Through or around? The art of getting over the gain line

In part one of our series of tactical analysis articles, we break down the fundamentals of attacking.

TOKYO, 20 Sep - Rugby is not as complex as it appears. The attack aims to gain ground and the defence tries to prevent them.

An attacking team are doing well if they are getting over the gain line. This is an imaginary line that runs horizontally across the pitch from the location of the ball at the ruck, lineout, maul or scrum.

The gain line is shown below in red. The back foot, the point the defence must stay behind until the ball is played, is shown in yellow.

 Teams try to get over the gain line because it forces the defenders to run backwards and reorganise their defensive line. That takes time, so if the attacking team are able to present the ball quickly and pass it away, they will be able to run at a disorganised defence.

 When teams try to get over the gain line they can go through or around.

Going through

To go through the gain line, the attack must win the collision. The ball carrier wins the collision if, when he is tackled, he breaks the tackle or is brought down beyond where the first contact was made. This may be referred to as a "dominant carry" – a dominant tackle is one where the tackler drives the ball carrier backwards.

In this video, Giorgi Tkhilaishvili of Georgia is first tackled five metres before he is eventually stopped. He then drives over the gain line and forces the Tongan defenders to move backwards and realign. Remember, when defenders have time to line up they can plug any gaps, whereas they may be vulnerable if rushed.

Going around

When attackers go around defences, they are not trying to win the collision, but to advance without being tackled. They can try to reach the try line using clever passing or by stitching together lots of phases where they get over the gain line and attack the gaps.

When teams attack from a lineout or scrum, it is known as a "first-phase attack". The attacking team will plan their play before the first phase. Every time the ball carrier is tackled to the ground, and a ruck is formed, another phase begins.

In this video, Japan try to avoid the collision by going around the attack. They get over the gain line and Ayumu Goromaru scores in the far corner. 

Goromaru scores amazing try for Japan at Rugby World Cup 2015

Key points

  • Attacking is simply about getting over the gain line.
  • Teams can get over the gain line by winning the collision or by running through gaps.
  • Generally, teams will try and win the collision when they first receive the ball. That stresses the defenders and creates gaps, which the attacking team can run through.
  • Some teams are better suited to winning collisions and some to running around defences. Georgia will often look for contact and then dominate the collisions. Fiji prefer to play expansively and go around the defence much sooner. Try to identify how your favourite nation plays. Do they make lots of passes and get the ball to the wings, or do they prefer to make fewer short passes and go into contact?

More Rugby Fundamentals

RNS sl/ar/ajr