Don’t be a victim of conventional wisdom

Conventional Wisdom – What is it?

Conventional wisdom is the generally accepted belief with regard to some matter, or the set of beliefs held by most people.

Conventional wisdom should not stand in the way when the belief is based on outmoded facts, wrong premises, or prejudice. The enemy of the conventional wisdom is not ideas, but the march of events. Take, for example, the conventional wisdom of years gone by that the forwards win the ball and the backs play with it OR that a team should play to a prescriptive pattern of attack no matter what the defence is doing.

In the current game we have 2 examples of prescriptive play at last count, one used in defence and one used in attack.

Both result in the team performing duplicating, time and again, prescribed patterns. Players are not encouraged to play what is in front of them and to communicate this to their team-mates. In fact the can’t because they have been coached no alternatives just what the coaches want. So the coaches dictate the way the team plays and selects those players who do as they are told.

I have seen players positioned on a blind-side in which the number of players results in an overlap being available. But, rather than position here to exploit the advantage, they take off back to the midfield as the coach dictates a pattern as to where they should be and the on-going selection depends on them playing to it.

Attack Using 1-3-3-1

This attacking pattern following scrums and line-outs have spread like a wrash throughout New Zealand and Asia where New Zealand coaches have coaching positions.

The coach feels secure prescribing this pattern as they know where their players, or at least their forwards, should be even if it means a succession of “hit-ups” that may happen for a long time but which seldom make the gain line. Or if they do they have ignored the backs, especially the outside backs who are left freezing on the fringes.

What is this pattern? Well as the forwards leave scrum and line-out their order of departure creates an order that will determine where they go to in the pattern. The one leaving first can be the “1” on the far side of the field, the next 3 can form a group and little infield, the next 3 a little further infield and the last player parks with the near wing.

From the post-tackle/ruck their will be limited commitment. Just enough to retain the ball and, hopefully, to deliver quick ball. After all the tackle pattern of “chop: chop: maybe another chop and counterruck: offers little threat until the fourth tackle. This may not occur for a long time as the forwards in the 2 groups of 3 position between the halfback and the first back receiver so the backs never get the ball.

And how does the defence counteract this formation. All they need to do is look at the attack’s last game and have their forwards mirror their opposite number. They will be responsible for completing the tackle on their opposite number.

Add to this the opportunities for making a dominant tackle and you can begin the process of regaining the ball. Especially when the attack is running around to get “in position”.

The cues for the dominant tackle are:

  1. The receiver standing flat and has no momentum.
  2. The receiver receiving the ball standing still.
  3. The passer and receiver standing so close that the passer’s defender and the receiver’s defender can double tackle the receiver.
  4. A pass the receiver has to slow down to catch so there is a lack of depth.
  5. A pass that is too low, too high, too hard and too slow.

In these pages I have explained the attack that reacts to the defence so I won’t repeat myself. But I must repeat that the skill of the coach is fundamentally responsible for teaching these reactive situations. What we have is a physical game that the players prepare for, one way or another, once if not twice a week especially at the rugby schools. They are the teams most doing this. The game at this level emphasises a physical approach.

Outside In Defence

The second prescribed pattern is outside in defence as the Crusaders found against the Chiefs and the Rebels found against the Crusaders. Some years ago the Springboks used this and the looped passes made by the attack enable Habana and Rousseau to intercept the pass and score.

When Warren Gatland used it in his last stint at coaching Waikato it back-fired badly as the attack was able to use the space the defence ran in from.

Because of who does it, it has been borrowed by players at all levels whether they have the ability to perform the pattern to cover all options.

There will be times when a receiver gets tackled outside in but surely an offload to players coming off the ball carrier’s inside shoulder can exploit the dogleg gap.

Of course to the space the defence has moved from, whether it be a chip, a grubber or a wipers kick, usually makes progress. The advantage of the kick pass is that it can go forward and the receiver just has to make sure she/he is onside. This is helped by the flight of the ball.

The big advantage for the attacking team is, once the defence knows that the pattern is flawed, where do they go next. They may revert to inside out or try outside in even more, both with a degree of insecurity.

One final thing why are the defensive wings coming off their opposite number and coming in. Surely you want to reduce the distance defenders further infield have to run especially the attacking wing is fast.