Posts Tagged ‘kicking’

I recently saw this great clip featuring French player Francois Trinh-Duc’s doubly-clever move to set up a try for his team mates.  What’s on play here is a sound knowledge of the laws of the game not just by Trinh-Duc, but by his team mates as well.

1. The player in white kicks the ball out ‘on the full’, meaning that the lineout will go to the blue team back from a line where the ball was kicked because the player doing the kicking was in front of his 22m line.  (This also is true if the ball kicked was passed back to a player inside the 22m by someone outside of it.)

2. To ensure this happens, as it’s probably unclear to Trinh-Duc if the ball is truly going to go out, he straddles the touch line BEFORE making his catch.  Simply put, he did not carry or knock the ball out.  By having at least one foot in touch when he caught the ball, he was already out, and as such made the ball that was kicked by his opponent out.

There are a lot of situations like this that can be very confusing even to veterans of the game, largely because we rarely see them.  There’s a great document from Australia that outlines pretty much every possibility, including both feet in, one in and one out, and while jumping in the air.  It can be found by clicking THIS LINK.

3. Knowing that a quick throw is possible before the lineout is set, Trinh-Duc runs forward to where the assistant ref marks the spot that the lineout will occur.  Up until this season, the quick throw could only take place from the spot the ball crossed the touchline or further back toward one’s own goal line.  This year, as can be seen in this video, the quick throw can take place at the ‘line of touch’ – or where the lineout will occur when kicked out on the full.  Explanations and further examples from the IRB Laws site can be found HERE and HERE.

4. He makes a quick throw – which must go 5m – to a team mate, who sets up another for the score.  Trinh-Duc could have taken the quick throw from where the ball went out.  But knowing that it’s now possible to take the throw from where the lineout will occur, he took the opportunity to run it forward and gain some free metres (as well as get behind most of the opposing players who’d chased the kick).  This can be a bit confusing if you’re new to quick throw-ins, but the new Law trial actually makes more sense than the way it was before because the options then were take a quick throw down field or wait and have a proper lineout upfield.  Now players have the option of making a quick throw anywhere from where the lineout should occur all the way back to one’s own goal line.

Courtesy:  irblaws.com

Quick throw can occur anywhere from kicker in blue back to the goal line.

This is entirely possible at any level, but players wanting to make a quick throw must use the same ball and it has to be taken by the person who fetches the ball (not chucked to someone else who takes the quick throw).  Catching the ball cleanly before this happens makes setting up quick throws that much easier.  Hopefully refs at your level are aware of these things as well!

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In the Using Video – Part One article, I talked about analysing other people’s (i.e. from television, top level stuff) footage to make use of ideal practices or multiple camera angles and one’s own game footage for certain specific aims.  In this article, I’m going to discuss two more ways to use video to benefit your team.

Game Analysis – Individuals

Two weeks ago we trialled videoing just two players, each for a half.  We chose a forward and a back to focus on and I kept the camera on them with enough width to see what was going on around them.  Initially, I thought with rugby being as expansive as it is that we were going to be watching large stretches of ‘not much’ as players are not always involved in the action.  I was surprised, however, as even though there were times the camera missed tries or ‘big’ moments, following just one player around really told the story of the match.  We didn’t only get the chance to help those individuals understand their strengths and areas for improvement, but we also saw how their units interacted.  In choosing a no. 8 and a fly half to follow, we were able to see the general work rate of the back row and how both half backs contributed to our attack.

The individuals found the process enlightening and motivating.  Seeing one’s self in action can be embarrassing, but when the coaching staff keeps everything positive and constructive the process should serve to push most athletes further along in their development.  We didn’t even talk address mistakes, but the athletes would bring them up and say to themselves what they needed to do to improve, having seen it for themselves (especially if they hadn’t realised whilst playing!).  I think at this point it’s important for coaches to help the athlete stay positive and look at any ‘negative’ situations on film as an opportunity to improve, which can then lead into some very genuine goal setting strategies.


Videotaping Training

There’s an old adage which goes ‘you play how you practice’ and instead of waiting for games to find areas for improvement, why not try and spot these at training.  In games, certain elements might only occur a fraction of the time with certain people.  At training, in the proper environment, you could video sections to examine technique or skill for consistency of effort.  The obvious ones involve technique – passing, tackling, kicking – where one can use video to get a closer view at specific actions. Put through an easy-to-use program like movie maker, one can slow the footage down and provide the athlete with feedback on how to correct anything that might be preventing optimum performance.

I haven’t done it just yet, but am going to film our backs-only sessions because I suspect that providing the team with visual evidence will prove some points I’ve been trying to make.  There are times when things don’t go just right, so we provide verbal feedback.  This only goes so far, so some of us get them to act out what just happened and ‘freeze’ players to make a point.  This would work for kinesthetic learners, but with many more people being visual these days, why not provide that mode of learning as well?  In the case I mentioned, I think it’d provide the clearest example of, say, lack of depth (filmed from the side), failing to preserve space with the angles they choose (filmed end-on), or issues with timing or missing clear opportunities (either angle).

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While watching a game the other day which featured a friend making a rare appearance at fly half, I noted after the game that she was standing way too deep at scrum time which allowed the defence to get up to and behind the tackle line before her team had time to do anything with it.  I’ve been a supporter of the fly half – at least – lying flat in attack for a while and suggested she do so more often.  I checked myself from suggesting she do so all the time, however, reminding myself that whilst acting as first receiver in Touch the other day, I botched a perfectly good opportunity to launch an attack by being flat.  I don’t think I was too flat – just that it wasn’t the right time for it, as the defence ended up being fairly well organised and on the front foot.  The hurried shocker of a pass I threw stayed with me as I’d also been telling the backs for the past week that they were too flat and should lie a little deeper.  So which is it?  Play flat.  Lie deeper.  I think the answer is ‘depends’ – not very helpful, generally speaking, but giving the benefits of each and in which situation will probably make choosing a lot easier.

This past year or so, England’s clinical fly half Jonny Wilkinson has returned to being a regular with his national team, but has copped a fair bit of criticism from predecessors Paul Grayson and Stuart Barnes as being too deep.  The obvious benefit this allowed him is to have time to kick and to think about what to do.  In commentaries, they continually said that he needed to play closer to the gain line and right on the 5m players are supposed to remain at during scrum time.  The problem with the fly half lying too deep is that the rest of the backs will lie deep.  I’m finally starting to see most teams get out of the old habit of aligning 10-14 on a constant 45 degree angle, which always forced the wing to cover a tremendous amount of ground, instead, having each back lie a little more forward than the last (called a ‘saucer’ alignment by some).  But a fly half standing 8-10m behind the scrum, rather than 5m, is still forcing the rest of the backs back that much further as well.  What this does is pushes the tackle line further back, meaning that the attacking backs are less likely to even make the gain line, let alone cross it!  Standing flatter moves the whole group forward and gives them a better chance of making and crossing the gain line.  Speed of thought and speed of execution is crucial.

‘But doesn’t that just give the attacking players less time and space to think?’ I hear you asking.  In theory, yes, but the same is true for the defensive team.  As Barnes says in his article for the RFU Technical Journal:  “Once you have mastered the passing skills, you will find yourself standing flatter and flatter when you want to keep the ball and attack through the middle. Defences love an extra second to readjust. You can deprive them of that second when you are on the gain line.”  If you’ve already got a plan in mind and/or support runners who know the plan or are good at reading what the defence is offering them, then you have an advantage.  The defensive team now has less time to read what you are doing and with less time to adjust, you might find yourself waltzing past un-ready defenders clutching at you or your supporting players at pace.

So what does a fly half need to be able to play flat and benefit from the advantages it affords?

  • The ability to scan and make quick decisions
  • The ability to get into the right position and attack quickly
  • Speed of thought and effective communication of intent
  • Speed and accuracy of passing
  • Scrum half who can pass quickly and wide
  • Supporting players who can time their runs well (Bonus if they can help the fly half with decision making via communication!  I stress this in lesser-experienced teams.)
  • Quick ball is better than slow ball (but even with slow ball, a flat decoy is a tempting target for several defenders, and an opportunity to put runners away if their timing is good)

Standing a little deeper is a must when a deep kick is needed, but one can pull off a great ‘kick pass’ to the wing while standing flat (a la Stephen Larkham or Quade Cooper).  Standing a bit deeper might also be necessary if the fly half isn’t making a short pass and needs a tiny bit more time to wind up and fire a cut out to the outside centre or full back, for example (also making it less likely that such a long pass would be intercepted).  I’ve not yet decided on taking the ball standing or while running.  I think that might depend on the preference of the fly half, but the first time I really noticed the effectiveness of playing flat, the fly half in question (England’s Charlie Hodgson) cleverly mixed that up as well.  Against Canada probably seven years ago now, he started the game taking the ball very flat and standing still – letting his powerful backs make useful angled runs off the defenders rushing up to hit this nice static target.  In the second half, it looked as though Canada re-focused and realised that they had to contain these runners and they lessened their focus on Hodgson.  He then took a few passes moving and sniped through the holes the unexpecting Canuck defenders gave him.  Having an eye for such gaps and the quickness to exploit them can really tear defences apart, as someone like Stephen Larkham made his career on.  Note in the following clips how the relative ‘flatness’ at which he takes the ball allows him to take these gaps as defenders haven’t the time to adjust.  He appears to be running onto the ball when going himself, starting a bit deeper and taking it flat; and taking it flat and standing when sending support runners into the line.  It also helped him, as in the Hodgson case above, that those defenders also had to consider the attacking threats outside him in both situations.  Getting around and behind the defence so close to the previous breakdown might be easy for cover defence in some cases, but with the entire defensive structure compromised support runners should be able to find new attacking options as defenders close down on the line breaker.

I will examine some specific attacking lines later that both ball carriers and support runners can take to expose what I call ‘vulnerable space.’


Barnes, Stuart.  RFU Technical Journal.  http://www.rfu.com/TakingPart/Coach/CoachResourceArchive/TechnicalJournalArchive/~/media/Files/2009/Coaching/Articles/TechnicalJournal/2005/3rdQuarter/Advice20for20aspiring20fly20half.ashx

Cottrell, Dan.  Better Rugby Coaching.  http://www.betterrugbycoaching.com/Article-153–1–More-coaching-tips-to-create-space-for-your-fly-half

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I have never been the most confident ‘under the high ball,’ as they say.  In my playing days as a front rower, I was thankful that kicks were rarely put to where I was likely to be, and that drop kick re-starts which come right to you are fairly easy to handle (even easier when the lock standing beside you calls it!).  But during ‘The Kicking Game’ at training – a game I love, I must say – I was prone to dropping a few easy ones, and arguably with less pressure.  Now it’d be easy to say that it was a testament to how I dealt with the pressures of the game – being in ‘the zone’, etc. – more so than in the often casual realm of training, but I think there’s more to it than that.

Coaches tell you catching a ball ‘on the full’ (i.e. out of the air, without touching the ground) is ideal practice, but I think it’s important to stress why this is so before we move on.  As simple as these reasons are, they’re important to state so that we can focus on catching cleanly to prevent potential disaster.  The very shape of the ball means that its bounce is unpredictable at best.  The few seconds, at least, needed to regather it eliminates the potential for a timely counter attack.  Even worse, it could roll in such a way that the opposition regains possession or put you in a position where their chasers can isolate you.

How should one go about catching the ball with confidence then?  I’ll add a list of technical points at the bottom, but I think one key element is the cause of many people’s problems with catching.  My former high school football (gridiron) coach once told me: “You catch with your eyes first.”  My over-active teenage imagination thought about the scene from Necessary Roughness (1991) when the receiver gets the ball stuck in his facemask… but then it made sense – if you don’t watch the ball, how can you expect to catch it?  Sounds simple enough, but anyone who watched the  All Blacks drop a shocking amount of kicks versus the Springboks in the summer (winter for the antipodes) knows that even international quality backs forget to do this at times.

The next time you watch a game, note where a receiver’s eyes are directed when he / she drops a pass or a kick.  Very, very often it’s not a case of inability, but that the player’s head is up looking at / thinking of what’s next – or even with their eyes closed!  The best ever tip I read to help maintain focus and attention comes second-hand from Dan Cottrell’s excellent coaching site where he suggests a receiver should try and read the brand name on the ball.  (If you’re still not focusing hard enough because you know the brand name, maybe try reading where it was made or to what PSI to which it should be inflated!)

I think the two key stages in catching the ball occur at what I call the ‘tracking phase’ and the ‘transition phase’.  In the first part, you have to get a sense of where the ball is going to land.  Ideally, you’ll get right under this point, but as this is where I tend to screw up, I have started to ‘err’ on getting a bit ahead of where I ‘think’ it’ll land.  I’ve rationalised that I’d rather overestimate this spot and edge back a bit with the flight of the ball if I have to, rather than underestimate where it’ll land and have to scramble forward at the last split-second, risking a knock on.  If I’m going to drop it, I want to drop it backwards and still have a chance at using possession.  In this phase it’s not only important to keep your eyes on the ball to track its flight, but also to remain on the balls of your feet so you can make little adjustments if need be to ensure you’re right under where the ball will land.  In addition, turning your body sideways puts you in a stronger position should a defender be there as you catch and with your leading arm up slightly its also a position which will force any drops backward rather than forward.

The ‘transition phase’ is possibly where most people have problems when catching kicks.  The actual ‘transition’ is time in which it takes your eyes to move from a point where it’s looking high up in the air to where they’re looking at the ball in your hands.  I’d love for a mathematician to tell me how short this actually is, but let’s just say it’s a fraction of a second.  Attempting to maintain eye contact with the ball during this period is incredibly important.  Aussie Rules coaches eliminate this step altogether by instructing players to catch above their heads with arms extended, and this concept has crept into rugby.  I’m wary of teaching it to players, though, at the risk of exposing their torso to a painful tackle.  (Though lineout jumpers and supported kickoff receivers might benefit from this, and the ‘w-hands’ technique they preach.)  Quickly moving the head downward in this phase is not impossible, but takes discipline.

What can make watching a ball into your hands easier is having team mates communicate important information to you – information which you might be considering when also attempting to concentrate on the high ball.  Having a supporting player say how much time you have, tell you to jump to prevent being tackled (remember: cannot hit someone jumping to catch a kick!), giving you an idea of what move you could make next, or even just saying they’re there to support you, can allow you to relax on those other issues and focus solely on keeping your eyes on the ball.

Some other tips, borrowed from Dan Cottrell’s site:

Tips for core catching skills

It is important to get hold of the ball in a way so that it can be manipulated quickly for the next action by the player, be it contact, offloading, passing or receiving a pass to then kick for touch. These simple tips can help you identify problems and develop drills:

* Keep your eyes on the ball all the time.

* Extend your arms, hands and fingers to receive the ball.

* Use both hands to catch the ball whenever possible.

* Keep the ball off or away from the chest when receiving it. Only bring it to the chest if taking contact.

* Do not expect the ball to go straight to hand. Be flexible enough to adjust (which follows the principle of keeping your eyes on the ball).  Turning sideways (and jumping with front knee up?) can put you in a stronger position to recieve.

* Be prepared to receive a pass at any time. The ball has a nasty habit of leaping around, especially in close quarter situations.

* Take some of the force off the ball by ‘recoiling’ slightly – bend at the knees and/or waist.

Making catching skills even better

* Practise drills where players catch with one hand.

* Practise catching bad passes.

* Practise at pace, under pressure and in all conditions.

Finally, have a look at this video to see some examples of sound catching ability.

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