Low Phase Scoring – Six Nations 2014

Above is a short video highlighting the scoring speed after gaining possession from the first round of the Six Nations.

So how many phases does it take to score a try?

There is no right or wrong answer, but a statistic I found really interesting from this year’s six nations was that from the 61 trys, scored in this year’s Six Nations only around 5 were scored using more than 5 phases.

Now, I’m no mathematician but that strikes me as quite a high percentage of scores coming quickly after possession is gained. Like most coaches one of my teams primary objectives is to develop a coherent structure within our game. We do so safe in the knowledge that structure gives them the ability to retain possession, build pressure and ultimately breakdown a defence.

It’s a sensible approach, but phase play is tiring not just to defend against but to execute. Your work rate needs to be high both on and off the ball, and defences are flat and organised and closer to the ball – shutting down attackers options, in fact everything works to the defences advantage. They will commit fewer players to the contact area whereas most teams will flood the breakdown on their own ball to secure continuity and clean ball, meaning defence usually outnumbers the attack. Additionally every time you enter a collision zone you run a high chance of losing the ball and offering counter attack opportunities.

The reduction in phases could of course be put down to better skilled players identifying their chances better, and of course there is an element of that. Intercepts also skew the figures a little, but at the elite level of the game there has clearly been a shift away from the mindset of building double figure phases to focusing on breaking down defences quicker and more effectively.

Obviously I’m not saying teams never run high phase sequences because they do, Rob Kearneys try against Scotland coming after 9 phases and Wesley Fofana’s against Italy after 6 highlight this. Importantly though the Rucks in these sequences are quick and effective (the two second rule for the most part holds) and momentum was kept up – slow ruck sequences usually ended with a turned over ball.

But taking Wales, as an example, a side that have long been known for their powerful phase play approach, they looked hugely ineffective for large chunks of the Tournament and only really came to life when utilising turn over possession or 1st phase strike moves – prior to the Scotland game all their trys had come from 5 or less phases – even scoring from a set piece strike move. In contrast during the first game of the tournament, Wales vs Italy, from the opening kick off, Italy ran through 11 phases of play before conceding a penalty, from the following line-out Wales put Alex Cuthbert over the whitewash in exactly 5 phases.



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