Small units can adopt various shapes to unlock defences. Their effectiveness can be enhanced if each player adopts a specific role that provides order and purpose. Players should try and adopt the role that best suits then and not usurp each other once the shape is set (ex. late arriver bumping out first receiver) because that would be a waste of precious time. It is also important that players not crowd each other as it makes it harder for the scrum half to pick out targets.

First
· 1st Receiver
· Sets position from which shape can form (early and determined)
· Often draws most attention, so should be comfortable and ready to pass
· Be aware of dummy option when opposition over-reads the catch/pass

Lead
· Early runner to exploit space
· Must cue off passer/lead to time run appropriately
· Timely, specific communication is vital
· Dummy runs must not block defenders

Late
· Second option, usually deeper than strike runner
· Takes advantage of space created by the strike runner
· Helps to clean-up / support move by Lead or Strike

Link
· Important to read play and move into best supporting position quickly
· Communication vital – early and specific aids ball carrier with decision-making
· Read offload potential and maintain appropriate depth / communicate at correct time
· Along with Late, can be distributor to next unit in a second-man play

First, Lead, Late, Link

Functional Roles

One of rugby’s cherished values of the 15s game is that incorporates a wide variety of body shapes and abilities. Players should be empowered by the physical traits they bring to the team, adopting roles in attacking units that maximise their potential. There will obviously be some crossover in these skillsets, but the typical roles played by rugby players are:

Playmaker

These players need to understand how their positioning affects the play in addition to having clever running and superior passing skills to exploit and create space. Obvious playmakers are the scrum half and fly half, but the more players who can step into these roles the better. It’s highly unlikely that the fly half can be involved in every move, so each attacking phase will need to be anchored by a distributor who has not only the physical skills but also vision and the ability to direct play. Some teams rely upon skillful inside centres, the full back, and even have a few forwards who can step into the first receiver role and coordinate an attack with the scrum half (or acting scrum half).

Power Runner

These players are not just the big forwards but also include players who can get over the gainline and even bump off would-be tacklers with their strength and intensity. Power runners are the ones who can run through individuals to create linebreaks, create offload situations to put teammates behind the defensive line, and draw in several defenders with a powerful charge that gives teammates a numbers advantage on the next phase.

Strike Runner

Strike runners have a unique combination of quickness and power that make them the ideal players to exploit space and make linebreaks. They can anticipate and exploit space with well-timed runs and early communication. They are often very elusive as well, using footwork to create opportunities for themselves or teammates. As such, the strike runner must also be a capable distributor who passes to supporting players at the right moment to make the most of their linebreaks.

Speed

Players who have genuine pace can come in various shapes so it is important that they be used in ways that best suit them. It is wasteful to use smaller ones as battering rams when coming in from the blind side or for an outside centre to always take the ball into contact, forcing the speedy winger to serve only as someone who clears out rucks. It’s also important that teammates know just how fast speed players are compared to their opponents on game day as this could make for advantageous one-on-one battles or kicking opportunities that can put them in behind the opposition.

Support

The modern support player is not just the unskilled member of the team who follows the play to hit rucks. These players may not (yet!) have distribution, power, strike or speed abilities like the others, but they are vital members of an attacking unit. They can act as believable decoys whose timely runs draw in defenders or make a crucial second pass in a play to a strike runner. Most importantly, they follow the front runners, using early communication and clever running lines to maintain continuity when the ball carrier runs into trouble.

When all players are empowered by and aware of each other’s functional roles, attacking units can be constructed with greater purpose. Executing the play also becomes easier when players know the strength(s) of a unit and how best to maximise its potential.