguing.
50:22 quick line-out
This last one probably fits into the category of freak occurrence rather than trend, but the Six Nations will produce tight matches that will be decided on fine margins. Flashes of opportunism can change fortunes rapidly.
The 50:22 has changed defensive structures, with some teams abandoning a pendulum, where wings swing up and down to join their full-back, in favour of stationing a fly-half and a full-back behind the front line more permanently.
Strikes that earn teams a lineout inside the opposition 22 are clearly valuable; even more so when chasers can catch rivals napping by following up with a quick throw. Just to ensure even more carnage, these could well crop up when a team is chasing a game with the clock running down.