Slow ball is when the ball emerges from the ruck and the defence has had time to re-organise themselves. This can happen when:
- The ball is tied up in the tackle contest and literally emerges slowly
- The scrum half was caught in the tackle contest or is slow to arrive to the breakdown and no one has taken the initiative to move / call for the ball
- The scrum half is waiting but no one is ready to receive a pass
- The tackle has happened well behind the gain line, which allowed defenders an easier path to set their line than attackers had to go back and win the ball / establish their line
Many teams opt for a pick and go in this scenario. If this is your go-to move, especially when the scrum half has been caught in the ruck, it is important to do so with the intent to re-start a ‘quick ball’ situation where defenders are disorganised and on the back foot. If the pick and go blindly crashes into a wall of defenders, you actually risk losing the ball. Even if you are reasonably powerful, was the play worth it if the defensive line has only had to move back a few inches and have already re-established their focus when the ball has emerged? Many teams that opt for successive pick and goes of a few inches at a time drain their energy and can pour too many players into the breakdown, allowing defenders an opportunity to double-down on a subsequent phase.
Some ways, then, to re-establish quick ball from a slow ball situation are:
1. Two quick crashes and recycles to get the defensive line moving back significantly.
2. A purposeful move at an area where there is more space, at or outside the third defender (i.e. the line typically being tightly defended between the post / guard defenders).
3. Quick passes to where your strengths are. If you have genuine pace and power out wide, why not move the ball there? More than just your scrum half should be able to play the ball from a ruck and all players should be able to make a quick short pass. Even if that move only gains a couple of metres, it’s better than a couple of inches.
Whatever option you take, players not involved in the tackle contest unfolding must anticipate slow ball and position themselves early for a purposeful phase to get themselves out of trouble. Just as importantly, the next tackle contest has to unfold quickly to re-establish the quick ball pattern and not fall into a trap of successive slow ball situations. These are physically and mentally draining even if you maintain possession.