You are here
In this first season of PRO Rugby, Ohio has scored 52 tries in nine matches. In the matches in which their attack has looked good, which is all but two, it has looked almost unstoppable. What is going on?
Before going into some specifics about Ohio, here is a table with all the PRO tries scored so far broken down by the type of possession that resulted in the try.
Below is a map that shows from where the try tries started. Of the 31 tries that started over 50 meters out, 12 were scored by Ohio.
Now, more on Ohio.
A lot of what is going on is decision-making and execution. When I visited Ohio during their preseason, one of the things that stuck out to me was that the discussion of tactics and attacking structure was led by players. Shaun Davies and Chris Saint (now in Sacramento) went over what the team already had in place and fielded questions from other players about who should be where when.
It is true that Ohio was the only team I visited and that others might have similar player-driven approaches, but clearly the approach Paule Barford has taken is working. In part because they understand the general structure, the players react well to each other. In attack, they are the league's smartest team. There are lots of details that established teams in established leagues with established players execute with relative ease. The PRO teams have struggled, as a group, with these details. Nothing that Ohio is doing in attack is all that complicated, but they are most consistent in getting the details right.
Below is a quick (well, as quick as I could manage) dissection of three of Ohio's tries.
This first example has everything but Spike Davis running someone over to make it a quintessential Aviator try. Ohio put together three phases which all required the defense to make decisions. The Ohio decision-making was good; the passes were good.
In the most recent match, Ohio had a scrum inside 40 meters. They won the scrum cleanly, and immediately the trouble started for San Francisco. Zac Mizell took the pass from Shaun Davies and drew both Volney Rouse, 10, and Orene Ai’i, 12, before passing to Roland Suniula.
With both the 10 and the 12 committed to Mizell, Suniula stepped past two San Francisco back row players before being tackled well over the gainline. Fillipo Ferrarini helped clear the path for Suniula by running a line that made it more difficult for Bill Fukofuka, who was in the traditional open-side flanker spot at the scrum, to get into position.
The ruck was clean, and Davies had three forwards ready to carry the ball up. There have been a few comments floating around online about the fitness of different teams. Here is an example of Ohio's work rate. The three forwards ready to carry the ball on the second phase after the scrum were a prop and two locks.
Importantly, Davies picked the right forward out—or the defense picked the wrong man to worry about. Ryan McTiernan, the widest of the three forwards, received the ball and got past the two forwards closest to the ruck. That forced Rouse to come in and try to make the tackle. He missed. However, he left his feet in the attempt and was not able to re-join the defensive line before the next phase.
That moment from the previous ruck is stellar -- or the defense is atrocious. Part of what makes it so good is that there are four players thinking and making decisions (the forwards in the "pod" and Davies). Davies' pass is good, and McTiernan helps by showing foot work good enough to get past Rouse on this occasion. Details.
The San Francisco forwards, who have had to go 15 meters back from the scrum two phases before, struggled to get into position after the second ruck. That meant Ai’i remained close to the ruck putting more pressure on the outside defenders.
Davies passsed to Mizell who had options inside and out. Mizell's pass went behind Allen Hanson.
Hanson’s line was good in that it forced the 13 to pause, without obstructing him. This is the kind of organization on a third phase that sets Ohio apart. Mizell, Dominic Waldouck, and Hanson were all on the same page. Davis, waiting on the wing, was also doing his part by staying wide and deep.
Jake Anderson came up quickly to get to Waldouck. If Anderson made the tackle, that would have been a good decision. Unfortunately for the Rush, Waldouck went around Anderson, creating a two-on-one. Martini Talapusi had to choose between coming in on Waldouck—thus leaving Spike Davis unmarked—or stay wide with Davis and hope someone else can catch up to Waldouck. He committed to Waldouck who recognized where the space was and made a good pass so that Davis does not need to break stride.
From there, Davis had the pace to finish off the move.
There have been some comments made online about the fitness of different clubs, with some criticism of San Francisco's fitness. In this passage, the San Francisco front row never got into position to affect play. They were not involved in either ruck and never moved to the “strong” side of the field. Jamie Mackintosh and Dylan Fawsitt were both in the second ruck, and Demecus Beach was in position after the second ruck to either carry the ball or support another forward carrying the ball (though the ball wisely went wide).
At Sacramento earlier in the season, they scored on first phase from a scrum inside the 22. JP Eloff received a clean pass from Davies. Then, they sent two players inside Eloff, Suniula and Alex Elkins. This looks a lot like the move in the example above, but with a different fly half and a different decision made.
Eloff successfully drew in the Sacramento 10, Garrett Brewer, and 12, Mirco Bergamasco, before passing. Elkins received the ball, moving from weak to strong, and John Quill, 7, got close but could not bring him down.
Before Elkins made contact with the fullback, he transferred the ball to his other hand so that he would fend the 15 off with his left arm. That is the kind of detail and individual awareness and skill that makes the team's success possible.
Simple, but well executed.
Later in that match, up only one point 11 minutes into the second half, Ohio scored another try. From a lineout on the far side of the field, there were several pick-and-goes, and then Davies went to the backs, near side, twice in a row. The second time, seen below, looks like it might be a mistake. Davies has passed to Eloff who looks pretty lonely. However, he was able to shove away the first defender which gave the support enough time to arrive.
This is not a one-time occurrence. Ohio is good at keeping space in attack, while also being able to get to the breakdown in time if the ball is carried into contact.
Sacramento was moving toward the ball while Ohio was keeping their width. When the ball moved back toward the far side of the field, there was an overlap.
Davies made one pass to Mackintosh, and the trouble for Sacramento is apparent. All Mackintosh had to do was draw in Val Lee-lo and make a simple pass to Fillipo Ferrarini.
This final phase looks so simple, but is the result of many details being well-executed.
So how come this team, which has looked so good in attack, has lost three matches while Denver's lost only one? There was a different source of trouble for each loss. In the first match against Denver, Ohio let several tries slip away, but the structure was still there. In the loss to San Diego, they did lose their attacking shape. Davies was out with a concussion, and then Eloff went off with a broken leg. San Francisco was able to beat Ohio by winning the battle at the breakdown.
With the personnel and confidence now is place for Ohio, they must be the favorites to end the season at the top of the table.