Releasing pressure: the art of the exit strategy

A well-rehearsed escape plan is essential. Teams might risk running the ball out, they might kick it - but you can be sure they will have spent hours working on how to get out of trouble.

TOKYO, 14 Oct - A smooth exit strategy is as important in rugby as it is in life (or politics). Teams spend hours perfecting them so that, when camped in their own half, they have a ready means of escape, so vital in a sport that revolves around territory.

In the clip below, USA’s Cam Dolan steals the lineout from Argentina and that gives the Americans the ball in their own 22. They do not want to play with the ball so close to their line but they also do not want to try a rushed kick.

They go through one phase to get closer to the touchline. That makes the kick easier as it allows scrum-half Ruben de Haas to pin Argentina close to the sideline, making the kick much easier to chase. The kicking team will angle their chase to pen the receiving team against the sideline.

If the kick goes straight down the middle it is almost impossible for the chasers to cover every possible attacking option.

USA choose to box-kick the ball away via de Haas. This is a kick from the back of the breakdown, usually taken by the scrum-half. The benefit is that you do not lose metres by passing backwards to a kicker standing some distance behind the breakdown. 

Some teams prefer to pass backwards to another kicker to gain time and an opportunity for a longer kick. The kick does not need to go straight up in the air like a box-kick to get over the defenders trying to block it.

One problem with this strategy is that it is easy to be caught offside. You cannot advance if you are ahead of the kicker or ahead of anyone who was behind the kicker when the kick was made.

Wales fall foul of this in the clip below. Jonathan Davies is 15m behind the breakdown. Josh Adams, on the far side, is behind Davies so he can put the rest of the team onside. Gareth Davies has made the pass, and nobody who is level with him can advance until they are passed by either Adams or Jonathan Davies.

James Davies does not wait and he is offside. Instead of keeping Fiji in their half, Wales give away a penalty on their own five-metre line, from which Fiji score a try.

While most teams choose to kick the ball when deep in their own territory, running is also an option.

In the next video, Argentina turn the ball over against USA and look to spread it to the right. The pass does not come off and Bautista Delguy, pictured top, has to go back and clean it up.

He could just set up a ruck allowing Argentina to kick it away. Instead he chooses to run it out. Delguy’s maverick run takes him out of his own half and leads to a lineout for Argentina in the USA 22.

Exit strategies vary widely. Some teams rely heavily on the box-kick, and some will have one or two kicking options standing deep to clear their lines. Very aggressive teams will look to run the ball clear when they are deep in their own half. Teams with conservative game plans might use their exit strategy even when they are at the halfway line.

However teams contrive it, a great escape always requires a well-coordinated plot and military precision.

RNS sl/sdg/ar/bo