Attacking structure: How pods gain the hard yards

'Pods' of three forwards roam rugby fields in search of clean ball to take into contact and create space for the backs to do their work.

TOKYO, 26 Sep - During this World Cup you may have seen that many teams play with similar structures. We have looked at structured and unstructured defence, but teams attack with a certain structure as well.

The structure that teams play with is like the size of canvases and colours of paint that an artist uses. The artist can be creative but they have to do it within the constraints of the materials they have. 

The pod

This is the structure that most teams play with, where three forwards stand close to the scrum-half. We call this a "pod". The reason for the pod is that when one forward carries the ball forwards, the other two can clear out the defenders in the breakdown and deliver quick ball.

Stood directly behind the pod is a back, often the fly-half but sometimes another back who is good at passing. We call them the "option". When the scrum-half passes he will normally pass to the person standing in the middle of the pod. That player can do four things: carry the ball, pop the ball to the inside forward, tip the ball to the outside forward, or pivot around and pass to the option. In the clip below you can see the Irish pod and option ready to receive the scrum-half's pass. 

Feeding the pod

We might think of Fiji as a team who play unstructured rugby but that is not always the case. In the example below they have the pod of forwards and the option, in this case centre Levani Botia.

Compare this clip with the one above and you may notice something different. Instead of the scrum-half passing to the pod, it's fly-half Ben Volavola who distributes the ball.

When the scrum-half passes directly to a pod we say the team is "playing off nine". If the scrum-half passes to a fly-half, who decides what to do next, we say they are "playing off 10". The pod fixes the defenders and when the middle forward pivots and passes to the option it opens up space for Fiji to go wide and score the try.

Forwards in formation

You might think that a 4-4-2 or a 3-5-1 formation is the preserve of football, but that is no longer the case. Increasingly rugby teams are structuring themselves into 1-3-3-1 or 2-4-2 formations.

If you have noticed that these numbers do not add up to 15, that is because they refer only to the forwards, and rather than the football formations which read from defence to attack, these forwards formations run from left to right.

When you hear somebody say 1-3-3-1 imagine the pitch from above. On the far left of the pitch you have one forward, in the middle you have two pods of three forwards, and on the far right you have the remaining forward.

The benefits of this are that you still have big ball carriers in the midfield but you also have quicker forwards out wide who can carry or support the wide backs when they are tackled. It allows teams to play from one side of the pitch to the other without fearing they will lose the ball when a back is tackled.

Do teams always play with the pods? When they are not playing in a pod why do you think that is? Can you identify whether your team is playing in a 1-3-3-1 or a 2-4-2, or are they in another formation? Next time you watch a Rugby World Cup match, look out for the pods.

RNS sl/sdg/rl/ajr