June 4, 2014

Rugby Union - Coaching a wide to wide attack

Written by:
Matthew Bebbington

Wide to Wide Attacking Set Ups

With defences now being ultra-organised and destructive it is imperative that all teams have various attacking shapes to utilise when they have possession from set piece or open play.

Defences will soon work your attacking strategy out if you only have one. A good example of this is Wales’ struggle to beat the SANZAR teams with their base attacking pattern of ‘same way’. They tend to play all the way to the far touchline to ‘exhaust’ the space, usually using their forwards running off 9, with little passing involved. They tend to rely on power and brute force rather than intelligent passing movements and running lines.

Yes, they have been by far the most successful Northern Hemisphere team for a number of years now, but it is my belief they need to be able to change their ‘base pattern’ during matches when appropriate to keep the defence guessing to increase try scoring opportunities, especially against the Southern Hemisphere teams.

One such strategy is to play with a wide-wide set up from set pieces.  This has traditionally been utilised by the Crusaders in the Super 15 and has recently been adopted by the Cheetahs in South Africa.

This involves attacking the far touchline immediately from lineouts or scrums (in the 15m channel) and then integrating forwards into the back line in the return play so you have the full width of the pitch available for you to play with.  Forwards must have high quality catching, fixing, passing and decision making skills – they are not just dummy runners. This does not mean you have to attack wide from this 1st ruck, it just gives you the option to do so.

The best teams at utilising this set up, like the All Blacks and Crusaders, then have high quality decision makers and communicators to decide which area of the pitch to attack from the 1st ruck depending on the defensive spacing in front of them. This can either be:

  1. Attacking narrow if defensive guards, bodyguards and A defender are spread (attack pick and go close to the ruck, forwards running off 9)
  2. Attacking the midfield if the defence is spread from A defender outwards leaving no obvious space out wide (attack playing off the 1st or 2nd back receiver to penetrate defensive line)
  3. Attacking wide if there is an obvious overlap with defence narrow OR there are obvious mismatches to exploit, like front row defenders v wingers/back row attackers (playing back to the far touchline with passing or cross-field kick)

I will now show you 2 simple wide-wide set ups to exploit 2 different types of defensive shapes that, after doing your analysis on the team you play next, you may be able to use successfully with your team. For the simplicity, here are the team calls I will be using:

  • PAINT = team is attacking the far touchline from the set piece
  • ZERO = forwards playing off 9
  • ONE = forwards playing off 10 (or 1st back receiver)
  • TWO = playing off 2nd back receiver
  • JET = attack wide (obvious overlap)


The key to these wide-wide set ups are their flexibility. It allows you play narrow, in the midfield or wide on the return play. Any defensive line has weaknesses (space/mismatches). It is up us, as coaches, to help players recognise these weaknesses quickly in order to choose the best option to allow the get behind the defensive line by penetrating through it or moving the ball around the defence.

The challenge now is can you design practices around these wide-wide attacking shapes to increase your players’ positional awareness and roles as well as the quality of their decision making?

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