Wasps recently caught the eye of the rugby watching world by first dispatching Leinster away from home and then thumping current 3 times champions Toulon, whist picking up a try-scoring bonus point in the process. In both games they also managed to not concede a try. What’s been the main difference for Wasps’ rise this year? How have they managed to pick apart these teams in such an impressive manner? Their attack has been talked about a lot – and we’ll look at breaking this down and see how they are seemingly able to dismantle even the top teams in Europe.
Why am I starting off by talking about defence in an article called Wasps Attack? Well this is something that’s been improved on massively since last year and is evident with their first two European games. However their Aviva Premeirship game vs. Bath in Round 2 was where it began, and that was the first time they’d kept their opponents tryless in 9 games. Their Round 4 fixture vs. Gloucester was the fewest points Wasps had conceded in any of their last 122 League fixtures by defeating them 23-3.With their improved defensive strategies they are able to pick and choose their moments for when to reclaim the ball, and also to turn a relatively weak defensive position into a point of attack. Here are several ways they’ve managed to do that:
This year, especially in the European games they commit very few players to the breakdown area. By this I am referring to when the attacking, a Wasps player initially makes the tackle and then no further Wasps players are involved, and do not compete for the ball or do not try and win a turnover. This was a tactic Argentina used vs. Ireland and is highly effective when used against certain teams – it allows them to set up defensively, and when their opponents do look vulnerable at the breakdown they then commit men to try and win the turnover, as we see here vs. Toulon:
Here is an example of picking their moments: Cooper-Woolley puts in an excellent tackle, and rolls away quickly allowing Launchbury and Smith to hold up the ball and eventually win the penalty.
This is an area of scrum-half Joe Simpson’s game that has improved massively in the last few years, and has really added another facet to his already strong running game. When being used as a defensive tool it can be turned into an offensive weapon – IF executed correctly and used at the right times. Leinster fans might not want to look at this next clip, but Joe Simpson notices that Dave Kearney is up in defence puts up a brilliant box kick in behind him, and on a windy day at the RDS it results in a Dave Kearney slip off a funny bounce and a Wade try:
This has been one of the keys out of all the aspects mentioned on here that has contributed to their play. The age old saying “A kick is as only good as its chaser” is highlighted perfectly here. Jackson puts in a poor kick, but because of Wade’s initial chase and forcing the player into a decision, and then Jackson following up on his kick are able to drastically reduce the amount of metres made by the Leinster player:
It’s an easy way to make territory, but must be done collectively by the team to be utilised properly, and done correctly can force the opponent into a mistake and turnover possession or gain territory.
Now onto the juicy stuff. What’s been the secret to Wasps potent backline this season? The answer to that is decoy runners and creating an overlap:
The way that Wasps often set up in attack is either:
Option 1: 9 > 10 > forward – where Wasps usually have 1-2 players (usually forwards) and a back (usually Ben Jacobs at 12) standing close to each other (sometimes in a straight line) waiting to receive the ball. If one of them receives the ball, that individual runs hard and straight, going to ground when he can and the other forwards / 12 look to secure the ball. This is also known as a “pod”. The forwards, in particular Nathan Hughes has been a superb acquisition for Wasps, making the 2nd most metres made overall, with only winger Sinoti-Sinoti ahead of him.
Option 2: 9 > 10 > back
This is used less often, but when done correctly it has proved very fruitful for Wasps. The setup is exactly the same as above, you have the 1-2 players + inside centre waiting to receive the ball, but this time the ball is passed behind the line front runners and onto 13 or any of the back 3, depending on the situation. What makes this such an attack weapon? The initial line of runners, or “decoys”. These men, even if not receiving the ball will run on and usually take contact or hold onto their opposite man, and create space for the backs coming through.
The defenders can’t afford to take their eyes of the forward runners, and in particular Nathan Hughes. Last season he made the 2nd most metres overall in the AP, with only winger Sinoti-Sinoti ahead of him. With his ball carrying threat, defenders have to commit to tackling him, which opens up space for the players outside.
Here’s an example of this at work vs. Toulon:
To start with, we’ll freeze it with Jackson at 10 having the ball. He’s got 2 runners at the front ready to receive the ball circled in yellow – Hughes and Jacobs. He however, opts to pass to Daly, who is about 5m behind the 2 runners when he receives the ball who is circled in blue.
Now the 2 front runners are running at full pace, and have little option but to make contact with the defending players. We can see below how Nathan Hughes – circled in yellow pushes Taofifenua, the number 5 for Toulon. Because of this push, whilst not massive in force, puts off the defender and creates enough space for Daly – circled in blue again is able to run through.
Whilst this is a tiny detail, it creates a window of opportunity for Wasps. The move breaks down in the end as Habana does well to read the move and the potential danger early on. He goes for the intercept, forcing Daly to hold onto the ball and then reacts quickly enough when coming back to stop Daly from passing it to Launchbury.
Here we can see the full move in motion:
Here’s another example of Nathan Hughes’ off the ball work – in this try against London Irish he takes out one defender, and knocks Blair Cowan slightly. Whilst they would probably have got through as they had more numbers on the outside, He has reduced the amount of defenders being able to help out, and given his teammates a little more room to work with.
Here’s the 3rd example of the dummy runner with a different attacking move being used:
In this example, we set up the same again, with the 2 runners – Halai and Jacobs and the direction they’re running. At the back, we have Daly cutting back inside. In this move, Daly makes the first move.
Daly running the dummy line, takes out one of the inside defenders whilst Halai and Jacobs continue their runs outside. Jacobs commits Bastareaud to tackling him, and Halai is able to run at Mermoz, clattering into him and providing a linebreak. From here the defence begins to panic, when Gaskell goes down the blindside he sucks in more defenders, and from the next phase Wasps get their first try vs. Toulon.
Whilst slightly different it isolates the defender, allowing the bigger man Halai a chance to bulldoze his way through and Mermoz has little assistance from the men inside him.
Here’s a clip of the move above:
Whilst some of these moves are technically illegal, the players don’t go overboard by being too forceful, and make it subtle enough so as to not draw the attention of the ref.
Creating an Overlap
One basic attacking moves is the ability of using an overlap effectively. Creating 3 on 2s or 2 on 1s is the easiest way of breaking the defensive line for the attack, its simple to do and its something that Wasps look to do as often as possible when taking the ball wide, especially when you have someone with the speed of Christian Wade on the outside who is incredibly dangerous given any extra space.
Here’s an example of it: A kick over the top is received by Christian Wade and he evades Samu Manoa rushing onto him. One defender then runs up ahead of the rest of the defensive line, and Wade passes it onto Gaskell. Gaskell runs at one of the Toulon defenders, committing him to the tackle, and passing back to Wade. Pelissie (scrumhalf for Toulon) is running backwards and unaware of where Wade is and Wade runs around him.
Through simple passing, and using their numerical advantage, they are able to exploit Toulon’s defence and make easy metres.
Another example of this is Wasps’ 2nd try, where simply committing the tackler and passing to the extra man results in a try (after a brilliant chip and collect, mind!)
And lastly, here’s a slightly different example – faced with a 3 on 2 this time, Jacobs runs back inside, dragging the defender back in which gives Wade space to run on the outside.
I could use many more examples for this – but some of Wasps’ attacking brilliance has come from something as simple as this. Using the decoys as above can help create these overlaps, and with the pace the back 3 that Wasps have at their disposal means its highlighted more.
The defence has been the basis of their success so far, but their attack has been potent for the last number of years. Breaking down their attack has hopefully shown you how Wasps look to exploit and gap or space available, and how they are able to create it. The people off the ball are just as important as the ball carriers, opening up and creating the opportunities for ball-carriers.