Breaking the gain line

(Rugby News Service) Thursday 21 June 2007

By Lee Smith, IRB Regional Development Manager Oceania

The Basic Situation

Players entering the contest at the tackle are at a disadvantage if they have to go back before entering play through the "gates".

As a result the defence has an advantage at the tackle, as the tackle line is on the attacking teams side of the gain line. The defence can move forward while the attack has to move back before it moves forward.

As a result it is a priority for the attacking team, should the attack be ball in hand, to make sure that primary possession is retained. To do so most easily, the tackle line and gain lines must be broken.

In doing so there is a dilemna as the shortest distance to the gain line is closest to the source of possession. It is also where there is the greatest number of defenders. Where there are fewer defenders there are fewer attackers and they are even further from the gain line.

As a result it is a matter of varying play so that attempts to reach the gain line are effective.

Lineout Possession

All things being equal, where there are not positional strengths and weaknesses in the players of both sides, the players attempting to reach the gain line should receive the ball close to it, taking advantage of the opposition's inability to tackle them prior to receiving the ball.

As the blueprint the attack can take place close to the lineout, in the midfield or wide out beyond Nos 12 and 13.

Attack Close to the Line-out

Play close to the lineout aims to exploit the space between the defensive No 7 and No 10. Initially the channel on the outside shoulder of No 7 can be breached using linear support down the channel.

Once the gain line has been broken the ball carrier should run into the space behind the defensive lineout. This will have the effect of drawing the backline defenders into this area. If they succeed in stopping the ball carrier, quick phase play can result in the ball being moved into the space they have been drawn from.

So the pattern is to attack down a channel to break the gain line and when the defence moves across to plug the leak to move the ball laterally into the space.

Midfield Attack

A similar pattern can be used in the mid-field using No 10 but more likely No 12. No 12 receives the No 9's pass as close as possible to the gain line. Upon contact the player should be supported in linear fashion by No 10 and No 13.

No 10 should support on the outside shoulder and No 13 on the inside shoulder, each crossing behind No 12 as late as possible in order to lose their defender in the cross over. Both come from depth directly behind No 12 running into the space created by the ball carrier.

The effect is to draw defenders from those to the left or right of the channel and, should they be stopped, possession from phase-play can be moved to the space they have been drawn from.

When the defence compresses in expectation of this option No 12 passes back to No 10 prior to contact. No 10 passes wide to No 13 and an attack can be made into the space the defence has compressed away from.

Nos 11, 13 and 15, run into the space wide out. These 4 players can be used to perform a number of options that exploit the overlap that frequently exists.

As the initial channel caused the defence to compress persistent use of the lateral option will cause it to spread, creating space for the channel option once again.

Attacks Beyond No 13

Attacks wide out follow "the hinge" option that was explained in an earlier newsletter. By standing flat the attack draws the defence up to them. By standing close together the pass can be made accurately just prior to contact. This allows space to be created for Nos 11, 14 and 15 beyond No 13.

Several passing options exist:
Use all hands. No 10 passes to No 12 and doubles receiving the ball either inside or outside No 12 before passing to No 13 or the first of the back three. No 12 passes to No 13 and does as No 10 in the second option.

Unlike the other two in which the penetrator attacks the gain-line, receiving the ball close to it, in this last example the flat formation draws the defence forward. This is because of the opportunity to tackle an "easy" target, one close-by and not running very fast. This commitment prevents the defence from drifting and creates space on the outside.

If defenders do drift the ball carrier must retain possession and use the space to attack the gain-line.

Scrum Possession

Scrum Possession can be similarly exploited in this way with the wide out option being dependent on the width available. A summary of the close in options is explained briefly below.

Close to the Scrum

Close to the scrum the following are some options that come to mind:
Use the natural wheel of the scrum to go to the left.This is especially the case if the defending No 9 is positioned elsewhere but this is not a prerequisite. Various moves using No 's 8 and 9 as the playmaker can be used. As mentioned above the positioning of No 9 offers options. The use of the right side has been covered in recent newsletters. Going either side does not have to be based on there being a blind side or open side. Left or right hand-sides offer options in both.