Broadly defined, a counter attack can start when a defending team recovers possession of the ball. Whether coming as a result of a turnover or by fielding a kick, the counter attacking team needs to quickly find space. They must not waste this opportunity by delaying action, ignoring teammates in better positions, or by acting slowly, allowing their opposition to get organised and exert pressure.

When fielding a kick, three scenarios can come into play:

1. Exploit a Weakness

If the opposition does a poor job of coordinating their chase or otherwise reveal a weak link, this is the easy opportunity. If not in front of the initial ball carrier, pass to someone who can best exploit the opportunity. Support must get back and into position to help keep the counter attack alive.

2. Control the Chasers, Exploit the Space

If there is no obvious weak point / mismatch to be exploited in the chasing group, the classic tactic is to focus the return on one area, and then quickly move the ball to another area. This can be incredibly brief, but a straight run or quick move to one area has the potential to draw the chasers there and leave another area vulnerable. If the counter attackers make a slow or indecisive move, they lose the initiative and often allow chasers to isolate them.

3. Establish a Breakdown / Prepare for the Second Phase

As a group of players counter attacks, the rest of their team must quickly track back and reorganise themselves. As with any attacking scenario, a breakdown creates an attacking channel on either side of it. These players must anticipate where a breakdown is likely to occur and position themselves to make the best of the next phase. These situations are more likely to have defenders out of their normal positions than normal running phase play.

Turnover ball arguably has even greater counter attack potential because it is almost always unexpected, leaving opponents in a state of confusion and disorganisation. As with any attack, quick movement of the ball and personnel to support the attack is vital. The typical options are:

  • Move the ball wide quickly, taking advantage of backs sat deep
  • Carry forward quickly, taking advantage of disorganised people around the turnover
  • Wrap around the breakdown to get forward momentum and exploit space (when area around the turnover is congested, and there are no team mates lying deep to receive a pass)