Sentle Lehoko talks rugby.


What does finding space on attack mean to the modern game?

I am Sentle Lehoko born and bred in Cape Town. I have been around the game of rugby since a young age having always enjoyed the physicality of the game. Having attended Grey College, I really fell involve with the game there, representing my province at various age groups, exposed me to the completive nature of the game which was incredible. Upon leaving school, my passion to play the game however didn’t burn as it always had and I decided to pick up the whistle and enter into the career of coaching. I was immediately drawn to the defensive side of the ball and it became my main focus. I have massive aspirations of becoming a professional defence coach and entering the test arena one day. Being only twenty three, and still studying my BA Psychology degree, I understand the journey, but its one I continue to embrace as I hopefully continue to impart information and grow as a coach. I am currently a rugby coach at SACS High School.

For those who follow Rugby in whatever way, whether you are a committed coach, an engaged parent or just a regular spectator who loves the game on a Saturday, you would be one of the many witnesses to how the modern game has evolved dramatically over the past three to four years. A game that was once based on pure brute force, players assigned to fulfill of the role that came with the number on their back and a slow game speed that left much to be desired has become a thing of that past. 

As players have become faster, fitter and stronger coaches have found new and more innovative ways to use the strengths of the modern player to improve their attack. They have devised ways to use the physical and mental strengths of their players to create great try scoring opportunities. Unfortunately for attack coaches and fans alike this evolution has not been one-sided.

Defence as whole has now become much more effective, allowing little to no space. As most, if not all, Test and professional sides employ systems of heavy line speed and high tactical awareness breaking down defences has become even more difficult. The element of surprise too has taken a back seat, as throughout all levels of the game, even schoolboy rugby coaches and players are able to have video review sessions and prepare extensively for the threats their opponents attack brings to the table. 

There is however some light at the end of the tunnel for those who love to not only attack, but to soak in the precision, out the box thinking and innovation that attack can bring into the game. Modern coaches like Eddie Jones, Andy Farrell, Micheal Cheika, Jamie Joseph and Scott Robertson continue to push the boundaries of what modern attack looks like.  In this edition of #CoachesCorner we are going to look at some innovative and intelligent ways modern day sides are creating space against these gamuts of defensives systems. 

Before focusing on how sides create space through player movement and their specific shapes, were are going to look at one of the most prominent ways modern day sides set themselves out to attack and the platform they play from. Finding ways to utilise your forwards as attacking options in the modern game has become integral, for all sides it is the key to creating outside space, and most importantly quick ball. The most prominent shape in the modern attack era is the 1 – 3 – 3 – 1. These title simply outlines how your forwards will line up across the field, and which players are best suited to be part of each individual group and area of the field. We’re going to look through what this shape looks like across the field, and how modern sides are using their backs to create mismatches and scoring opportunities.

1 – 3 – 3 – 1 

The above mapped out shape is the 1 – 3 – 3 – 1 shape. This specific attack shape has been used extensively over the past few years throughout all spheres of the game inducing, Test, Super Rugby & Schoolboy Rugby. The British & Irish Lions used this attack shape extensively throughout their tour of New Zealand in 2017, and were one of the first sides to highlight how this specific shape could create problems for opposition defences and create so many scoring options. 

The shape uses : 

  1. 2 Forwards in each 15m to add a physical element to your outside backs attack while creating obvious mismatches, while being a force at these subsequent breakdowns out muscling the oppositions outside backs. 
  2. 6 Forwards between the 15m areas broken up into pods of 3. These pods provide wonderful opportunities to play a quick attacking game off either 9 or your 10.

Now that we have a basic idea of the platform that this specific 1 – 3 – 3 – 1 shape creates, let’s have a look at some ways in which sides implement this system into their attack and how to use your backs to maximise its success. 

In the above IMAGE we look at the 1 – 3 – 3 – 1 shape used by the Springboks, and how backline players fit into this shape to create opportunities. In this specific attack Springboks decide to play off 9. 


1. Playing off 9 does mean you will not always have so much width initially in your attack, but if your side struggles against the press, playing of 9 will allow your side to get into your shape quickly and simply with minimal pressure. 

  1. The first break down is made up of our first POD of three within the shape. 
  2. The second pod shows how this shape has been used: The pod begins flat, while having a backline player behind the pod as an outlet. 

GOAL: As mentioned defence within all spheres of the game is centred around constant aggressive line speed, meaning that simple shapes off 9 stand little to no chance with regards to creating go forward and quick ball. However, as defensively sides look to hit these pods backwards they become incredibly narrow and tight on defence, using a backdoor option behind the pod allows attacking sides to move the ball quickly and exploit these defensive frailties on the outside. The tactic of using a back door option has been coined as ‘layered attack’ and is the staple of not only this sides attack, but most, if not all sides. 

In the IMAGE above the Springboks play the backdoor option exploiting as mentioned the oppositions narrow defence. Through their ability to play around the oppositions hard defensive press they have created a great opportunity to get in behind as we can see their #11 has acres of space on the outside. Backdoor options are a great way in which sides look to score tries and attack at a high level. 

GOAL: As a coach the goal of playing the backdoor should be to suck in defenders and play around the defence. The backdoor backline player also creates an unaccounted for attacking option more often than not creating a great overlap or mismatch for your backs. 


  1. If you are a coach looking to try this, make sure you focus on ensuring your forwards have the ability to pass great accurate back door passes to your outlet backline player. 
  2. Help your backline outlet option understand his/her role and ensure that they constantly communicate to ensure that they choose the right option. The backdoor may not be open, meaning that the POD carrying should be used instead. 
  3. Work on your backlines depth to ensure they are neither too deep or too flat when using this attacking option, allow them to have some movement on the outside as backs. 

 In the above IMAGE the Springboks play instead off 10 to create width and to move the contact point. As you can see this option provides so many OPTIONS, the FIRST RECEIVER can carry, the POD can take the ball up or the POD can play the outlet option.

GOAL: Playing off 10 forces defences to constantly be aware of your sides various threats. Your #10 is your best decision maker, having him/her as your decision maker is a great way to create momentum for your attack. The goal for your side when employing this shape is to set-up or attack wider, allow your PODS to run at smaller backs in the mid-field channels forcing attacking mismatches. By having the backdoor outlet present you force the opposition defence to have good quality spacing on the outside and to stay honest within their defensive line. However, if this shape is run efficiently at the advantage line the opposition defence has to remain square and setup narrower which is the goal for you as a coach, this allows for you to use your outlet option to play around the defence and maximise the space identified on the outside. 


  1. Playing off 10 could be a great way for your side to beat the inside defensive press from ABC/PXY as you are playing in the slighter wider channels.
  2. Make sure that if you decide to play this shape that your #10/first receiver takes the ball to the defensive line forcing the defenders to stay committed to him. 
  3. Ensure that you work on your #10/first receivers pass to ensure that your pods can carry hard and receive the ball with momentum. 
  4. Similar to plays off 9, communication is crucial to ensure that your side decides on the right option & can send messages if the outside is open. 

Final Coaching Tips for School Boy Implementation off 9: 


All school coaches will be coaching players with different sets of skills and physical traits. If you are coaching with bigger, less agile forwards, playing off 9 would be a better attacking option. You can use you forwards skill set to great quick ball and minimise their constant movement. Playing off 9 is a great way for bigger more physical forwards to utilise their skill set to help your side, and a simple way to use the 1 – 3 – 3 – 1 shape. 


Playing off 9 within 1 – 3 – 3 – 1 could become too predictable. Try and make sure you are working with your forwards to help them pass and offload within the POD to keep the opposition defence guessing. Simple passing within the POD creates great indecision for defences and is a great way to turn a simple shape into something much more multi-faced. If not, as the game progresses it could become easy for sides to read your attack and get the jump on it. 

Final Coaching Tips for School Boy Implementation off 10: 


If your side is struggling to gain any momentum on attack, or are struggling to make the correct decisions, playing off 10 could be a great decision. As mentioned your 10 should be your best decision maker, so putting the ball in his/her or hands creates continuous opportunities to use them to put other players in the best position to help your side succeed on attack. 


Playing off 10 obviously adds an extra pass, which could allow defences to take more space away from your attack, so it is important that your side does not attack from too deep when playing off 10. Make sure as coach you focus on helping your #10/first receiver take the ball to the line, to ensure that he/she keeps defenders honest, if not defences could push past and catch your pods behind the advantage line. 


It is clear that playing off 10 is a bit more complex. As a coach it is important to ensure that your players understand how to communicate between forwards and backs to ensure that your shapes off 10 flow efficiently and coherently. If not you could have your side attacking with indecision, meaning your side will struggle to create any form of momentum. 

Final Tips 

This 1 – 3 – 3 – 1 shape is great for any coach looking to implement a simple attacking platform. If you are coaching, looking to try to implement this platform, play around with it and find ways to fit it into what suits your side best. This specific 1 – 3 – 3 – 1 has various target plays and it is extremely simple to implement within any age group or side. 

Hope you enjoy, and good luck creating some great attacking opportunities.


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