Brian Smith’s Analysis – Red Card Attack

Brian Smith’s Analysis – Red Card Attack

Until last night, I had fond memories of Murrayfield. It’s where I played my last rugby test and the Scots are incredibly gracious hosts.

However, last night was a nightmare for Wallaby supporters and it will haunt the players and coaches as they head off for a break. Regardless of the season it’s always good to finish with a win.

Whenever my teams were on the end of a hiding I would attempt to get something out of the game by reflecting on the most obvious lesson and make some notes in my rugby journal for the future. After all, what else can you do but cry in your beer? In this instance the most obvious lesson to me is – what’s the best way to attack a team defending with 14 players?

The Red Card

Before we dive into the detail of ‘Red Card Attack’ let’s have a quick look at the Sekope Kepu clean-out that triggered this chain of events.

It’s difficult for the ‘jackal’ (defender looking to steal the ball) and the ‘cleaner’ (attacker looking to secure the ball) at ruck time. In order for the jackal to challenge for the ball, he has to get his head over the ball knowing full well that there will be at least one cleaner aiming to blast him off the ball.

The cleaner has a relatively small target to focus on, a bit like a baseball pitcher. All coaches are instructing cleaners to get their shoulders under the chest of the jackal in order to secure the ball. Sometimes things go wrong and this picture pretty much speaks for itself.

With my green and gold eyes I thought Kepu’s error was a yellow card but that’s probably because I know him to be a good sportsman, with no malice. I can completely understand why the referee did what he did, but I still maintain it was harsh considering there was no damage done. Thankfully Hamish Watson played on without receiving any HIA (Head Injury Assessment) treatment.

Red Card Attack – The Drive

The Scots immediately capitalised on the mismatch in the pack with a well constructed driving maul. They had demonstrated supremacy in this area earlier in the match with a 20m drive up the right edge of the pitch. This time they had a shot at the Wallabies deep in the left corner and they were good enough to score thanks to the hard work of their pack and the guile of their scrum half, Ali Price. For the Wallabies the punishment was swift and brutal.

Red Card Attack – Quick Tap

As many of you would be aware Gregor Townsend was a mercurial and very intelligent player. He was always looking for opportunities to assert himself on a game through pure skill or street smarts. It’s fair to say he has taken the same approach into his coaching where he’s had good success with Glasgow Warriors and is now making an impression with Scotland.

This quick tap try was planned, it’s one of those little detail things Townsend likes his players to be aware of. If you watch the body language of Finn Russell it’s clear that he sold the play by shaping to kick to the corner before taking on the Wallabies with ball in hand. Clearly the Wallabies were focused on defending the driving maul and their backs were not alert to the sting.

In fact the Wallaby backs have different roles defending their try line. You will notice in the clip that Marika Koroibete is slow to get into his position in midfield as Russell taps the ball. Koroibete and Beale swap positions defending drives on the try line and this is something Townsend was sharp enough to notice when scouting the Wallabies.

Red Card Attack – Squeeze

From this scrum the Wallabies decided to defend the Scottish back line man-for-man, so that meant they had to defend the scrum one man down. The Scottish pack were clearly licking their lips and they looked to squeeze a scrum penalty to give them the field position to launch their next try scoring effort. It all worked out perfectly for the Scots.

The scrum penalty got them the the 22m line, and from here they drove the line out and smashed over the gain line. Once they had momentum their tempo was rewarded with a try in the left corner. It was clinical and ruthless as these two clips will illustrate.

Red Card Attack – Run From Deep

At this stage the Scots were full of confidence and they started to shift the ball from deep. This exit lineout from inside their own half is a good example.

While the Scots didn’t score from the play it got them good field position and pegged the Wallabies down inside this own half. The play itself is an old Brumbies play called ‘Carboneau’. Back in the George Gregan era, the Brumbies liked to run this play from scrums on the left side of the pitch. In this instance the running scrum half wraps around a back rower to create space on the right edge. It’s an effective play that works well off drives and scrums.

Red Card Attack – Repeat

Much of what the Scots produced in attack came off the back of driven mauls. The Wallabies were schooled in this area throughout the match but particularly after Kepu was sent off.

For the 39 minutes when both teams had 15 players on the pitch, the score was 10 v 12 to the home side. During the 41 minutes that the Wallabies played with 14 men the Scots scored 43 points to 12.

They enjoyed success because they controlled the ball and continued to do the things that enabled them to score points. In essence, they drove the seven man Wallaby pack off the edge of a cliff and showed great discipline in doing so. On top of that Scotland played some quality rugby with ball in hand and thoroughly deserved their win.


As Wayne Bennett says – “losing is not terminal and winning is not permanent”. The sun will come up tomorrow, even though for the Wallabies there will be a couple of dark days ahead as they break camp and head for home. Nobody likes to lose and it’s incredibly humbling and painful to ship 50 points.

However, the game is gone and we can choose to learn from the experience or whine about it. If you choose to learn from the experience the lesson is clear – take advantage of your Red Card Attack opportunities by targeting your opponents primary weakness and exploiting it with vigour and intelligence. Townsend’s legend grows in Scotland and around the world.

It’s refreshing to see a former ball player heading up a national team and powering his troops to play total rugby. They certainly did their homework on the Wallabies.


Brian Smith is a rare breed who has both played and coached international rugby and doesn't mind telling it as he sees it. He's currently putting his Oxford degree to good use teaching Commerce and coaching rugby at the Scots College, Sydney.

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