Last weekend saw the birth of a new rugby union competition, which the organisers hope will become a rival to the Top 14 in France and the Premiership in England. Four former Super Rugby teams from South Africa (the Stormers, Sharks, Lions and Bulls) join 12 teams from Ireland, Scotland, Italy and Wales to form the new United Rugby Championship (URC).
This week's Breakdown looks at some key tactical trends in last weekend’s games.
URC WEEK 1 analysis from Brett Igoe
World Rugby has introduced a batch of law trials that are designed to improve the game. One such law is the 50:22 Rule states:
If a player kicks the ball from their own half, and it bounces before going into touch in the opposition 22, their team will be awarded the resulting lineout, in a prime attacking position.
This new rule presents a challenge for both the Attack and Defence and it will be interesting to watch how the 16 teams in the URC approach this challenge. Last weekend, in defence, most teams tried to prevent the kick by playing 2 players in the back-field, as we can see from this clip from the first half of Munster's game.
And again in the second half.
It was intriguing to see how teams approached this new rule. Cardiff punished Connacht (while Connacht were down to 13 players) with an outstanding 50:22 kick and thus been awarded a lineout seven metres out from the Connacht try line.
It resulted in Cardiff’s 5th try on the game.
Leinster and Munster have certainly done their research on the new rule, over the off-season and instead of trying to gain an advantage of the new rule, they both took a different strategic approach and took advantage of the Bulls and Sharks who looked to cover the two touchlines, while leaving themselves exposed in other areas of the pitch. The Irish master tacticians of Johnny Sexton and Joey Carbury executed shallow kicks behind the Defence line into the space that was not covered.
Leinster also looked at the midfield bomb as another kicking strategy, as it looks to draw the two players in the backfield forward and out of their positions with a contestable kick. Watch how this develops over the next few weeks and how the defences adapt to the kicking trends.
Connacht took another approach as they looked to kick long down the pitch between the two backfield players, which gave Cardiff limited options to counterattack. It resulted in Cardiff getting isolated and gave Connacht their first try with an outstanding transition attack.
There was a welcome sight in Leinster’s encounter with the Bulls, with the return to Leinster’s offloading game that had reduced in recent years. In a clear attempt to reduce the number of rucks and to play the game at an even greater pace, Leinster looked to offload off the ground with great success and it was a great addition to their attack. Hugo Keenan’s attitude to keep the attack going and to pop up the ball off the ground to Josh Van Der Flier was outstanding.
The key in this attack is to move defenders out of their defensive positions with clever lines of running and evasion skills, and to pass to the support runner into the space the defender left.
The return to this type of game was brilliant to watch for the returning crowd at the Aviva stadium and resulted in the bonus point try, expertly started and finished by Ross Byrne.
Play of the Week
Leinster produced the play of the week with this very clever mid-field strike play. Leinster did their homework on Jake White’s side as they took advantage of an over-eager scrum-half defender and a slow back-row defence. With James Lowe as the first receiver, the Bull's defence pushed too hard, which allowed Luke McGrath to get a second touch with a superb inside support line. There was another example of Leinster’s desire to reduce their ruck number with another outstanding offload by McGrath, but unfortunately, the play was called back by the referee for a forward pass just as Leinster looked to add to the score line.
Week 2 of the URC sees Connacht welcoming the Bulls to Galway, while Munster entertain the Stormers in Limerick. While the South African teams struggled in week 1 in their new environments and competition, and it may take a few weeks for them to adjust to their new opposition, but they are certainly a welcome addition to the rugby calendar in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Leinster hit the road this week with a visit to the Dragons, while Ulster are away to the Italian side Zebre.