ANALYSIS: How the Reds’ ruck system outshone their razzle dazzle – and why they must nail it against Canes


It would be easy to focus on the Queensland Reds’ expansive gameplan and herald the razzle dazzle of the outside backs, but there is much more to this Reds team’s trajectory.

In round one of Super Rugby Pacific 2024, the Waratahs lumbered north in a hope to right the wrongs of the trial game against the Reds two weeks prior. Instead, they were thumped by an even more physical, well-drilled and fluid Reds side.

What made the Reds tick was not only Hunter Paisami smashing and bashing in centre field or the scything Josh Flook, but also the team’s connection at the breakdown.

The cohesion from 1-8 in the Reds pack meant the Tahs were blown off the park.

The connection at the attacking breakdown was impressive, like clockwork, the man on the inside of the ball carrier cleared the ruck giving the backs a clean and quick platform.

This basic of rucking kept the pilfer threats of Charlie Gamble and Jed Holloway well clear of the ruck and meant five-eighth Tom Lynagh had front-foot ball with plenty of time to direct his team around.

It may seem curious to home in on a ruck basic such as this, but its failure is what undid the Western Force against the Hurricanes, who are the Reds’ opponents on Sunday afternoon.

The Hurricanes had free reign at ruck time because the Force cleaner was coming from the outside.

This made for inaccurate cleans which led to slower ball, thereby allowing the Canes’ defence to set.

The below clip shows the Force cleaners not only coming from the outside-in, but also having to work much harder to complete an effective clean.

It also looks like some of the backs were caught napping when it was up to them to clean.

This basic pod structure is as much about systems as it is about the halfbacks’ runner selection.

The impact this structure has on both the attack and defence compared to if the outside man cleans is both stark and great.

Having the inside man cleaning means, the defenders must work harder to come through the gate if they are to contest.

This is because neither team wants to be caught short with players in case the ball goes the same way in the next phase.

Secondly, if a defender on the outside was to contest, they would’ve sacrificed a pillar position, or a ‘10’ defender, leaving them vulnerable to a Tate McDermott to dart around the rucks.

The result of the Reds’ system is better ball presentation, which should allow for quicker distribution.

The speed of the ruck produced by this clean-out structure is dependent on two key factors, the effectiveness (technique) of the clean and the safety (the outside man in the pod of three) as well as their timing.

The first factor the Reds nailed, the latter was not quite as sharp and against a team like the Canes will be exploited.

If you look back at the Reds clip you can see that a genuine on-baller would have had opportunities to pilfer at times during that video.

Coach Les Kiss wants his side to continue to improve their breakdown work. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

The Reds are perhaps fortunate that the Canes are without their best on-baller and ruck pest in Du Plessis Kirifi due to an ankle injury he picked up against the Force.

However, the Canes have plenty of on-ball threats across the park, winning six turnovers against the Force, therefore better timing at the ruck is vital.

The Canes are currently a better side than the Waratahs who the Reds dominated in almost every facet of the game; this won’t be the case on Sunday.

It’s no small wonder why Lynagh spoke of the side’s desire to continue to improve their breakdown work earlier in the week.

“One thing that came from [our first-up match] was our breakdown work,” he said.

“The rest was pretty good, but we need to fix up our breakdown to secure our ball so we can attack off that.”

Staying disciplined and in system when the pressure comes on is the next test for this Reds side.

If the Reds are to continue their trajectory, they must continue to improve on their ruck security and speed.

The Reds must also apply some pressure on defensive rucks, after only securing three turnovers against the Tahs.

The Queenslanders had 92 per cent ruck success and tackled at 91 per cent and will have opportunities to exert ruck pressure on the Canes.

This must occur, because the Reds can’t afford to give a Canes team, who beat 40 Force defenders and managed eight clean breaks, quick ball.

The Reds have far too much talent in their backline to have a stuttering ruck or set piece take the wind out of their sails.

Their game will be the last game of Super Round in Melbourne and it looks like it will be a belter.

If Kiss and his team have improved the timing of their clean-out and safety, they will be in with a chance against a Hurricanes team that defied expectations by wiping the floor with an underwhelming albeit injury-plagued Force side.

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