With a third of the regular season now complete, Connacht’s crucial bonus-point win over the Southern Kings last Saturday saw them leapfrog the likes of Edinburgh and the Scarlets to sit in second place in Conference B of the Pro 14. This analysis will take a quick look at the excellent try that secured Connacht that all-important bonus-point and the structure behind it.
Starting things off quickly, after winning a penalty in the 42nd minute and kicking to touch, Connacht find themselves with an attacking lineout just outside the Kings 22.
Connacht use a 6+1 formation approaching the set-piece with Colby Fainga’a standing in the scrum-half position.
Generally speaking, the 6+1 is a lineout maul formation. The advantage it gives an attacking team from a mauling perspective is that, by having a forward at 9, Connacht can use Fainga’a to secure the ball quickly once the jumper hits the ground.
The Kings recognise this threat of the 6+1 maul early. With Paul Boyle an isolated jumper at the front of the lineout, Eoghan Masterson looking to the end of the lineout and Connacht’s two locks approaching the tail, everything suggests that Connacht are going to throw to the back. Finlay Bealham even loosens up his arms to imply that he’s about to make a lift. Now that the Kings are focused solely on the back of the lineout, Connacht make their move.
With a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it throw from Tom McCartney, Connacht catch the Kings’ Elrigh Louw sleeping at the front of the lineout and recycle the ball through Denis Buckley.
Instead of sealing off a maul, Fainga’a acts as a distributor allowing Connacht to get more width on their attack as he passes to scrum-half Caolin Blade.
As Faing’a passes, the decoy lifting pod at the back of Connacht’s lineout acts as a block to the Kings backrow defenders looking to pressure Blade. As some of the eagle-eyed viewers may have noticed beforehand, Bealham-circled-pulls slightly on the backrow Ruaan Lerm just to make sure as Fainga’a winds up his pass.
When speaking about designing backline moves, legendary All Blacks coach Wayne Smith often talks about the roles of the ‘holding’ and ‘hidden’ players within a play. Holding players are the backs that initially force defenders to think-and make them sluggish-whereas hidden players are the backs that are waiting in the background to deliver the killing blow.
As Blade ships the ball on to Bundee Aki to start the loop play in the GIF above, the Irish international centre acts as a holding player in this instance.
Aki-circled-manages to perfectly time his pass, holding the entire Kings inside defence from drifting across while giving the ‘hidden’ Blade the ball early enough to bring teammates out wide into play.
Once Blade comes around the corner with the ball, Kyle Godwin is this time playing the ‘holding’ role, with no. 10 Conor Fitzgerald and winger Niyi Adeolokun ‘hiding’ behind in the third layer of the attack.
Godwin’s decision to run at the inside shoulder of Erich Cronje-his opposing 13-draws his man in and creates the overlap for Connacht to exploit.
Fitzgerald has a feast of options from here with Adeolokun open to score on the inside and both Matt Healy and John Porch in acres of space out wide.
Healy is the choice in the end. Fitzgerald again runs at the inside shoulder of winger Christopher Hollis this time, holding him from closing down the threat out wide.
After a studied build-up, not even a couple of juggled passes can stop Connacht from there on in and it’s an excellently executed strike play from 1 to 15 for Porch to finish in the corner.
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