In the second of a new series, Sam Larner breaks down Dane Blacker's score


The Intercept: Scarlets Try against Benetton

In a new series, Rugby World will talk to those involved in big moments in matches to find out the detail involved – the hows and the whys.

This month, we spoke to Dai Flanagan, Backs Coach of the Scarlets, about Dane Blacker’s first try against Benetton. Similar to our piece on the Racing 92 try against Stade, this one comes off a turnover. However, this time the turnover is in open play as the Scarlets score from their own half.

Attacking Space

Most coaches will talk about passing the ball twice to find the space after a turnover. For Flanagan, and Scarlet’s head coach Dwayne Peel, it’s not so simple: “the biggest thing we push is just finding the space.

“Steff Evans does a great job here because he does a three-point checklist; he looks up to identify space, he looks sideways to see the options, and then he looks up again to see who is in the backfield. He has trusted the call outside of him to have a go. Steff has made the right decision because he has taken two of their defenders out. Then it is the skill-set of Aaron Shingler and Sam Lousi to get the ball out wide to Scott Williams.

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“The message we push everywhere, but especially on turnovers, is how fast can we get fast? When someone knocks a ball on their immediate reaction is to give themselves a telling off. But while that is happening let’s get on with it and play at pace and that gives us a two second head start. We want to do things fast because speed hurts and we train fast and we want to operate quickly.

“That’s not just speed of feet, that’s speed of thought as well. We scored a try earlier in the season against the Lions from a tap penalty. Dan Jones went to set-up the penalty and we had Scott Williams, Jonathan Davies, and Tom Rodgers who got into position on the outside and called the play. That’s all speed of thought and being on it. The Lions turned off for two seconds after the penalty and that’s all you need.”


The dream for a coach is to have ball-players throughout their side. If you have 15 players who are very capable ball handlers, suddenly your attack becomes much more dynamic. The prop who would usually crash up with the ball could now deliver an incisive 15m pass to the charging winger. As a coach, at whatever level you operate, you will find value in upskilling all your players and making them all competent ball handlers.

This try is a great example with three of the six players touching the ball being forwards and three of five passes from forwards. “If you look at our pack in general, we have people like Rob Evans, Ken Owens, Sam Lousi, Shingler, Blade Thomson, they are backs. We find that there is no difference between our forwards and backs in terms of skill-set. We train the 15-man game. Teams talk about structures, and Mike Prendergast talked about the 1-3-3-1 last month.

“We are not so pedantic on that because we expect a centre to play like a back-row if they are there or our back-rowers, if they are on the edge to operate like a centre. Obviously, we have plays off ten and plays off nine, but it is a lot freer and that plays into the heritage of West Wales rugby.

“The downsides of playing without such a set structure is that you don’t necessarily get to play your best players in each situation, and you can sometimes lose some shape. But, if you can develop someone to be a holistic player who can do anything, that’s the fundamental outcome we want. If you look at someone like Blade Thomson, a six would usually play in the middle of the pitch, but he has licence to get his hands on the ball and play like that extra back for us.

“We also encourage our forwards to carry to their strengths. So Sione Kalamafoni wants to run through you, Blade wants to put some footwork in and run round you, and, as in this example, Sam Lousi actually doesn’t want to take contact and instead wants to find space and then look for the pass.”

Line Breaks and Support

Even after the great Evans, Shingler, and Lousi offloads, this attack still looks like it might stall until Scott Williams steps back infield and finds the seam to run up the field.

For Flanagan this is a crucial moment because it is a great example of what the Scarlets want from their ball carriers. “The biggest message with our ball carriers is to get forward. We want them to get their shoulders pointing upfield so they can identify the body shape of the defender. If you are running laterally you can’t really see what the defender is doing. By Scott getting his shoulders facing upfield he could identify the direction of travel of the defender and he could then take him on the inside. We promote that in all situations, even when we have an edge attack and an overlap, we still want our players going forward.

“Dane Blacker is arguably one of the best in the world at running support lines and it’s no surprise he’s scored as many tries as he has from it. For his second try he is 15m ahead of Scott and just waits for Scott before accelerating through. Our environment is very player led and Scott actually highlighted a clip in the week before the Benetton match to show the perfect scrum-half line, then we have two tries on the weekend scored by a scrum-half.

“For this try Dane just runs right on Scott’s shoulder and it’s a simple pass. We play a lot of games with players, a lot of counter attacking rugby or overload touch because we want the players to understand each other. If Johnny McNicholl makes that break, he is different to Scott, so Dane needs to understand those differences. The more you can create those opportunities in training the more likely we are to execute them on matchday.”

Professional clubs have the opportunity to be detailed in their training because they have a lot more player time in a week than an amateur side and can rewatch all their sessions. But that doesn’t mean you can’t steal ideas from them. Bringing more detail into your sessions will help.

Maybe take the idea of the ball-carrier heading upfield before they make a decision. Then make that the focus of a part of your session. Continue dripping it in across a number of weeks and you will see a change happen among your squad.

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