By admin | May 31, 2012
Whatever coaches may do in the final analysis they cannot play the game for the player.
The coach may develop skills, ensure a player’s fitness and train the player in game-like situations. All prepare the player for play, but once the game is underway responsibility for performance lies with the players.
During the game the lessons learned on the coaching field can be put into practice, but what cannot be taught is match savvy. Savvy is the ability to continually pressure opponents, to recognise weaknesses and to exploit the weaknesses to gain an advantage.
This ability can be developed over long periods of time as the player learns to read the game. It is often subliminal, scarcely recognised at the time and probably only recognised on reflection. As a player develops increase amounts of match savvy are stored subliminally and can be used in the sub-conscious allowing the player to focus on the major priority at the time. This primarily focuses on what is to be achieved at the moment with the performance of the pass, kick, evasion, tackle – just happening without a conscious effort having to be made to perform.
It is this ability that gives a player an edge over opponents. The difficulty is that to reach this stage takes time and the information necessary to accelerate this process isn’t readily available.
In an attempt to close this gap, this article is a distillation of anecdote and experience relevant to this need accumulated over many years of direct involvement in playing and coaching. Just remember that pressure erodes skill and practices must simulate this pressure for a technique, a closed skill performed without pressure, to become a skill worth using in a game.
Common Faults in Rugby Skills
Most fundamentally there is a range of common faults that occur at all levels and which reduce the players menu of skills limiting the ability to take options. These occur at all levels because of the relative pressure applied by opponents. Pressure is defined as the reduction in time and space and, implicitly, the ability of opponents to both do this and perform their own range of skills. This may be as a step to penetrate in attack and regain possession in defence.
A further important consideration is the degree to which a player has a vast range of skills as opposed to the ability to perform a more limited range of skills under pressure. Many is the international player who does a few things well under all situations as opposed to the player who never becomes an international but who has a substantial range of skills. The problem being that the player can’t perform these under pressure. Maybe they are confused by choice.
So to get underway let’s take some of the most fundamental skills and signal common faults.
Passing only with the stronger hand.
- For left handed players this is to the right and for right-handed players to the left.
- For #9 left-handedness is valuable as all protected clearances from scrum are made with the left hand while there is a 50:50 split from lineout and phase play.
- This manifests itself in the sub-conscious with players favouring left side attacks and, when they do align to the right players stand closer together to compensate for weaker passing with the left hand. This means that the defence can be closer together and less isolated and can lead to the right wing getting fewer opportunities.
Passing too fast and too low.
- Passes should be sympathetic. A pass is only as good as the ease with which it can be caught. After all the defence is a big enough challenge without an inaccurate pass adding to this.
- When we are thinking about the ease of catching it is worth giving a thought to the length of pass that is needed. The spiral pass can be passed a long way but the spinning ball is more difficult to catch if this distance is not needed why use it?
“Drifting” in the direction of the pass.
- This is because players create space in the direction they are moving away from and not the direction they are running into. This is because the defence follows them.
- This equally applies to players without the ball, most notably decoy players whose line of running attempts to take the defence away from space the penetrating player is moving into.
- However this more relevantly applies to the ball carrier and, as the passer, the ball carrier who drifts allowing the defence to move with the pass so that the receiver has more than a fair share of defenders to deal with.
The passer not drawing the defender.
- A passer who doesn’t create a commitment in the defence allows the defender to assist with defence elsewhere.
- The commitment is created by:
- Running straight down the field or
- Running straight at the designated defender.
- This commitment will take the ball close to the defender and if a flat pass is made to the next player in the attacking line this player may receive the ball and the tackle at the same time. To prevent this the receiver should position with more depth and the passer should pull the pass back to compensate for the loss of time and space.
Receiving a Pass
Standing too flat so that pass has to be fast and will be difficult to catch.
- This results in the receiver getting the ball and the defender at the same time.
- The receiver has to slow down and catch the ball on the side of the body. This will result in the player taking more time to pass the ball on.
- A further difficulty occurs when players take the ball up close to the source of possession. They often stand flat and, because contact is almost immediate, a pass that is high will compromise their body position, they will have to stand high and, in contact, they will be driven back.
Catching the ball in front and at chest height instead of catching it earlier. Catching the ball on the near side of the receiver’s body creates more time. When the hands are extended towards the ball the catch is not only earlier but the ball can be passed on in one motion. The time difference here is marginal but this can be enough to play over the gain line and establishing some momentum.
Standing too far away, slowing down the movement of the ball.
- The ball will have to be “heaved” rather than passed and will take some time to reach the receiver.
- The longer the ball is in the air the greater the time the defence has to adjust. The Australians call this defence free time.
- In practice this occurs when miss or skip passes are made along the attacking line to get the ball further along the line quicker.
- The length of time the ball is in the air the greater the amount of time the defence has to drift eliminating the overlap that may have initially existed.
Players reacting to the defence before they have securely caught the ball.
- No matter how close the defence is the attack must cherish possession, as without it you can’t win the game. So it is ball first, attack second.
- In an ideal situation players will run onto the pass to catch the ball and threatening the defence are one and the same but this doesn’t always happen.
Players standing or receiving the ball too flat
- This results in the ball being passed into their body or even behind them. This slows them down and opens their body to a strong tackle.
- Players must retain depth so that the ball can be passed into the space they are running into.
- If they are going to be slow to arrive they should tell the passer so the ball can be passed further back and/or given more time in the air.
Catching the Kicked Ball
Taking the eyes off the ball.
This can be due to a lack of courage as the chasers bear down on the catcher but apart from this the catcher is in the hands of support players letting the catcher know what is happening They can see the total situation leaving the catcher to focus on the ball.
Standing chest on.
- Even if the catcher has to jump into the air to catch the ball catching the ball chest on, especially in a challenged situation, frequently leads to the ball rebounding towards the opposition or being knocked on and losing the scrum put in.
- By being side on or coming side on to jump any deflection is backwards. This also allows players to support from behind to gather a deflected ball.
Players moving back to catch a ball when a team-mate can move forward to catch it.
- The teammate is able to move into the ball and towards the opposition.
- This most frequently occurs from contestable kick-offs.
- The kicking teams catchers should come from the touchline so that they are able to arc into the ball that travels the minimum distance and is high enough to give them time to contest the ball.
- Their momentum in the jump causes them to drive the receiving team’s jumpers away from the ball should they be stationary under the ball.
- To compensate for this the receiving jumpers should duplicate the running line of their opponents so that they can leap towards the ball.
- Much the same problem exists for players standing under the high ball or the “bomb”. Astute #10’s will drop the “bomb” on the receiver so that this player is stationary under the ball and lacks momentum.
- Equally astute receivers, this usually applies to the back three #’s 11, 14 and 15, will position to make a space they can move into obvious and will be able to move into the ball to contest it.
Picking up the Ball
Knocking the ball on.
- This occurs because the player may have taken the eyes off the ball or become unstable by bending more at the waist rather than the knees.
- Some outstanding open side flankers around the world have expertly developed this skill. The best take advantage of the tackler not having to come through the gate.
- This is a very high level skill and should receive greater rewards than it does. The key is to bend at the knees, sink at the waist and place the hands over the ball so that, if the ball is secured and the player driven off the ball, the ball is pulled back with the player’s momentum.
Not stepping past the ball.
- This results in the player not being directly over the ball.
- This is not always possible because of the number of players on the ground. It is more often the situation for both feet to be behind the ball and the player less stable reaching for the ball.
- If possible straddle the ball to provide a strong base that will resist impact. Maybe this is one of those things that has been lost over time and is waiting to be revisited.
Picking up the ball rather than “scooping” it up.
- This occurs when the ball is in space on the ground and there is time to pick it up without going to ground and coming up with it.
- The pick up can lead to a knock-on whereas the scoop is less risky and the player can maintain momentum.
Carrying the ball in one hand, which reduces options.
- Even if the player anticipates contact two hands is preferable. Apart from this a ball in two hands increases options.
- The use of the fend would seem to be the only situation in which the ball in one hand is best and this may be when the try is likely or when the player needs to “buy” time before support arrives.
- In this situation the ball carrier uses the defender to remain standing. By grabbing the tackler the ball carrier has some control over the situation.
Poor balance so that the player can be easily tackled.
- In training evasive skills it is important that the player runs first and steps second.
- Running first threatens to the tackler. This threat is increased if the initial line of running is at the tackler. This forces the tackler to plant his feet should the ball carrier keep running.
- Now the ball carrier has the upper hand as the tackler can only react once the ball carrier has acted. The evasion will be a step or a swerve to the left or the right.
- This means that in training changing direction while running at speed will not only help with evasion but also increase stability when contact is made.
Running across field.
- This allows the defence to “drift” or move with the ball carrier. This is mentioned above so let’s just reinforce the point that the space the player creates is the one that is moved away from not the one being moved into.
- If the player who is running across is the ball carrier the skill that has to be developed is to pass into the space the player has moved away from.
Inability to kick with the unfamiliar foot.
- This can limit the right foot kicker kicking to the right touchline and to the left touchline for the left foot kicker.
- However most top kickers in the professional game seem to prefer adjusting the type of kick they are using with their preferred foot.
- Maybe the drop punt compensates for this but distance will be limited compared with the spiral punt especially down wind.
Lifting the head upon impact.
- This applies to goal kicking in particular. It is just like golf shot with the leg being the golf club. The key triggers are “head down: follow through”.
Throwing the ball in the air rather than dropping it onto the foot prior to kicking.
- The time it takes for the ball to arrive at the foot takes time and the longer the ball is in the air before being struck the greater of the risk of the ball changing its position.
- This can result in a charge down and a loss of accuracy.
- It may help if the hand is positioned on the top of the ball so that it can’t be tossed in the air.
High tackling or “collaring” opponents.
When a tackler is square on to the ball carrier and the ball carrier changes direction the tackler may thrust out an arm taking the ball carrier high risking injury and penalty.
Inability to tackle with the less comfortable shoulder.
- This can result in the player putting the head in front. In the same way that passing with the less favoured hand and kicking with the less favoured foot tackling with the less favoured shoulder is uncomfortable. But if the player avoids using it the position of the head, in a low tackle, is in front of the ball carriers knees.
- In all three skills players will be reluctant to practice their uncomfortable side themselves so the obvious solution is to consciously practice using it at training.
Tackling with the arms only.
The relative strength of arms compared to legs indicates that a tackle that only uses the arms without leg and shoulder drive will be ineffective.
A firm drive through the target will knock the ball carrier out of balance so that, when the arms come into play they can wrap the legs and stop the ball carrier.
Standing square on to the ball carrier.
When players intend making a big hit to envelop the ball carrier and the ball they are standing too square on to the ball carrier giving the ball carrier left and right options. Close to the source of possession ball carriers tend to run at the tackler.
The problem here is that the defender cannot get low enough to tackle ball carrier’s legs. As part of the pattern a tackler from the side may be better positioned to do this.
Big hits attract attention and there are times when they are effective but we need to look at the play following the tackle. The criteria we should use is how effective was the tackle in regaining possession or, at the very least, slowing down the attack enabling the defence line to be re-established.
Ball carriers are now developing a strong leg drive when they are tackled above the waist. While they may be eventually stopped the ground they make allows for greater support and continuity of possession. Maybe we need to add ball recovery to the technique for the low tackle or one player tackling low and the next player contesting the ball from a crouched position.
This aggravates the force of the impact with the ball carrier. This is a matter of confidence and it is the reason young players have to be weaned into full on tackling.
- The other reaction in the tentative player is to blindly charge in and make the tackle, sometimes with closed eyes. Technique will be poor and injury likely.
Falling in the Tackle
Resisting the impact when falling in the tackle
- This results in the body gets twisted.
- When a head on tackle is made either low or high the ball carrier will resist contact as the aim is to go forward and, with the body in line this is safe as well.
- However a low tackle coming from the ball carrier’s right naturally turns the player’s body to the right and the tackle from the left turns the body to the left.
- When this occurs it is safer to go with the impact. The ball carrier will end up back on to the opposition facing teammates so that the ball can be placed for them to continue play.
- If the ball carrier resists this will twist the player’s torso risking injury and offers the ball to the opposition. In the game as a whole what comes naturally is usually safest and is more successful. If it feels right it usually is.
Turning the wrong way so that the ball is on the opponent’s side.
- When the ball carrier goes into contact the player must have a pre-planned escape route for the ball so that it can be re-cycled quickly.
- It is frequently a case of less being more. To grab 3-4 meters more may be just enough to result in isolation and a contest for the ball.
Halfback/ Scrum-half Play
Unsure what side to attack before arriving at the ruck.
- When the ball is delivered from phase play, rucks and mauls, the halfback should not only be there to pass, but should have decided on the best direction to go, having scanned play as the player moves to the ball.
- This ensures that the pass is made quickly in one movement and that there is no adjustment.
- What is the halfback looking for? Numbers are the answer; the side in which the attacking team’s numbers are greater than those in defence and speed of movement is the essence of making sure the advantage is retained.
Reaching for the ball prior to passing.
- When the ball is delivered, the halfback should not reach for the ball, as this will affect the power of passing.
- It is best to place the foot close to the ball so that all the body levers enable a fast accurate pass to be made.
- At the re-cycle, especially if the delivery is untidy or delayed and the halfback has to pull the ball clear the best type of pass to clear the ball to space is the dive pass. This may take the passer out of play but the pass is less likely to be interfered with and this is the main criterion.
Loss of possession when passing with many players around the ball.
- When a player is held, support players must go to this player to secure the ball. Too often the pass is forced and possession lost.
- It is the role of the ball carrier to retain possession and make it available, it is the role of the support player to go to the ball and not stand off expecting a pass.
- A pattern is important. The support player needs to know what to expect. If the ball carrier doesn’t stick to it then this will create hesitation and slows play down allowing the defence to recover.
Ball carriers not looking for support.
- The two situations are when the attack exceeds the defence, the overlap and when the attack is less than the defence, let’s call this the underlap.
- By playing laterally from the overlap the defence is placed under pressure and the player who has space takes it to continue play.
- However, if this is done when there is an underlap the defence can gang tackle the ball carrier the further the ball is passed along the attack line. Support must now be linear down a channel in which there is a miss match.