TOKYO, 15 Oct - The laws of rugby give coaches the flexibility to be creative when inventing new tactics. And where better to show off your new tricks than at the biggest rugby tournament of them all? Here are three tactical innovations witnessed during the pool stages at RWC 2019.
The overthrow at a lineout used to be a mistake. Hookers who were aiming to throw to the back of the line might misjudge and launch the ball over everybody's head. It would then be up to the attacking team to react to the mistake.
Teams have realised that the 'mistake' might actually be a good idea, if used sparingly. At most lineouts the players not involved need to stand 10 metres away from their team-mates. But if the lineout is within 10 metres of your own try line you need only to stand on the line itself, so you could be just five metres from the lineout when your opponents are twice as far away.
With this advantage, teams began to deliberately overthrow the ball when they had a lineout on their own five-metre line. Rather than competing in the lineout they would send it straight to their midfield and launch an attack from deep before the opposition had time to step up.
However, teams are now overthrowing even when they are no closer to the lineout than their opponents. You can see England doing this against Argentina in the clip below; the tactic was also used by Fiji during the pool stages.
Analysis means that most teams have a pretty good idea what their opponents will do at a lineout, but a deliberate overthrow will have them second-guessing everything they thought they knew.
You will have heard the referees shout "release" at RWC 2019, as an instruction to both the tackler and the ball carrier. When the tackle has been made, the tackler must release the carrier and the carrier must release the ball once they hit the ground.
As long as the ball carrier releases the ball, there is nothing stopping him from getting up to his feet and immediately picking it up. Japan, and particularly number eight Kazuki Himeno, pictured top against Ireland, have been particularly cunning exponents of this strategy.
In the clip below Himeno is tackled but releases the ball and gets to his feet. The Russian defenders spread out to protect the field but they forget the tackle area. Himeno gets up, picks up the ball and carries for another 10 metres.
Defences can stop this by piling men into the tackle. That gives the attacker no room to get back up but it does leave a defence weak out wide.
The back at the front
The lineout is not an exclusive club for numbers 1 to 8 - anybody can join in. For many years teams would put only their forwards in the lineout with a scrum-half ready to collect a slapped-down ball and distribute to his backs.
But when they wanted to carry the ball into a maul, they realised the position the scrum-half occupied would be better filled by a hefty forward who could use his strength to get the driving maul started.
Where, then, do you put your scrum-half? Many teams placed them at the front of the lineout, but that gave away their strategy: scrum-half at the front of the lineout? Get ready to maul.
The response was to vary their attack, mauling sometimes but occasionally having the scrum-half come around from the front of the line to his usual position so he could receive the ball off the top of the lineout.
In the clip below Argentina expand on that innovation. They put their winger Santiago Carreras at the front of the lineout and replacement scrum-half Felipe Ezcurra as first receiver. Carreras emerges from the lineout to go straight through the English defence and put Matias Moroni in for their only try. The lineout is no longer just the home of the forwards.
Coaches have already shown us some of their tricks but they are bound to have left something up their sleeves for the quarter-finals. Keep your eyes open for more tactical innovations this weekend.