The opening round of the Six Nations showed the importance of the last pass – Sam Larner looks at the key facets of this skill
Six Nations Analysis: The Last Pass
Rugby is a complicated game made up of very simple building blocks. One of the simplest skills, perhaps the first skill you learn when you pick up a rugby ball, is how to pass.
When you learn the basics you can then expand on that: spin pass, miss-pass, one-handed offloads, flicks out the back of the hand etc. The most important pass in rugby is the final pass, the one that leads to the try.
In this series of articles during the Six Nations we will be explaining the intricacies of rugby and hopefully helping you to understand the game a little more.
One of the simplest skills you will see in a match is a two-on-one. As the name suggests two attackers face a lone defender. The defender cannot tackle them both so he must decide which player to take.
The most threatening attacker is always the one with the ball so the defender should choose him. When it is clear that the defender has made that choice, the ball-carrier simply passes to the other attacker and he scores.
If you watch the above video from France v England at 0.34 you can see Vincent Rattez and Charles Ollivon link up for an obvious two-on-one. Rattez is not running at full pace once he gets into space; he is waiting for Ollivon to get on his shoulder but he also wants to make the skill easier.
George Furbank makes the tackle on Rattez but the winger has already released the ball and Ollivon is over for the try. Of course, France are assisted by most of the England players giving up because they anticipated the whistle blowing. This try is a much harder proposition with more that just Furbank and Sam Underhill still playing.
The final French try is more of the same, with Ollivon again the recipient. The footwork of scrum-half Antoine Dupont gets past the bulk of the English defence and through into the backfield.
This is actually a three-on-one as Rattez is an option on the far touchline. Dupont can pass to Ollivon or Rattez, and because Jonny May is coming across the pitch Ollivon is the best option (May’s momentum carries him towards Rattez). Ollivon is unable to outpace Ben Youngs but the slick surface carries him over regardless.
As you can see, not all two-on-ones are created equal. The first clip in the above video is just a longer version of the two we saw previously. Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny runs at Matteo Minozzi, which forces the Italy full-back to step in and stop him.
When Minozzi shows his hand Halfpenny throws the pass out to Josh Adams. The winger still has a lot to do but he is arguably the best finisher in the world at the moment and he scores his first try.
The key to delivering the final pass in a two-on-one is to force the defender to make their decision and then either give the pass, if the defender will tackle you, or carry, if the defender has set their sights on the support runner.
Because the attacking side in rugby does not have more players than the defenders, to score you either need to beat an opposition player or attract two defenders to one attacker.
In the above clip you will see the second Welsh try scored again by Adams. The Dan Biggar pass is, admittedly, a little showy but he fixes the Italy scrum-half Callum Braley. That means that Braley and Jake Polledri mark Biggar leaving Adams in a one-on-one against Leonardo Sarto.
The Biggar pass, but more importantly the threat that he would run with the ball, held the defence in position. Without that Adams would have needed to beat both Sarto and Braley to score in the corner.
Jordan Larmour runs the hard line to keep both half-backs Adam Hastings and Ali Price put. By the time Price knows the ball is not going to Larmour he does not have time to get across to Johnny Sexton. The Ireland fly-half scythes through the hole created by his team mates holding the defenders in place.
The last pass before the try is the most important in rugby. The key to making that last pass a success is to either force the defence to show you where they want to go, as we saw with the two-on-ones, or force the defence to go where you want, as we saw in the second section.
When you next watch a game have a look for how teams try to make the last pass as easy as possible. Look also for the two-on-ones, they happen all over the pitch. They may happen during an attack where the defence has a prop in midfield, and so the attackers run at him to force a two-on-one. Once you start to spot those opportunities you can see opposition weaknesses and you are beginning to think like an analyst.
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