Coaching and Coaches – Part II

This is a continuation of a previous blog – “Coaching and Coaches” you can refresh your memory here.

Attacking Options continued…

We have dealt with the situation in which the attack outnumbers the defence, the overlap. Let’s now look at the one-on-one, when numbers are equal, as well as the situation in which the defence outnumbers the attack.

It is obvious that if play continues laterally, across the field, the defence will drift with the passage of the ball, and “gang tackle” the ball carrier who challenges them.

Two complementary actions by the attack help to solve this. The basis of both is to attack down the field, north/ south, and not east/west.

Step one identify where there is a one-on-one miss match, perhaps #13 Vs #1, or #8 Vs #10. But if we are looking to develop “polyvalence”, the multi-skilled player, then we may have more attackers with evasive skills as Retallick seemed to be adding to his game last year. Maybe all can be evasive if only to get over the gain line, to create momentum, and offload.

Step two is to overload the channel the ball carrier runs down with support players in “Indian file” so that when the ball carrier evades left or right, the support is automatically in  the space the ball carrier has moved from, as well as being close.

Why close? Because there is less chance for a defender to interfere with the pass. To distinguish between a pass and what is close to a hand to hand transfer, let’s call it an offload. It can be made before the tackle, in the tackle, from the ground or as a “gut” pass from a standing position. To perform this last option the ball carrier must turn back on to the tackler to screen the tackler from the ball and face the linear support player.

The biggest problem in this linear business is the ball carrier not looking for support and the support being too flat. Within limits you can’t be too deep as you want the support player can accelerate onto the ball.

Each new ball carrier does the same thing, as does each support player when they are aligning to become the next receiver.

Added to this is the role of the next receiver in the lateral line. This player can increase the space by moving wide and taking the defender wide. If the defender remains in their initial position they will be close to the receiver. The lateral receiver will now be the attacker in space.

To practice this seems simple enough and situations can be set up to “read” the defence and perform the relevant attacking options. And yet it isn’t happening. I tried the overlap option with an Asian national team 8 times getting numbers down to 2 defenders and 5 attackers and they have yet to achieve the outcome.

This was not because they didn’t understand what we were doing but because it was a bridge too far and a very basic range of attacking roles and key factors were necessary before they re-acted to the defence.

Linear play is even less popular as the game for most coaches and players is east/west or “crash” play by the ball carrier from a 3-4 metre pass by the halfback so the crashing is where there are a large number of defenders.

I believe that the first receiver should always be the fly half or first five-eight and this player should be wide, at the limit of the halfback’s passing length and all attacking play can take place beyond this – lateral or linear.

Has strength and conditioning taken over from skill and decision-making and has the game become a war of attrition? In NZ we played this at school at interval and lunchtime. We called it “bar the door” or “British bulldog”. No wonder that the players can’t run/ evade, pass or catch.

In Asia I was then shown the team’s patterns of play. The attacking pattern were a transplant from the coaches playing background where he played at a much higher level with players who were dissimilar.

There were no outcomes to be achieved but I guess you could assume them to be penetrate, support, score.

The patterns were numerous each generating up to 3 options and each had a jargon name that had no relevance to the pattern so the players had a pattern called “USA Eagles” that didn’t trigger much.


Reactive and Proactive Coaching in Attack (especially) and Defence

Whether you take a reactive approach or a proactive approach to coaching rugby the players must be proficient in a wide range of skills be they generic, applicable to all players, or position specific.

And it is not a matter of doing the skills technically well but a matter of being fit enough to perform the skills fatigued and to make an accurate choice as to which skill will be used based on play as it develops.

And this is not seeking the nearest brick-wall and running into it, in other words accepting the tackle.

Think about it.

From the set piece attack and defence patterns are usually proactive as the players start from a pre-ordained position on the field but even then a reactive approach can catch the opposition unawares and force the attack or defence to an option that is less than the best.

This being the case the attack is building towards getting over the gain line and scoring while the defence is building towards regaining possession.

I would suspect that an attacking team that plays proactively is strong enough to impose their pattern on opponents. This also implies that the defence will not analyse the pattern and defend to counteract the attacking pattern.

Above a given level “the successful move” tends to have a shelf life of 2-3 rounds of the competition before the defence counters it.

Currently superiority in top rugby is a matter of strength and conditioning and is mainly proactive.


What to do at Practice?

Combine technical, tactical and physical superiority with the ability to react to the attack or the defence so that the patterns learned are reactive.

This is not as extreme as you might think as experience shows that the options generated from a pattern are more limited in number than you might think.

They will be a response to field position, time expired and time to run, how effective the move has been when previous used, the source of possession and the score at the time.

This will further lead to the prioritisation of the skills that are of high priority.

Once the outcomes, functional roles and key factors are performed successfully the task is to put them, as options, into a number of attack Vs defence scenarios and to eventually, play these randomly so the players are able to adjust to changing situations.

This starts with one-on-one’s and gradually builds towards opposed teams.

Just a word here. The attack is about creating, identifying and using space so, to a given level, opposed practices will have more attackers than defenders before moving to the opposite as explained above, where I advocate the use of linear support.

Based on the limited actions available to the defence the attack should know the option that takes advantage.

Initially set things up at the same field position and practice the same move repeatedly before a number of balls randomly around the field that the players react to.

Possession can vary on the coach’s call or possession can go to the first team to the ball.