Analysis: How teams are using the kick as an attacking weapon at the World Cup

There have been a number of attacking trends developing as the World Cup has carried into it’s third week; teams passing the ball more often, hooker being the highest scoring position in the competition and the prevalence of tries originating from mauls. This analysis however will look at another area that has spiked in the last three days in particular; attacking kicks leading to tries.

Kicking the ball has traditionally been looked at in some quarters as a negative use of possession; an indication that attacking teams lack the ability to run the ball over the try-line. However with defences now rushing up to close the space between passes, space has inevitably opened up elsewhere for teams to exploit.

If we take Ireland’s first try against Japan last Saturday, this is a great example of kicking to find space when the rush defence closes it elsewhere.

Have a look firstly at the Japanese defence before Jack Carty kicks the ball cross-field here.

Japan’s Amanaki Mafi, Timothy Lafaele and Ryohei Yamanaka are racing up to pressure a potential pass from Carty. However, with the Japanese defenders coming up too quickly on the inside, Yamanaka-circled-has been left isolated in space and an opportunity has presented itself.

As Carty hangs the kick up, Yamanaka is suddenly in big trouble with Garry Ringrose looming on the wing. The Irish centre executes a textbook run onto the ball from here.

By starting wide, Ringrose can keep his eyes on the flight of the ball as it travels in the air, run onto the ball at a 45 degree angle and win the contact in the air while avoiding being tackled over the sideline.

Ireland would go to the kick pass again 7 minutes later for their second try.

As the picture above shows, Japan have once more rushed the pass and left space behind. Japan’s Lomano Lemeki-circled-recognises the danger this time and is beginning to drop back to cover the kick.

However, as Lemeki covers the space behind his teammates, he overcompensates, leaving a space for Ringrose to palm the ball into and Rob Kearney to score. Ringrose again intentionally starts from a wide angle here before angling his run onto the ball and acrobatically tapping the ball to his teammate.

The following match-day would again see teams using the kick as an attacking weapon; best exemplified by the Pool D clash between Australia and Wales.

Wales’ first try would come directly from an attacking kick in a similar situation to where Ireland found themselves the day previous.

As we can see in the picture above, Australia are rushing up in defence as Japan had done before.

Defending teams are often desperate to rush up when defending close to their try-line as any conceded metres could result in a try.

Cognisant of this and Marika Koroibete-circled-being isolated on the wing, Wales’ Dan Biggar hangs a kick up into the space.

Kicks like these off penalty advantages can often seem like hit-and-hopes to the casual observer but teams will put a huge amount of work into timing these kicks and angles of running when catching.

Biggar’s well-placed kick initially forces Koroibete to back-track and limits his jumping ability. The loft on the kick then allows Hadleigh Parkes to very deliberately start wide and arc his run inwards before jumping onto the ball and winning the aerial contest for the score.

Arcing his run at a 45 degree angle again allows Parkes to stay in-field while turning his shoulder to brace for the impact from Dane Haylett-Petty as the Welsh player lands.

Having fallen victim to an attacking kick from Wales, Australia would return the favour in the 21st minute.

This time Wales are rushing up defensively and, despite having an overlap on the right, Bernard Foley opts for the kick into the space out wide.

In the GIF above, Adam Ashley-Cooper really shows the benefit of staying wide before receiving a kick.

Whereas Ashley-Cooper can track the flight of the ball all the way into his hands, both Biggar and Josh Adams clearly lose sight of the ball in the air and end up only realising where it is when it’s already too late.

Perhaps inspired by the two days previous, Scotland showed against Samoa on Monday that they too have an attacking kicking game in their arsenal.

As the picture above shows, Finn Russell-circled-is already looking at the space he wants to kick into before receiving the ball.

As Russell shapes for the kick, it’s a perfect situation to kick in as Samoa are rushing up, narrow in defence and facing the ball.

This allows Russell to put in a beautifully weighted kick that sends the ball over the head of Tusi Pisi and floating into the arms of Scotland’s Sean Maitland for the try.

It’s worth noting that the trajectory of Russell’s kick is the real difference maker here. A higher up-and-under style kick would have given the Samoan cover defence time to recover and tackle the Scottish winger. However, Russell’s decision to kick flatter and through the ball instead takes them out of the equation and makes it a relatively simple finish for Maitland.

Although passing rugby will always have a special place in the spectators heart, teams have begun to show at this tournament that there’s more than one way to score a try in the corner. No longer just a way of exiting your own half, the kick-pass has become a vital skill and attacking weapon for teams at the 2019 World Cup.

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