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Tactical trends: The dual pivot

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Roar Guru
21st December, 2020
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At the turn of the decade we should start to analyse and appreciate certain tactics that have become trendy recently. Tactical trends come and go, and people rarely realise that they are there.

Such trends would be like fielding two opensides, tricksy defensive innovations from the likes of Andy Farrell, Shaun Edwards and Jacques Nienaber, and the use of dynamic pod shapes.

I am going to look at something I have talked about a lot in previous articles: the dual pivot.

Seemingly originating in Eddie Jones’s run with England from the start, it was then used by the All Blacks when they needed to take pressure off Beauden Barrett and have a more ball-in-hand game management, and it has been utilised more recently the Wallabies.

However, this dual pivot split was also used in 2018-19 by Rassie Erasmus in the classy No. 10 Handre Pollard and the mercurial Willie le Roux.

I am going to address two forms of the dual pivot. Firstly, the more conventional 10-12 of two flyhalves or distributors for a heavy-carry team like England, or Australia trying to split the game management. Secondly, the 10-15 split for more risk and creativity and, more importantly, pace into the attack, used by New Zealand and South Africa.

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The 10-12
Essentially, you get a more distribution instead of a unidimensional of using one pivot, but just with more options of hands and out-the-back options.

A No. 12 as the second pivot gives you more carrying options. As seen here, George Ford passes to Owen Farrell to crash it up to create numbers on the short side for Johnny May’s try.

Also, in dual pivot movements you find the practice of one man distributing and the other doing the key action, as I pointed this out in Dave Rennie’s approach with the Wallabies.

In this example we have Farrell standing as first receiver and Ford in the wide channel. Ford took ball wide ball, fixes two defenders and puts in Elliot Daly untouched.

However, if you just do the dual pivot for the sake of it, you end up with the Eddie Jones’s catchphrase: “We weren’t playing rugby”. You revert to boring old z-sequences and you become severely predictable and containable. See this example by Squidge Rugby.

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Here George Ford selects a carrier, a great pre-planned set play, and then Farrell fires it into a small space for a carry. Then they switch back without looking to reset for a bigger strike play. The initial phase is great, drawing in defenders, but at what cost?

Also, one thing you need for this kind of structure to be really successful is a playmaking No. 15, which is how Elliot Daly maintains the wide channel creativity for England, so the dual pivot is not just shifting ball and niggling away.

The Wallabies lack one, and their only wide channel threat is Harry Wilson. Though skilled, Wilson is often needed to do the grimy dirty forward work and cannot always be there as a designated killer.

The 10-15
More conventionally known as the split attack, the core fundamentals of having a 10-15 is nameworthy. You run it through the No. 10 or the No. 15.

This could mean a split attack, with a playmaker on either side. Usually when we talk about attacking split shapes we often see one side of carrying options and a winger and the other side stacked with a playmaker with the creative options.

This also meant that players could force the defenders to really think as the play became more unpredictable, as noted by Squidge Rugby.

With a platform in the middle of the pitch, in the case of the All Blacks a ruck, but for the Springboks, as in this example, it’s a scrum.

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In this example we see both sides with a playmaker – Pollard with a more conventional option in Damian de Allende and a miss pass option to Cheslin Kolbe, and Willie le Roux with a nimble, dynamic attacker in Lukhanyo Am plus a miss pass option to Makazole Mapimpi. This prevents players from drifting across to either side.

Le Roux takes the second option, firing a flat ball into the hands of Mapimpi, who breaks the line.

South Africa use a more conventional way of dual pivots, with Le Roux positioned off the edge with a couple of strike options at his disposal, with Pollard back in as a distributor with some forward options at his disposal and to make communicating links between the phases, himself and Le Roux.

In this example we see some phases before Pollard instructs forwards to stand as a screen. Pollard then fires it to Le Roux off the edge, who fixes and creates space for Lukhanyo Am. This video, entitled ‘The value of Willie Le Roux’, showcases Willie’s ghosting. My examples were drawn from it.

Take a look at how both teams use a split.

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After Pollard’s lovely flat pass in this example we see him jogging around the other side with forward options. They have a split with Le Roux leading an attack on the short side and Pollard leading the other on the openside. They then go off Pollard’s fluid distribution to shift the ball and stretch the defence.

This split allows Willie to properly set with both wingers, with Mapimpi on Kolbe on the short side. The forward options screen him and Le Roux dinks over the top for Mapimpi to chase, grab and score a try.

How do the All Blacks use the dual pivots? Not only do they have a split, but they also use another method of using this dual pivot, which is also used a lot by the Springboks as well. Credit to Stuff.co.nz for this information.

While most No. 15s would stand behind the attack in the wide channel, a more traditional positioning is behind the outside centre and the winger in the gap. This means he can slot and fill the gap between the No. 12 and No. 13 or the gap between the No. 13 and winger to create linebreaks.

The kind of classical Ben Smith-Kurtley Beale wide channel threats are certainly good, but when you play with dual pivots you need to construct a different way of playing.

The No. 15 stands in the classical position behind the attack as if defending.

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Then, when the ball goes out, one of two things happen:

1. The two playmakers shuffle and then can become very dangerous
The No. 12 gets the ball and can go out the back to the No. 10, with the No. 13 running hard as a dummy before the No. 10, first it wide to the No. 15 to set the winger away.

The No. 12 could also act as a distributor to get the No. 15 into space.

2. No. 12 and No. 13 running hard lines
The No. 15 is then behind the attack to form a second line with the winger, also with a kicking threat.

The problem with such a system is that you sacrifice excellent wide channel threats like Ben Smith for more flyhalf-type of players. However, if these No. 15s can fill a Ben Smith or Kurtley Beale role, we have a perfect system.

Conclusion
When you play with dual pivots, a more conventional approach is to play 10-12, to have a wide channel threat in the No. 15 and a floating fullback.

However, the 10-15 is very effective, giving you strike options in the centres and a second playmaker wider. This also gives you a split attack, preventing defensive drift. However, you need a wide channel threat at No. 15 as well as a playmaker No. 15 lumped into one, like Willie Le Roux.

But if you play the dual pivot rigidly and religiously, you end up with Eddie Jones’s catchphrase: “We weren’t playing rugby”.

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