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Gregor Townsend's Caledonian cyclone can blow through a Rugby World Cup pool of death

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Roar Guru
10th August, 2023
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1059 Reads

Scotland’s dynamic, shapeshifting, miracle ball attack has dazzled rugby fans, and also has the element of systemic progress that can see them tilt the balance against key opponents like Ireland and South Africa in the World Cup.

With their excellent run of prolific play, can they possibly upset the odds and escape a pool of death unscathed, based on their excellent attack?

Much like a tornado, the deceptive patterns and skilful chess moves can unravel any top defence, ripping defensive organisation into the aftermath of a hurricane.

To understand the baseline of the structure one must see it without Finn Russell, who is a merlin of attacking witchcraft and wizardry that ignites their structure.

Ben Healy gives you much of the same benefits-excellent mid to long range passing, tactical nous, creativity, and attacking kicks; but with him playing the units of their attack are a bit more clearly defined, allowing the attack to be broken down.

The Deep Cutter

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Scotland like to layer their 10 behind a hammer/strike pod to be able to make the killer passes in the wider areas and unlock the defenses in the wider areas.

Off a lineout, a double screen play allows Healy to line up at the edge, committing them in the wider channels and executing the overlap. He passes a little too early here, which is a trend with his play. Due to his lack of a proper threat of a carry or outside break, he is not able to stay square/dangerous before the pass, succumbing to a drift. Finn Russell in a similar situation fixes defenses and converts the clean break.

Healy doesn’t give you the squareness in delivering flat crash up balls or fix and pass situations. What he does give you is accurate decision making at pace and at the line.

Expansive attack around the 3-3-X

On the return sequence, he takes the ball behind a pod, playing it through the layers and allowing the ball to get wide for a try, ripping the pass into the right areas and organising the 3-3-X to facilitate expansive play. The use of a wide forward ensures heavy power is out wide to barge through pacy cover defence.

The 1-3-3-1 thus acts as physical anchors of widely spaced 3-man groups of forward running individual lines, amplifying the flat threat to create space out behind. That’s the default structure of their attack, with crisp passing, and multiple variations with the application of depth and width.

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The Finn-tastic Flame

However, the key element is nonchalant execution right at the line, blending creativity and accuracy.

Here, The wide ball seems to target the seam, using a wide line by 12, to have the pivot hitting the 13 channel. England do well to rush across, and the tight midfield on defense is reminiscent of both Ireland and South Africa.

This killer pass and manipulation using a 10 who can do it all on attack-step and break, innovate and execute is at the heart of the Scottish attack. That allows them to go into hyperdrive with strike runners at 13 and 15 and even a lethal inside power wing.

From there, Finn Russell sacrifices short gains to shift the point of focus. On return passages, defences need to reshuffle more and more to be able to make it back up. Russell fires the class pass, sending his carrier bundling into English tacklers and resparking the momentum, keeping the break threat alive on each phase.

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This depth results in the blindside opening up for a second, allowing Ben White to sneak in and score a stunner.
Much like Johnny Sexton, Finn Russell spins the winds with an element of gravity that only cornerstones possess. Despite the loose evolving nature of the attacking pieces, his chess moves disabling defences with a touch of flair.

His delayed passing, optimal choice of pass target, as well as his vision and balance between micro- and macro-view of an attacking sequence are crucial elements to creating havoc on the pitch. Prime Scotland seamlessly work from phase to phase, with 2-3 hitter options targeting holes, and the shallow link from there to midfielders and outside backs, without needing mechanical over-under plays.

The crosskicks from typical passing set ups in a variation of 1-3-2-2 are trademark to unlock the Boks, and have flourished the last time they did battle.

While the Hype is much around Finn, this hasn’t been doable without options around him.

Scotland's Finn Russell celebrates at Full Time during a Guinness Six Nations match between Scotland and England at BT Murrayfield, on February 05, 2022, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Ross MacDonald/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Finn Russell. (Photo by Ross MacDonald/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Their squad is full of power running threats, a rock solid front 5, and a barnstorming back row full of pace and soft hands. The ability of locks to make catch passes, and backs to bash it up creates a Fijian interchangeability with the most entertaining side in the world.

In the backs, Duhan Van Der Merwe is a massive power runner, with Darcy Graham acting as a pure finisher. Their midfield has matured, with Sione Tuipolutu acting as a flat ball player to support Russell floating wider to pull the trigger on key plays.

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Huw Jones has ran classic lines at strong pace, with his X-factor line-breaks combined with elite handling turning into a creative magician and line break merchant for the Scots. Blair Kinghorn has big shoes to fill in the place of Stuart Hogg, but the figurehead strike runner role can be compensated for with strike power at 11, and 13 to take up some of those touches.

To demonstrate their potential to beat Ireland, who have a tight press leaving few gaps in their defence, but space on the outside, let’s look at this Huw Jones try from 2021.

Finn Russell runs the shape excellently, with the inside looping winger of Duhan forming a ‘pod’ with Hamish Watson underneath him. Stuart Hogg’s pacy pedigree combined with Duhan’s power puts James Lowe in two minds, being able to exploit the defensive behaviour of the winger. A perfect flat pass from Hogg finds Huw Jones to burst through for a try.

Hence, the guileful integration of multiple threats into an attacking shape is crucial for the Scots to be able to punch above their weight and perform when it counts. The Scots have a solid defence with multiple fail safes. They have a strong pack, and a classy backline of flair and composure. Their attack remaining a cut above the rest is crucial, if they are to become the dark horses of this year’s World Cup.

2019’s Springboks were in an identical situation, and the latest win over France could be a key statement ahead of the World Cup.

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