Analysis: The secrets of England's attack
WORLD CUP SPOTLIGHT: Conor Wilson discusses Manu Tuilagi’s role in open play at 13, and how this positioning has shown how England intend to use him in open phase play.
There’s a lot to be excited about, and what England are developing for the World Cup looks very promising. This one might be a brain teaser! But hopefully by the end, we’ll have an idea of what England get with the 10-12-13 of Ford, Farrell and Tuilagi.
The Deep Runner
England have changed the timing of their runners, not just from Tuilagi, but others as well. England are a team that play very flat to the line. This is particularly prevalent off 9. They have been given licence to mix this up, to pass to the runner coming hard from deep.
The reasoning behind this is that the defence will often number on the flatter options. Again, Eddie Jones sets a trend. If the passes off 9 are flat, then the defence know to commit on the flat options. England are now changing this with the acceleration of the deep runner.
As we can see here, Tuilagi comes from deep, taking the pass from Youngs and making the gain line. He was allowed to make gain line as he came in with Jamie George, whose presence held Healy on the inside and allowed Tuilagi with his acceleration a hard one on one with Ringrose. One the next phase with their go forward. England goes in for a try.
A runner standing at deep, comes up into the line with rapid speed, offering another option to the distributor be it Youngs or Ford. The trick is that the defence for that phase are already committed by the flat options. The insert of a runner from deep can force the defence into a late reshuffle as that option is not necessarily covered.
We will see more examples later, but again with Eddies’ England, another trend is established. The combination of flat play, the options available, and the late changes means that the attack of the late runner combined with decoys, is a welcome addition to the England attack. Acceleration is one of the most underrated qualities in an attack, and ironically one of the best that can give you a point of difference.
In phase play at 13, Manu’s positioning has changed.
England’s attacking system is boosted by the ability to operate around three playmakers. Which explains why Ford-Farrell-Slade was chosen at one point. However, for me, Ford-Farrell-Tuilagi is England’s first-choice midfield and has been for some time.
The beauty of Ford-Farrell is that two of the three playmakers at any one time can be connected, whilst the other can work on the other side of the field and keep it a viable attacking line.
England always have a minimum of two connected playmakers at any one time, referenced here as the ‘Connect’. Be it Ford-Farrell-Daly or Farrell-Tuilagi-Daly.
Sometimes all three can be, however, it is imperative to Jones that England always have two playmakers connected one pass from each other in attack.
Initially, we see Ford-Farrell connected, until Farrell goes in for the crash option, showing his licence at centre. Realising nothing is now on, Ford switches to the right side. With Farrell now at the bottom of the ruck, Daly immediately comes in from the wing to provide the second receiver option.
One phase later, Ford has gone too flat, therefore, Daly moves back over to support Farrell as the switch is run. Once the ball goes to ground the ball is passed to Ford, who then again, using the 10-12 dynamic passes straight to Farrell.
This strategy is key to England’s attacking play. A way of overloading one side of the field in reaction to exploiting the misreads of the defence, it is heavily enhanced by the presence of Tuilagi and Cokanasinga.
The Stretch and Scramble
Now is where we really get into Tuilagi’s positioning at 13. To discuss this in too much detail would take too long, but we will show the basic dynamics of how it works.
Tuilagi has a roaming role but in England’s attacking structures he has two key places that are linked to enhancing the connect dynamic.
- The ‘one out’ carrier.
- The ‘wide receiver’
The one out carrier
As we can see here, Tuilagi often appears as the ‘one out’ option.
In these examples, he is the one out option often with a pod often supporting him on the inside, so he can maintain his role as the deep runner. Note that the ‘Connect’ playmaking duo are on the other side of the ruck.
His position here is off the back of hard carries off 9. England’s attack is dependent on the movement of the defensive line.
This all comes from which side of the ruck the way the defence has folded to and the indent made by the England carriers. The tactical decision-makers will set up ’21’ and ’31’ patterns to force the defence to fold around with dominant carries.
If they see an opportunity through an overfold or players have been sucked in, two of the connect, or even three, will manoeuvre the switch to the opposite side accordingly to take advantage of this.
Let’s show some examples.
This position is the result of a wide play. In this example, we see Ford very early on, call Daly over as well as Tuilagi. He realises nothing is on for the left and banks on the connect exploiting the openside instead.
Following two hard carries off-9, Tuilagi goes in as the one out carrier. Please note that all angles run by the strike runners are slightly inwards, designed to drag the defender on the outside in, therefore constricting the defensive line. Ireland cannot fold over quick enough, meaning the ‘Connect’ engineers the overlap with flat play and numbers.
The below, is a near carbon copy of above but shows the freedom England’s playmakers have in their attack. Here we see post two phases off 9 to the right, Tuilagi is going in with the pod. This time not running the deep runner option. Ford and Daly have moved to the right, much like the above example, to take advantage of the suspected overlap.
However, the Irish have learnt. They got caught out with these carries last time and have made more of an effort to fold around. Their pro-activity, unfortunately, costs them.
Ford realises this and gets help from Farrell (out of frame on the left) that the Irish have overcommitted to the right.
Ireland are wary of the overlap with Cokanasinga and the folding English forwards and have pre-emptively folded around themselves, anticipating the likely off-9 play the same way.
This results in a 6 on 4 on the left, and England exploits it.
Ford organises the pod, and switches the attack, moving play to the left
In perfect 10-12 functionality, Ford fires the pass behind Curry to Farrell, who like Daly has the passing game to pick multiple options on the outside.
Using Vunipola to hold Jordan Larmour, Farrell fires the pass out wide to May, who goes within a metre of the try line, leading to a try two phases later.
This is classic Ford-Farrell play, everything from the alignments, the passing, the switch. All designed to use the ‘Connect’ to get around the defence. But owing a lot to the threat of England’s carriers, including Tuilagi and Cokanasinga.
The Wide Receiver
The ‘Wide Reciever’, is the follow-up phase of the attack after the one out carrier dynamic.
It’s the continuation of the process. Earlier we stated to remember where Tuilagi finds himself on the field. When the ‘Connect’ switches and heads back towards the touchline, he’s no longer the one out carrier, he’s the wide receiver, getting into position for the play coming back his way.
England has played two phases off set-piece and have noticed the Irish overfolded.
Farrell, Ford, and Daly all move to the right to exploit the Irish fold. Farrell takes the ball to contact, and due to Daly and Cokanasinga’s positioning, the Irish make sure they number up the blindside well.
This usually results in a scramble, which means there’s space on the open.
England can go wide over one phase from here, but not this time. Ford organises a crash pod as Farrell is at the bottom of the ruck.
Time is needed to get the playmakers in place for the wide play so Tuilagi can be put into space. As such, Daly comes in from the wing to play second receiver.
We see Ford and Daly connected by their separation gap and Tuilagi outside the pod.
Options aplenty are available for Ford, a pod, an inside option in Cokanasinga and the second line by Daly all available. Ford opts for Daly, running the pullback pass.
As can be seen in these examples, once the ball goes wide, the ‘Connect’ stands behind two main pods, a 3-man pod for the 10, and the 2-man pod for the second receiver. Here, however, we see the full thing in motion.
Curry makes a great outside break, and Ford-Farrell combine behind their respective 3-man and 2-man pods, with Farrell coming through the middle as the deep runner.
Ground is made, and Ford runs a ‘screen’ play with May, using Tuilagi as the decoy to try to draw Aki who forms the ruck after, now turning him from the wide receiver to the ‘one out’ runner again.
Five seconds later, the ruck has been formed. Ford has reformed the connect on the left side of the pitch, brought Daly with him, and England generates a small gain line.
This doesn’t go into all the details. We see Billy Vunipola out on the wing and Tom Curry acting as decoy runners around the connect. There’s a lot yet that England haven’t revealed but have set up, and it is exciting.
The structures are getting there.
In the Wales example, you can again see a carbon copy of this structure with the 10-12 of Ford and Farrell on, albeit with very different alignments. Meaning England are developing this even further.
On the Fly
Hopefully, we can start to see patterns here. However, England will bring their ‘Connect’ round to exploit the space most likely to net them a try.
Below they’ve finished their hits off 9 and are launching into the wide receiver play. Ford and Daly are going wide to target the left and hopefully either score or make metres for Tuilagi to use on the next phase. They’re happy to do this even when deep in the middle of any of the two setups.
Even though they went left above, they have the capabilities at all points in alignment and with the ‘Connect’ to hit anywhere on the field.
As an example, we see England here about to execute the wide receiver. All the playmakers are on the left, Tuilagi is ready, yet Ben Youngs switches quickly, to the ‘one out’ pod.
Ford immediately sees the danger, leading Farrell off with him. Whilst getting into position, the pod then implements ‘Brumby’ pattern, multiple players offloading, charging hard and driving onto the ball within the same channel.
When the ruck has formed, the connect has shifted and exploits the blind accordingly.
This is the key for England, to be able to play what they see, and with Ford-Farrell at 10-12, they have that capability. They have the framework, they have the structure, they have a lot of options they haven’t yet shown but most importantly.
They have the ability and skillsets to recognise, and exploit opportunities quickly. They also have the licence to take initiative, to change things on the field as they see them unfolding. They’re team lead rather than coach led, and fast embodying the approach of ‘Auftragstaktik’, the approach of winning teams.
That there, is the most exciting thing I can say as an Englishman for the World Cup.
By Conor Wilson, RugbyPass