Teams with strong forwards often employ a strategy of playing ‘around the corner’ – that is, running a series of pick and goes, one-out pass and crashes off the scrum half or running crash balls off the fly half. As they work across the width of the pitch, the aim is to either break through or outflank defenders who haven’t followed around as quickly, or occupy defenders on this phase to create a numbers advantage for teammates on the next.
It’s a relatively low-risk strategy for an attacking team. As with the Heads-Up strategy, a quick tempo is ideal to prevent defenders from setting up and regaining their focus. But as this is a strategy based on power and patience, it is more forgiving to ‘slow ball’ situations where attackers have to take their time to get properly set. Forwards get themselves into pods to ensure that each carrier has at least two players on-hand to drive him/her through contact, receive an offload, or secure possession at the breakdown. Outside backs tend to receive the ball less often, having a go when they are are strongest or when the forwards have provided them with a clear mismatch opportunity.
This strategy requires strong players who can get over the gainline through power moves and who can regularly secure possession at the breakdown. They must also maintain their composure and work hard off the ball to get into useful positions because this style of attack tends to string together upwards of and sometimes well beyond ten phases. To make the most of this strategy, the fly half also has to recognise when it’s time to switch from tight forward phases to moving the ball wide. This player needs a strong partnership with the scrum half to ensure this transition is done effectively.
Teams tend to keep going the same way until they reach the touch line, at which point they change direction and keep probing toward the other touchline until they make a break. The aim is get around the corner quickly and outflank the opposition who either get outnumbered or who don’t follow around quickly enough because of the attacking team’s higher work rate and dominance. If this does not happen, they hope to drag defenders to that one side and then try and out flank them again on the return trip to the opposite touchline.
One draw back is that Around the Corner follows a fairly predictable pattern. If defenders are able to get around the corner before the attacking team, they might be able to proactively stop the next phase. The other drawback is that, without proper communication and understanding, attacking players might spoil a better advantage. One or two one-out phases might draw in plenty of defenders, inviting a wide move to expose their flanks. With a fly half and backs in position to take advantage of this scenario, forwards sometimes again come around the corner and eat up the width they had to work with. Even if that phase produces quick ball, there is less space in which to operate. If it results in slow ball, defenders will have time to get around the corner themselves and be ready to stop whatever attack comes next.
This is why I advocate clear communication between a team’s decision makers and a clear understanding among all players what tactical moves are meant to do – condense or occupy defenders to create space, drag them one way to open space in the other direction, etc. If the attacking team has a clear power advantage than this strategy tends to produce positive results quite often. If things are more balanced, it is crucial that decision-makers be able to spot the clear and immediate opportunity and call a move to exploit it.