The key to unlock Wales – England’s attack off 9 – Eddie Jones Attack off 9
In the first round of the 2015 Six Nations tournament, one of the main aims of England’s attacking plan was to break down the Wales 1st receiver defence. The central idea within that plan was the idea of using a scrum-half ‘scoot’ around the base of the breakdown or maul to threaten the 2nd defender out.
This was true under Stuart Lancaster and it has been reinforced even more strongly since Eddie Jones became England coach, to the point where the ‘attack off 9’ has become the primary platform for England’s attack against Wales over the last four games between the countries.
One of the clearest examples from that game in early 2015 sets the scene for this article and the connection with Eddie Jones’ coaching module:
One of Eddie Jones’ first points is that a good ‘9 scoot’ can relieve the pressure on the attack’s 1st receiver to win his battle with pure power.
So in this instance, the England half-back Ben Youngs comes around the corner and immediately interests all of the first three Welsh defenders nearest to the ruck. All of them have ‘eyes’ on him as he squares his shoulders upfield at 59:51, which has the effect of turning their shoulders slightly inwards and back towards the ruck.
When Youngs makes the pass to the England 1st receiver James Haskell he is essentially unmarked, with the 3rd defender Richard Hibbard still looking in at the England half-back. Only a collision with the post prevents Haskell from scoring a deserved try!
Fast-forward to the recent England-Wales warm-up for the summer touring season, and it is easy to observe how the attacking pattern off 9 has become a major weapon for England. England ran the ball off 9 no less than 13 times during the match:
England scrum-half Ben Youngs is probably the best in the world at running the small arc from the base while keeping his shoulders squared upfield. If turns his shoulders towards the receiver instead, it would enable the inside defenders to push off on to the attacker outside him with momentum.
Once again, Youngs has interested all of 6 Ross Moriarty, 10 Dan Biggar and 12 Jamie Roberts at 19:47, and their focus is on him rather than the England 1st receiver, 12 Luther Burrell.
This example satisfies two more of Eddie Jones’ requirements, with Burrell coming on a late ‘unders’ line to hit the space between Biggar and Roberts, and the England 10 George Ford also connected to the attack on a possible roll ball.
By the beginning of the second half, England’s attack off 9 was full streamlined in the structure Eddie Jones recommends in his coaching module. As Youngs runs the arc at 44:30 on the replay,
• There is a trail runner ‘refused’ behind him (Marland Yarde), as an option which interests the defence without obstructing the pass out to either James Haskell (red hat) or George Ford.
• Haskell is running the ‘unders’ line from 1st receiver which fixes the third Wales defender, #20 James King.
• 10 George Ford is still a third option on the roll ball behind Haskell.
In this instance, the Wales 2 Scott Baldwin shifts too far across concentrating on the threat of Yarde coming from a position behind Youngs, enabling the England half-back to step inside and score the try himself.
The starter platform for this attack, the driving maul from lineout, also deserves comment. Both the Burrell try and the Youngs try derive from essentially the same situation. A strong lineout drive threat can cause confusion among defenders, who do not know whether to commit to defence of the drive or guarding the fringes. This increases the possibility of a mismatch or irregular line-spacings between defenders.
In the Youngs’ try, James King is very late into 3rd defender (he only comes into shot at 43:56), while in the Burrell instance most of the Welsh forwards are committed to maul defence, leaving the Wales #10 Dan Biggar at 2nd defender to handle a much bigger back only five metres out from his own goal-line.
The final example from the England-Wales match illustrates the third option from Eddie Jones’ module – connecting the arc off 9 to the roll ball behind to 10:
After another successful driving maul by England, the Wales defence has become compressed, with four defenders underneath the England 1st receiver Luther Burrell. With 14 Anthony Watson and 12 Burrell ‘fixing the compression’ there is space outside when scrum-half (replacement Danny Care) fires the roll ball out to 22 Ollie Devoto. Devoto is able to attack the space beyond Jamie Roberts by passing to the speed of 23 Elliot Daly.
It is always fascinating to note how quickly rugby knowledge is transferred in the modern age, and the Chiefs had obviously grasped the theory of a successful attack on the Welsh inside defence in their midweek fixture against the tourists.
In the 37th minute of that match, the Chiefs 9 Brad Weber ran off against the Wales 2nd defender (#3 Thomas Francis) to create a very similar break to those we have already seen:
When Weber begins his arc, he has an inside runner available (#17 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi) to help fix the first two defenders. The gap in this case is between the 3rd and 4th defenders (Scott Baldwin and Luke Charteris), with 10 Stephen Donald running a straight-to-unders line to penetrate the space. Again Baldwin’s eyes are fixed by the threat of Weber’s run just long enough to make Donald’s intrusion really count.
The use of the attack off 9 is perhaps an under-used resource. The presence of a scrum-half who can both run and pass and square his shoulders to the inside three defenders can really help take the pressure off a forward 1st receiver to ‘win the collision’ by power alone. The presence of three attacking options furthermore – trail runner, 1st receiver on an ‘unders’ line, 10 behind on the roll ball – can create an attack pattern that is difficult to defend, especially off a quick ruck ball or strong driving lineout platform.