In addition to scanning for cues from individuals, the cues given by groups of defenders can help attacking players choose the best tactic to beat them. Coaches can help players develop recognition and communication skills by using attack / defence activities at training that include these cues, shapes, and patterns in the activity’s structures, rules, or calls from the coach. When different conditions appear randomly, players will be forced to recognise and learn how to exploit the opportunity. When the same condition is presented to them consistently, learning and transfer to the game is lower.

The following are scenarios that have a unique ‘look’. Attackers should be able to rely on a limited number of solutions to exploit them and might be able to develop a single preferred tactic based on their abilities and experience.

BALL IN THE RUCK / MAUL

Overlap

The most basic of opportunities, when there are more attackers than defenders out wide, the ball has to be moved to that area quickly. If the ball is moved too quickly and without fixing defenders, however, they will be allowed to drift. Getting the ball quickly, then, to the edge of the overlap creates a 2v1 (or 3v1, etc.) scenario to preserve space for the free player(s)

Underlap

The opposite of overlap is likely to happen to a player who gets isolated. Being able to hold the ball in contact until support arrives is one solution, or said players might want to attempt a kick and chase to get behind defenders.

Narrow Defence

Even when numbers are even, defenders can position themselves narrowly (usually in a drift defence or if the attackers are narrow themselves). This leaves a lot of space on the outside to pass or run into.

Spread Defence

Again, with even numbers, defenders can offer space to attack when spread across the entire pitch. Gaps between defenders will be bigger, allowing quick players, angled runs or offloads and funnel support to exploit narrow channels.

Poor Alignment

Any time a defender is not ‘connected’ with the line, there exists an opportunity. If a defender is further back than the line or with hips turned looking inward, they are not going to be in synch when the ball emerges. An attacker might be able to beat this player, or an adjacent defender might step in to account for the mistake, opening a new hole(s) elsewhere for quick passes.

Wing Flat

If wingers are flat with the rest of the defensive line, it will take longer for them to turn and chase a kick. This gives the attacking winger a distinct advantage.

Full Back out of position

If the full back too central, the spaces behind wings are especially vulnerable. If the full back is too flat or too deep, a kick can be put into space behind or in front. Full backs are also the important last line of defence during a linebreak. Concentrating an attack where the full back is not might make converting a linebreak into a try that much easier.

Ruck Inspecting’

Defenders not paying attention to their defender, with shoulders and hips turned inward looking at the ruck waste time re-aligning themselves when the ball emerges. These players should be targeted on their ‘blind side’ – an unders line or a shift outside their field of vision should allow an attacker to get behind. Even a straight run from a flat position will see this defender(s) come off second best due to unreadiness.

Forward in the Back Line

Slow forwards caught in wide positions are vulnerable to quick players. There are also many forwards who are not comfortable tackling in wide channels.

Smaller player defending the ruck

If a small back has got caught in a post / guard position, a powerful ball carrier or two should be able to get through or at least get behind.

Not enough defenders protecting fringes of the ruck

Defences tend to stack two or three defenders on both sides of the ruck to prevent easy picks. If this area has few defenders or if the gaps between them are larger than they should be, a power play by attackers can compromise them.

Defender flat footed / standing upright

Defenders standing flat footed or standing upright waste time to re-adjust when coming forward.

Advantageous match-ups

Each player should quickly get a sense of their oppositions’ abilities. Who are the slow players? Who are the weak tacklers? Do we have players in certain positions that are much better than theirs?

BALL IN PLAY

Dog Leg in defence

One person lagging back from the rest compromises the integrity of the line. The ball carrier can attack the dog leg and look to slip in behind one of the defenders on either side of the one creating the dog leg. If they see this coming, they will step away from their own responsibilities, creating new holes.

Shooting Defender

The opposite to the above, a defender ‘shoots’ up ahead of the rest of the line. If too far ahead of the rest, there is space behind to attack.

Defender Pinching

When the next defender outside the one covering the ball carrier steps in to help. The outer attacker must pick a line to exploit that defender’s soft shoulder.

Defender Pushing too Early

Defenders tend to ‘push’ across the field to usher the attack toward the touch line. Defenders should stay in their lane, however, until the ball has been passed away from the lane outside them. A defender pushing too early onto the ball carrier opens a hole for a support runner on the inside of the ball carrier.

Defender not pushing enough

The same situation can occur if the inside defender hasn’t pushed enough, leaving a hole beside the defender covering the ball carrier. A clever supporting player should angle in behind the defender covering the ball carrier.

Edge of the Defence

When defenders come forward as a unit, they sometimes get well ahead of their teammates. In between units of defenders is often a ‘seam’ that can be attacked if they are not quick to adjust and coordinate themselves.

Injured player

Players injured, but still on their feet should immediately be attacked. (Examples: a kick over a winger who’s noticeably hobbling)

How a team mate’s actions manipulate the defence

Sudden and deliberate attacking moves result in a reaction from at least one, if not more defenders. If a ball carrier makes a sudden movement into the space between two defenders, it’s likely that both will pay attention to that run. Are new holes being opened? Are one or more defenders getting out of proper alignment to cover someone else as a result?