TLDR: real-world attack formations = better ball retention + better attacking AI + individualizing players
If you read that title and were like "What?", what I mean is basically this:
Recreating real-world attack formations, in detail, in RC4 will both help clear up some of the problems people have with the gameplay AND set the game up for future enhancements.
Increase Ball Retention
The Number Two Gripe
There's a Facebook poll on these boards that shows "Better ball retention in rucks" to be the #2 requested enhancement (behind "More licenses" as #1). I think beyond being more clear that you can start binding sooner than you think (this tip alone has helped me win more rucks) and that failed fends may lead to slower binds (I can only prove this anecdotally so far), ball retention can be improved by recreating the real-world formations whose intended purpose is to retain the ball. I'm talking about the 1-3-3-1, the 2-4-2, the 2-3-2-1, 1-3-2-2, etc. as discussed in this article here:
"[Pod formations] allows teams to play from one side of the pitch to the other without fearing they will lose the ball when a back is tackled."
A Big Man for Every Channel
The pod of three also ensures ball retention and quick ball by dedicating two forwards immediately to the clear-out. Beyond that, forwards are spread across the field so there will always be a big man in any channel ready to ruck. This would greatly ease the pain of the quick/heavy bind system where you end up drawing in forwards from across the field and lose the ruck while waiting for them.
The Current Pods
But there are already pod formations in the game, you say? I say hogwash. There's a 2-4-2, but where are the forwards in the 15m channels? There's a 3-2-3, but what does that even mean? I'm not the most knowledgeable rugby guy out there, but I know the formation designations lay out in which channel, from left to right, each forward is placed, and I don't see three forwards in the 15m channels and two forwards roaming the middle channels. The 4-4 at least makes sense that there are four forwards on each side of the ruck. Where's the channel integrity, in general, though?
And then from there you would have options in how you want to form your backline around the forwards.
More Realistic Attacking AI
So now that you have offences lining up realistically, you can also take advantage of the designated real-world roles for each player in that particular formation. For instance, if you play off 9 to a pod of 3 in a 1-3-3-1, the first-receiver only has a few options: take the ball into contact, pass backwards to the 10, or pass to another forward in the pod. That's his designated role. And if he passes back to the 10, then there's only so many decisions the 10 can make: pass to the next pod, cut-out pass to a back, or run it. If the AI only has those decisions to make, piece by piece, you won't be seeing the chaos of passing to the opposite side of the ruck, or running into contact and offloading constantly, or any of the other things that make defending feel more like a chaotic melee. You would actually have a structured attack to defend against.
If you play off 9 to a pod 3 in the 2-4-2, the role of that fourth forward is to run a dummy line to fix the defense.
Each scheme requires each player to fulfill a certain role to be successful.
You could then go even further and assign gradations to any role on a scale of defensive, balanced, or aggressive, the verbiage of which would be relevant to the particular role.
And now that you have forwards spread out in the channels, you can create some mismatches for the defense to try to deal with. It won't always be forward on forward or back on back anymore, and you can start to really see so those cool fend and break tackle animations you guys already have, and you have something to strategically work forward to in getting the right mismatch to capitalize on.
Making each player feel like how they are in real-life is the goal for any sports game, right? Every player should be unique and feel like an individual, each with their own skillset. Players in RC4 currently have some attributes, but you can go further in a few ways by leveraging the roles we just discussed.
Matching Players to Roles
A major part of success on the pitch is matching scheme and personnel. For instance, that first-receiver forward in a 1-3-3-1 we just talked about above is a role that requires decision-making skill, so high mental agility, and high strength and break tackle to get go-forward. The two forwards around him require clear-out strength and enough catching ability to not drop a short pass. If you're placing a scrum specialist without the mental agility and ball-carrying skills in that first-receiver position, you're going to have a hard time.
By Creating Archetypes
Each position group naturally has archetypes that highlight specific skills relevant to their strengths and positional requirements. For example, if I throw out some winger archetypes--the Bull-Dozer, the Magic Feet, the High-Ball Threat--you can quickly call up players that fit those archetypes. A High-Ball Threat winger would be the best fit in an attack based on kick chase and cross-field kicks, but perhaps not for an attack based on opportunistic, broken-field play.
So now each role in a scheme will have a player archetype that fits it best, and you're indicating to the user exactly which player fits best where.
Career Mode Benefits
With a scheme/role/archetype system you:
Have more control over how your team plays
Can quickly determine which players are best fits for your scheme
Can narrow down draftable players more easily
Have clear growth paths for each player based on increasing attributes tied to their archetype
Can change their growth paths by leveling up or putting points in a different archetype
Anywho, that's just a thought. Hope that inspired something or was worth reading. Have a good one!