Why broken defences are the attacking team's dream

Organised, set defences are what you get mostly, but apply enough pressure and the line will break, opening up try-scoring opportunities.

TOKYO, 21 Sep - Attacking teams are usually faced with two different defences: set and broken. Being able to distinguish one from the other in the heat of battle can make the difference between scoring a try and coming away empty-handed.

A set defence resembles a wall. In the picture below, the South African defenders are stretched out in a straight line across the pitch, awaiting the next attack.

A broken defence is the opposite. It is usually caused by a change of possession; either a kick reception or a ruck turnover but you will also get a broken defence after the attack makes a clean break. The best attackers are able to identify whether they are facing a set defence or a broken one and the choices they make are dependent on the type of defence they see. 

Unlike a set defence, the broken defence in the picture below does not resemble a wall. The American players are staggered, with some running back towards their line, some towards the South Africans and some stood still.

When faced with a set defence, the target is to break the gain line. Against a broken defence, the aim should be much higher. These are not defences that are well positioned to defend and, therefore, provide try-scoring chances.

In the clip below, Uruguay are moving forward with their maul but Leone Nakarawa reaches in and steals the ball. The Uruguayan defence is set up expecting to continue the attack. This means that their players are not in a line but staggered, with large gaps between each other.

Fiji quickly move the ball away from the Uruguayan strength and into midfield. We call this moving the point of attack. When teams turn over a ball they should move away from the strength and attack the opposition where they are weakest.   

School of Rugby - Broken play turnover

In the next example Samoa kick away the ball first but Stuart Hogg responds with a kick, which goes into touch deep in the Samoan half. Samoa full-back Tim Nanai-Williams takes a quick throw-in, which is legal as long as the ball goes backwards and crosses the five-metre line. Samoa immediately move the point of attack and head towards the near side of the field. That takes them away from the fastest Scottish chase. When they go back to the other side Maurie Fa’asavalu is able to blast through the uneven defence.  

School of Rugby - Broken play kick

When an attacker gets through a set defence they bypass the majority of the opposition players. In our final example, the TJ Perenara grubber kick, collected by Sonny Bill Williams, takes most of the Namibian defenders out of the play. Their first task is just to get back onside; they then need to try to get into the set defence. The New Zealand recycling is too quick and Nehe Milner-Skudder slides over in the corner.

School of Rugby - Broken play attack

Key points

  • For most of the game, attacking teams will face set defences but they really want to face broken ones.
  • Broken defences are caused by sudden changes of possession, such as kicks or turnovers. They can be caused also by line breaks.
  • When facing broken defences, the attacking team should try to move the point of attack. That means they should pass or run the ball away from the defensive strength.

More Rugby Fundamentals

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