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Archive for April, 2011

As a follow-up to a video session we had with our team, the information below outlines the questions posed to them regarding style of attack. The style obviously depends on level of ability, as the first few do not require the most skill, while the last two require not only a lot of skill but a high degree of analysis, vision, and communication.

Multi-Faceted Play: To be used during set piece (scrums, lineouts) when the defence is organized and composed, and likely at their most effective.  ‘Multi-faced’ refers to different sets of angles / moves / etc. meant to disrupt this organized defence, but ALSO to allow for flexibility so an individual who finds herself in an advantageous position can call-off the original intent to take advantage if a clear opportunity, should it present itself.

Simple Move / Snap Play: Something simple such as a switch, loop, miss pass, decoy, kick through… can be used pretty much at any time of the game.  Simple moves like this are not only easy to execute, but are usually easier to support than multi-moves as less players are involved as decoys.  Players should still keep their ‘heads up’ to recognize how defences are reacting to the sudden move.  Often a switch, can become an even better decoy if the defence ‘over reads’ the move!

Strike Run: This is when a player is pre-selected to / nominates herself to have a go at the line.  This can be used during phase play or set piece to basically give a certain player the ball (either to use their talents or exploit the weaknesses of a defender(s) in her channel).  The strike runner needs to make a determined run, usually with a sudden turn of pace / angle, at space to draw attention to herself.  The beauty of such attacks is how flexible they are – so long as support runners recognize where space is being created due to the strike, to receive a pass before / from contact, or to recognize how the defence will deal with it and how the next phase would unfold.

“Heads Up”:  This sort of attack is more akin to sevens and touch, but can also be effective in counter attacks.  Some professional teams, such as London Irish two years ago and possibly the Blues and some French teams, even have their whole attack based on this!  Simply put:  move the ball to space, get support in position, have a determined run and see what happens.

You’ll notice that the hierarchy goes from “highly structured / low intuition” to “high intuition / low structure”.  As phase play takes up most of the game, and defences here are usually organized well – but not perfectly at times –  it’s the simple moves and strike runs which need to be worked on the most, always remembering that SUPPORT and COMMUNICATION are essential roles for everyone not carrying the ball.  The ideal would be working toward a ‘heads up’ style of play, not so much to implement it, but so that you are always aware of opportunities as they unfold, being able to do the BEST thing as your planned move is unfolding.

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As someone who’s always trying to perfect his craft, I try and keep abreast of what’s going on and what’s being said in the rugby world.  One great resource where some clever discussion always takes place is the Australian Green and Gold Rugby blog.  They’ve got so big in recent years, that they’ve latched onto some really high profile contributors, one of whom is former Wallabies head coach Bob Dwyer.  Now quite often I think his posts are a bit too … ‘ranty’ … for my tastes, and his recent one is no exception, but I really do think he hammers home an important point about ‘basic skills.’  In it, he essentially states that there is room for every team at every level to dedicate time in every practice to reinforcing basic skills.

He starts by saying how many pre-game and half-time team talks focus on the elimination of mistakes, which on the surface is far too negative an approach in dealing with what should be a very simple problem.  I take issue with this approach as well, especially after having read great books like Rugby Tough, which focuses on rugby-specific mental training.  If one only focuses on the negative aspects of how a situation or skill is being performed, one will approach the next occurrence with the previous poor performance and / or the negative reaction by coach / captain / team mates / self and be just as likely to mess it up again.  Dwyer simply and positively declares that such situations should be addressed not by previous results, but by stressing the proper execution of technique(s) which will allow the player(s) to realise success.  Instead of saying, “We have to stop dropping the ball!” the positive, technical focus should be: “Focus on keeping your hands up and toward the passer to give him a target; Passer focus on the target, following through with the hands.”

The problem, as Dwyer outlines, is two-fold and quite simple, though he rants about it over a few paragraphs in the aforementioned blog post.  Coaches must make time to include basic skills at every training session, and they need to be knowledgeable about all elements which contribute to the successful performance of a skill (and I’d say ones which contribute to poor performance as well).  These days we often here about teams having specialist coaches galore, and even ‘skills’ coaches whose sole job is to work on such things.  For most of us, who coach schools and amateur clubs, that’s not possible, but with a bit of research one can learn everything they know.  I have a massive collection of links above which is a great starting point – especially the Australian and New Zealand-based sites.  Is it any wonder they’re masters of world rugby!?!?  … I’ve actually read complaints in recent years that even in places like England one can find players making the national U20 squad, which one the 6 Nations this year, who lack expertise in some basic skills.

I feel a good coach at any level – and especially the lower levels – should have a firm grasp of how to perform successfully a FULL range of rugby skills.  I knew this from my early days, having been a front row forward who was in sole charge of teams full of talented teenage boys.  I thought: “How can I be the best coach I can be to these boys if I can’t help the backs become better at their craft?”  So I took it upon myself to learn how to do spin passes from the ground, box kicks, kicks for goal, etc. properly and also looked at what caused them to be performed improperly so I could help each position from 1-15 do what they needed to do to the best of their ability.

Now training time is limited and we often want to focus on team play as much as possible, so where do we squeeze in time for personal skills.  With my teams, I stress that instead of mucking about in that half hour before training in which people tend to waste time chit chatting or do things that aren’t quite necessary for their position (and bear in mind, this is coming from a prop who used to kick goals and take kicks for touch, but who practised those skills on his own time).  This can be the best time for players in the same unit to get together and work on those basic skills – both unopposed AND under pressure – which are important to their positions.  But there is also room to work on basic skills in training, and I think they should be implemented as much as possible – the trick is in planning and timing.  I feel that if one can plan a training session down to the minute (being reasonably flexible), one can add 1-2 minutes of basic skills as a warm-up to the unit or team drill.  For example, before running a 3 v 2 drill, have the players work on simple catch and pass lines with proper alignment, body shape, hands up and out, passing the ball out in front with some zip, etc. at a high pace for even just two or three cycles.  This not only provides a chance for the players to hone technique, but also serve the purpose of re-enforcing these important elements before employing them in higher pressure situations.  For those who still don’t think there’s enough time, think about how often those drills get screwed up because of poor focus and technique, and how much time that wastes – especially if the coach decides to take a minute and rant about why things are going wrong halfway through!

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