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Posts Tagged ‘passing’

June is a great month for rugby, with the Northern Hemisphere big-wigs on tour and most other nations taking part in international matches. With our season over, I’ve had a lot of free time to watch plenty of these encounters. The football World Cup is also in full swing and watching both has reminded me of a phrase that gets tossed about a lot by players and coaches in both codes: “We’ve just got to do the basics well.” Often, this refers to passing and in both sports I’ve been both impressed and disappointed by the quality of passing on show.

I won’t talk too much about football, but will say that even the masters of the simple short passing game – the Spanish – looked ‘casual’ at times, as have many other nations, giving up the ball in crucial situations due to lack of focus. I don’t know football as well as I do rugby, but I wonder if an expert would say that the passing there could be more accurate? I know this is certainly the case for rugby, with many passes going straight to the receiver – or worse, toward the head, shoulder, hip or any other spot that isn’t quite ideal. “Straight to the receiver?” you ask. “Isn’t that what I want?” No, not necessarily. If the receiver is static – waiting to kick the ball or maybe standing flat to make an immediate transfer, a pass directly to the receiver’s hands is probably ideal. The rest of the time, however, the passer needs to aim for a spot that’s in front of the receiver’s hands.

I shouldn’t even have to mention that receivers should always have hands out where they want the ball, yet often see ‘receivers’ not giving a target, practically ‘asking’ the passer to put the ball anywhere from above the head to knees. I’d love to commission a study on it, but am willing to bet that pass accuracy increases when hands are up and stretched out to meet the ball. I also think passers have to focus not so much on the receiver, but keep him/her in the peripheral and really focus on a spot just in front of the outstretched hands.  In the photo below, I’d be willing to bet that one or the other hasn’t happened – either the receivers hands were down before the ball was passed or the passer didn’t focus on putting the ball in front so the receiver’s had to adjust. Either way, he’s taking this ball low and has probably had to slow down to catch it. Neither are ideal where the aim should be either to keep moving forward at pace or transfer the ball quickly.

In “getting the basics right”, one can focus on passing quality in training by reminding players to have their hands up and for passers to put the ball in front of the hands, leading the receiver. I think that a pass that’s a tad ‘too far’ in front encourages the receiver to run faster onto a ball. I’ve seen players take such passes and rip through defences either because they sped through a gap or were able to catch and act so quickly that defenders didn’t have time to adjust. Conversely, the body language of someone who’s been given a bad pass tends to do the opposite, empowering defenders to pounce upon the vulnerable receiver who’s lost the initiative. Here is a pass where the receiver’s hands are up and the ball appears to be sufficiently in front such that he won’t have to slow down. I like a pass to be just about shoulder height, making sure I can receive the pass at a level where I can still keep the opposition in my field of view.

 

Here’s another photo showing how a well-timed pass makes the play possible. If the ball is being aimed at the outer receiver, it’s going for his shoulder and he’s going to get caught in contact. Instead, it’s a hanging pop pass for the inside receiver who is able to run onto the ball and slide behind the defender on the left side of the picture (for a try, if memory serves!).

Too often, I feel, coaches focus on players’ “accuracy” but not specifically enough on “quality” (i.e. happy if they catch, but not focused on where, exactly, the ball is aimed) in unopposed drills where the consequences of poor quality aren’t so apparent. If they’ve had to hop, reach down, reach back, or stutter step to receive a pass cleanly, this isn’t as accurate as the pass should be. This “accuracy” is immediately reduced when pressure is on and a receiver’s ability to act is reduced as a result of a less-than-ideal pass, so why not spend more time practicing passing under game-like pressure situations?

These can be small-sided, challenging games where as many reps can be achieved but require athletes to focus and be accurate or fail. One that I often use requires four groups of players to cross a reasonably-sized square at the same time, completing a full set of passes before reaching the other side of the square. Each group takes up a side and leaves at about the same time, crisscrossing continuously for set amount of time. The pressure of avoiding a collision or holding/making a pass amongst traffic not only increases focus, but I’ve found also increases accuracy. It sounds silly to say – and maybe it speaks more to how my guys prefer a challenge – but I’ve seen greater accuracy in this sort of game than when players do unopposed passing lines jogging down the length of the pitch. One of the club’s junior coaches has started using it and marvels at how well his boys perform, wanting to keep going beyond the set time, determined not to drop a ball.

As with all of my exercises, I outline the criteria for success at the onset and don’t harp on mistakes. Players should know what to focus on and my voice celebrates their specific successes, allowing players to fine-tune their movement memory: “Perfect follow-through, Matt! Hands pointed to the space in front of Joe’s hands. Well done!”  I avoid negative and unspecific comments, and only add technical advice when it’s obvious they’re missing something: “Turn your shoulders, Matt. Square to the target.” Instead of fussing over how ‘perfect’ a pass looks, I’m instead mostly focused on the quality of the pass – in front of the hands, quickly transferred with no hang time or arc (i.e. quickest possible path), and well-timed such that defenders haven’t time to adjust.

I think I’m justified in not worrying about how tight a spiral is or a push pass floating without a wobble when I watch the All Blacks.  They’re the heralded masters of passing in rugby, showing time and time again over this undefeated year-and-a-half they’ve enjoyed that a well placed pass is all that’s needed to be successful.  In their most recent game against England, you wouldn’t call many of these ‘perfect’ technique, but all (apart from the ‘bounce pass’ to Savea) were well timed and well-placed, putting the receiver either in an ideal spot to move it on or to ensure he could maintain his pace toward the try line.

When scoring is the ultimate goal, and especially for junior players who are still developing, let’s focus more on the outcome and not get too nit-picky about supposed “ideal” details that might only frustrate or confuse players as they’re coming to terms with skill acquisition.

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I read an insightful article ahead of this weekend’s England v Ireland encounter and wanted to comment on what I feel is a missed opportunity in the England side, but also for a lot of amateur teams still stuck in the past regarding what forwards are meant to do in attack.  From the article:

“FOR ME, THE biggest work-on at the moment – with the tight-five forwards and everyone – is ‘seeing the game.’ It’s all about the decisions people make on the field, under pressure.

“The more you focus on that, the more all the players start ‘seeing it.’”

So said England attacking skills coach Mike Catt of what he’s attempting to achieve with the group of players head coach Stuart Lancaster has identified as good enough to win the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

An intelligent second-five-eighth in his time, Catt wants England to eventually emulate what the All Blacks are doing with their simple, skills-based approach to rugby.
“You look at New Zealand; their tight five can do what their centres do and that’s why everyone else is chasing them,” Catt told Sportsmail. “They have this understanding, an ability to ‘see it’ and make the right decisions at the right time; to do the right things.

“The beauty about what we currently have here is that it’s a young enough team for us to work on developing that.”

There certainly have been signs that Catt’s focused work is bringing about improvements in England’s ability to make more intuitive decisions on the pitch but they remain, for now, a side who rely on a fairly rigid structure in attack.

I’ve been trying the same with the men’s 2nds team I’ve been coaching the last few months.  The message is clear and simple: everyone’s a carrier and everyone’s a decision-maker. Forwards are not just there to crash it up and set up / clear rucks. That sort of thinking is ancient and reduces your team’s potential in attack. Why have just seven or eight players (no. 8s always chosen as players to cross the gain line) when you can have fifteen, and seven more on the bench? Everyone needs to focus on getting through the defensive line or putting someone through the line.

England talk about this a lot, but the bit I’ve bolded is very apparent.  They’re getting forwards into what aren’t ‘pods’ – with a strike runner at the head and two or three ‘support’ players behind (who’re there mostly to ruck or maul). They, as do New Zealand and Australia (probably others) stretch out forwards in what look like mini ‘back lines’ of three our four. The difference between England and New Zealand, however, is what those forwards do with the ball and how they attack.  Currently, in the England team, the guy who gets the ball crashes it up 9.5 times out of 10 (made up stat but seems like pretty much every one, with the odd offload or pass before contact).

All that does is cut off the space that the backs previously had and everyone’s so well drilled in defence these days that they’re not really occupying more defenders to create an over-lap. (This may work at amateur level, but I challenge my players to think on a level that we’re always trying to breach the line, not stretch out phases and hope that the defence eventually collapses in one way or another. Even a few metres gained means the defence has to back up and re-position themselves, which is better than facing defenders who haven’t had to move much at all.)  There are some examples in the article showing England forwards making the extra pass, but I’d argue that the second runner is not really looking to take space, as they still crash it up blindly – and even with a support runner present. The All Blacks and some groups of forwards in the Top 14 are brilliant at moving the ball about in those little units to get beyond the gainline, at least with a half break, not just smash into it and hope to march it back or break a tackle.  I’m a big fan of Lancaster, but I’d like to see England let loose the shackles and make at least one more pass as they’ve got a lot of capable carriers.

For amateur coaches, I challenge you to train and allow your forwards to be more dynamic rugby players – especially if they’re younger and won’t grow into / settle on a position for years to come!  Put all players in realistic situations where they have to work on alignment and scan for, communicate, and exploit opportunities in high-pressure environments.  Below are a couple of scenarios I use before going to a bigger game-like scenario where backs and forwards have to work together in attack.

The first I use with backs and forwards, but can be adapted to just include forwards. The aim is to make that initial break and then support with lines of pursuit that avoids the sweeper(s) – at least a scrum half, if not one other. I like to keep the bags tight so they either have to draw and pass, power step or hammer through and then break out in another gear, fighting through the obstructions to get into good support positions.  With a lot of these activities, I demand players “run in” from the side as if they were arriving to a second or third phase, stressing that creating effective attack starts by getting yourselves into position to exploit / create opportunities – so appropriate width and depth before calling for the ball so attackers can stay straight and have legitimate options left AND right (i.e. players who swing in on an arc invariably angle out, making it easy for defenders to drift).

Shield Wall Breakout

I like this to combine what can become robotic rucking drills, instead giving players a larger contextual sense that the ruck has to be dominant and efficient to provide quick ball for the next phase. I also use this to encourage all players to move the ball from the ruck – note how the tackler rolls away quickly and acts as the half back to get the next phase started (not always realistic, but it certainly encourages tacklers to roll away quickly and get back into the play with urgency!).  That said, the All Blacks are masters at this and it adds to the dynamic of their attack, allowing speedy scrum halves the chance to play in the open field and providing more width. It’s very rare that my team attacks the channel around the ruck, as it’s so heavily defended nowadays, so also reminds everyone that we’re playing from the third defender-out.

Ruck Clean-outs for Second Phase

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Here’s a game I created that’s become popular with all three teams I’ve coached since I came up with it last year. Rapid Fire Touch is 4-handed – i.e. two different people to stop a ball carrier, after the first two-handed, the ball carrier can still run but can’t score.

  • When scored upon, the defending team leaves the field of play immediately and the attacking team can attack the opposite goal line. All players from that team must cross the goal line before joining their team mates.
  • When touched by two different players, the team in possession leaves the field of play immediately and the defending team all must cross the nearest goal line before attacking in the opposite direction.

  • In both cases, the new team enters the field of play at midfield immediately, matching up and communicating their responsibilities.

This game can be played with 3, 4, or 5 (find this to be the maximum to ensure everyone’s involved) per team. Four-handed touch encourages ball carriers to attack space and create full line-break or half-break scenarios.  It’s main focus is evasive footwork, ball movement and support lines, not to mention communication in both attack and defence. The width of the playing area can vary. Wide encourages support lines and communication as ball carriers are more likely to make breaks or pull defenders well out of position (remembering that two defenders are needed to stop one from scoring). Narrower might be better for advanced players to work on timing of the pass and run and more challenging creation of space / opportunities.  This works really well in a gym for winter training.

Encourage to communicate early, pass to space, take on defenders with evasive footwork and supporting runners to be loud and pick clever pursuit lines. Faster the better as taking away space gives the opposition less time to adjust! Great for developing a fast, open style of play training communication, seeing and taking space, support and fitness as well.

Image

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I was in a bit of a discussion about passing and fundamental skills last night and stumbled upon a great free resource from All Blacks coach Wayne Smith.  If you click [this link] you’ll find a link to a video from The Rugby Site, where content is generally something you have to pay for.  You still have to sign up before you can access the video, but trust me it’s worth it!

Wayne Smith, image from The Rugby Site

The recent clinic I attended gave us a free membership to The Rugby Site, and on first glance it looks good.  I’ll give it a proper review later, but regarding this video I appreciate hearing – again from an All Black coach! – that there are some very simple elements of the game which they regard as crucial.  It was interesting hear Smith say in the video that when Henry took over the team and brought he and Hansen in they were determined to enhance their players’ fundamental skills.  I think sometimes the temptation is there to try the higher-ordered stuff done by the top teams at our level without ensuring that our kids / amateur adults can adequately perform basic tasks such as passing.

I’ll leave Smith to transfer his knowledge and lessons on passing via the video, but will add a few comments of my own in case some areas are unclear.

1. Passing off the ‘wrong foot’.  What he means is being able to pass, say, to the right with the right foot forward.  To be able to put more power behind a pass, one gets the ‘back foot’ forward – in our case, the left foot – so the hip and torso can rotate into the pass and deliver more power.  With the right foot forward, passing to the right is somewhat inhibited without this rotation, but he focuses on developing the wrists and triceps to account for this.  Focusing on this is important because the pressures of the game often means players need to be able to pass effectively off either foot and in either direction.

2.  I like that he uses progressions, giving the athletes a ‘warm-up’ to the activities later on.  He starts with wrist flicks and focuses then on the ‘punch pass’, emphasising keeping the ball on the hip, snapping the ball out with the triceps and keeping the hands together through the follow-through which, combined, allow the ball to get to the target quickly and accurately.  These are things which can eat up a lot of your practice time, but should be drilled into players’ minds as passing the ball is probably the most common thing done in the game aside from running.  Once these ‘rules’ are established in the players’ minds, they are the sorts of exercises I ask the players to do in their own time, or do it before training starts while the coaches are getting set-up.

3. The use of questioning.  If you check out Lynn Kidman’s Athlete Centred Coaching, Smith features quite heavily as someone who favours genuine learning via ‘teachable moments’ rather than by always ‘coaching’ atheletes with specific directions and solutions.  If you notice during most of his “Whoa, whoa, whoa…” moments, he doesn’t: a) Yell at the kids, b) Tell them what they did wrong, or c) Give them the answer.  Instead, he’s probably let little things go that weren’t seen in the video, giving the boys a chance to try the drill a few times and giving them the benefit of the doubt as mistakes will always happen.  He remains positive by not criticising their decisions or abilities abilities.  Most importantly, and this is where even the nicest of us can miss an opportunity, he gets the boys to come up with their own answers by asking leading questions, like “What was the most difficult thing about that?  Why does that matter?  Where were you going?”  He’ll present some options and let the boys truly learn which is the best option.  Too often, we give them answers and it takes time – if it sinks in at all – for the players to truly understand why that’s the best option or why it’s important.

I’d add that it’s important to stress to your players that they should be aiming for perfection, especially if they’re doing some of these exercises on their own time.  I’ve seen players get it in just a handful of passes with helpful guiding and their own determination to follow guidelines and find what’s comfortable for them.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Partners should challenge themselves with regard to distance, but not stretch beyond a comfortable range until sufficient strength is developed.  Too far away and the passes will be less accurate and lose ideal form.
  • Passes should be flat, with no lob so they’re delivered quickly.  Push passes should not wobble.  Spin passes should have an even rotation and not be tilted upward as such passes tend to carry on flying upward, above the intended target (think of a rifle bullet flying straight flat).
  • The hands of the receiver should be up and out, ready to pass on, but also giving the passer a clear target.
  • Passers who aren’t quite getting the spin pass should be encouraged to alter their hand positioning ever so slightly to find what works best for them (move positioning of hand to middle / rear of the ball, check firmness of grip, use more finger tips than palm, alter positioning of the guide hand, etc.)

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I examined the specifics of what I think is good, and not so good, about offloading from contact in a previous post, so won’t go into to much detail here on the finer points.  While watching Toulouse v Ospreys yesterday I saw a fantastic offload by French no. 8 Louis Picamoles to Census Johnston resulting in probably the easiest try the massive Samoan has ever scored.

Here’s the clip:

1. Play starts from a lineout in a game where Toulouse pretty much had forward dominance.  As is a common move with teams these days who have a strong pack, Toulouse make a few attempts to exert their dominance.  They start with a catch and drive and use their one re-start opportunity to get the ball to the hooker at the back, then restarting their shove.  As things break down, the hooker breaks off and has a go.  Some might elect to start another maul for an classic pushover, but Tolofua is a massive lad and decides to have a go.  Ospreys defence are up to the task and stop him short of the line.

2. The scrum half, Burgess, moves the ball wide to another powerful runner (they have a few!) Jean Bouilhou.  The width here is key as teams are always more likely to stack their defenders tightly around the fringes of the ruck, and in three-point stances to be able to stop the low pick and drives (see Sona Taumalolo).  Playing to a forward in the wide channels makes it more likely that he’ll be facing a significantly smaller back.  Bouilhou misses an opportunity to do what Picamoles does in a few seconds later if you stop at about 0:15-0:16 in the video.  He has just two defenders in front of him and a team mate.  He cuts back inside, not backing his power and though his team does set up a ruck and retains possession, I’d argue that he could have set up a score in one of two ways.

Simply, he could have attacked the gap between the two defenders, effectively drawing the outer one and passed before contact to the waiting player (possibly the fly half).  That close to the line, it’s incredibly hard to stop anyone who gets low enough, and if it’s Dossain, he’s a powerful player who’d be hard to stop.  In addition, at 0:16 you can see that the man who’d be responsible for defending the potential receiver isn’t squarely aligned with him.  By being a metre or so on his inside, it’d be very hard to effect anything but a side-on tackle, giving the receiver the chance to reach for the line with forward momentum or twist around to score.  Defending players within 5m of the goal line is best done when square-on with the ball carrier, and often higher than I’d usually advocate for a ‘perfect’ tackle, so the defender can: A. Stop his forward momentum, and B. Wrap arms to prevent the offload.

The second way Bouilhou might have set up a try for Dossain is performed by Louis Picamoles on the next phase.

3. With the ball bought into contact, we can see the eventual try scorer Johnston parked a significant distance away from the ruck in the lower right part of the screen at about 0:20.  He’s a big man and a quick, flat pass for him to run onto might see him charge over the line.  But as we see Louis Picamoles creep into a closer position at 0:22 we can see that Ospreys defence are already in low positions and that there are four of them on that short side.  Passing only to Johnston, who looks to be standing too high and who probably wouldn’t be charging onto the ball (I’ve seen him play a lot and this is often true with him), might see him smothered by any number of those four waiting defenders.

4. Burgess passes to Picamoles who immediately makes a dart for the space – not any one of the waiting defenders and certainly not square on.  By doing this he forces those present into the side-on / legs tackle which, as noted above, is not idea to stop any player – let alone someone of Picamoles’ bulk – this close to the goal line.  If you stop at 0:25, you will note that he’s managed to drag the defending forward, as well as drag in both the defending scrum half and winger.

5. For many players, this would be the end of the move.  Take the charge with the proverbial ‘blinkers’ on, unaware of where support is, lay the ball back and set up another ruck.  Johnston would have to come in to secure the ball and Ospreys would probably try to slow it down and buy time to re-align their defence as they had so ably on the last phases.  Instead, whether by presence of mind or by Johnston’s call – or both – Picamoles reaches his big hand around the back of the winger and delivers a soft offload to a waiting Johnston who only has to flop over to score.

6. Players with big hands, like Sonny Bill Williams, are often seen making such spectacular offloads because they can palm the ball and force it in virtually any direction.  I suspect Picamoles might be just such a player, but on the reverse angle we can see that he’s cradling the ball between his hand and forearm – which even high school girls I’ve coached can manage.  He delicately slides a pop pass to Johnson, who also demonstrates great technique in having both hands up and offering a target.

Picamoles takes out three defenders to offload to Johnston

When I teach this sort of thing to my players, I focus on a few key things that address both going into contact properly as well as thinking about what happens next.  First off, I stress that I ALWAYS want players to dominate the contact area such that they can play the ball as they wish.  NEVER do I want them to simply ‘run into the trunk of the tree’, which gives the defender(s) the advantage.  So, we address the following:

  • Move toward defender’s centre line to ‘fix’ him / her in place
  • Suddenly move away and attack the space (or ‘branches of the tree’ – i.e. arms – if space isn’t big enough to run into)
  • Maintain a powerful running line that preserves space for support players (i.e. running a sharp angle draws in the outer defender and allows the carrier forward momentum; running flat, sideways angle has little to no forward momentum and allows defenders a chance at an easy tackle)
  • Keep the body height low so one is hard to stop, but not so low that one will topple forward if dragged down
  • Keep in mind where supporting players were – is there a chance for an offload should you draw in another defender?  Where would that offload best be made – flat to the side or slightly behind?  [Support players MUST be communicating this, as most ball carriers won’t be able to see where they are / are coming from once in contact… and as with the previous article on offloading, popping the ball to a defender who’s even a metre or more back is counter-productive.  The receiver MUST be at or challenging the gain line!]
  • Keep a solid grip on the ball, and keep arm(s) free on the way down – an added bonus of teaching players to be confident in contact and to fall on their sides.
  • LISTEN and LOOK for the opportunity to make the offload.  Nothing makes me more angry watching games where players offload to unready receivers or to no one in particular.  Offloads are great, but I always stress IF IT’S NOT TRULY ‘ON’ THEN A RUCK IS BETTER, and that includes the offload to a player who’s deep as you’re more likely to set them up to be tackled well behind the ground you just gained.

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As mentioned in the first video analysis post I made a couple of months ago, there’s a lot that can be learned just by watching a clip and breaking down each little element, asking yourself “When Team A does this, how does Team B react / not react?”  Rugby’s a really simple cause-effect invasion game, with line breaks being easy to explain locally – at the point where the defence is breached (i.e. a poor tackle) – or as the result of several attempts at breaking the line (i.e. defenders over-committed to previous break downs, leaving fewer out wide on the key phase).

In this second instalment I’m going to attempt to explain some subtleties behind a very simple attacking element – depth.

In this try by Scotland over Ireland last year, the announcers praise it as a well-rehearsed move, but I think the real beauty in it is the advantages created by the two deep passes made that allows De Luca to get free, who sets up Ansbro from the game-winner.

Let’s watch … (if the time stamp doesn’t work, skip ahead to 10:23)

1. Stop at 10:30… the line out throw has been tapped down and played quickly.  A decoy runner causes the Irish defence to condense itself and hesitate its forward pressure.  Catching a defender flat footed is a great opportunity as he won’t easily be able to adjust to your sudden changes of movement.

2. Stop at 10:32… the pass has been played deep and the passer is already looking to go wide with another pass.  This is often where I’d expect to see teams use the strike runner, intending the second receiver to take advantage of the decoy’s effect on the defence.  Scotland, however, have banked on this and are using that second receiver, merely as a pivot.  He barely runs at all with the ball and is already turned to fire a wide pass.

This results in one of those hard-to-explain situations, but bear with me and maybe watch this section of the clip a few times.  With proper depth established between passer and receiver, I think there often exists two situations that attacking teams can take advantage of … and I’ve not yet figured out how to correct it from the defensive side, so let’s leave that for now (probably a slower rush forward, keeping feet moving so one can adjust… anyway… )

a.  The defensive line again hesitates because the passer has two hands on the ball and obviously isn’t going to bash it up right away.  Some players, like the Dan Carters of the world, shift into another gear and look to exploit flat footed defenders by attacking the space, often toward the inside shoulder of the next defender outside.  This player either takes him, or stays on his man, presenting a great 2 v 1 situation.  This doesn’t happen here.

b. The potential to, instead, pass to a deep runner presents a situation where the defender in front of him often gets caught in two risky situations.  In one case, he opts to maintain a flat defensive line with his team mates – giving the receiver of the deep pass lots of time and space to do as he wishes, and many great outside centres will attempt to beat his man on the outside or draw in the winger to put his man away (Conrad Smith is often the benefactor / orchestrator of just such a situation).  The other case – which we see here – sees a defender who either gambles or panics by rushing up early to close the space and make a hit well behind the gain-line (or sneak an interception).  The defender fails in his gamble. De Luca cuts inside and gets behind him.  Defensive line compromised and line break achieved, with others having to cover the outside centre’s mistake.  De Luca draws those covering defenders and makes a simple pass to Ansbro who also has plenty of space and side steps the final defender for a great try.

As one announcer says, “Simple move, done well.”  That’s it.  That’s all rugby needs to be.  It’s probably a rehearsed move, but the real killer elements are: the first decoy run which has the defence condensed from the get-go and also causes them to halt their forward run; the first deep pass which gets the ball to a play-maker in space with plenty of time to act; and the second deep pass, without hesitation or an unnecessary run, to free up the strike runner who catches his man making the wrong choice in a risky situation all based upon what to do when there’s too much space between.

… on second viewing, I noticed the second decoy runner in the backs, but think I missed it the first time as he probably wasn’t necessary.

Finally, it’s interesting watching the head-on replay as you can see #8 freeze dead because of the decoy, #7 come in to ‘help’ 8, but then have to cut back out.  10’s on the first passer’s outside shoulder and points for help from 7.  By this time, the defence is tracking sideways – never an ideal situation as they’re susceptible to cut-backs. 13 has made his gamble and all three covering defenders panic in focusing  on De Luca, freeing up Ansbro for the simple run.

There are some other great examples of the use of depth in this video of England women taking advantage of a too-passive Scottish defence…

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Spin Passing

I couldn’t see that I’ve already covered this, but it never hurts to re-visit this basic skill.  I’m an advocate of all players being able to spin pass, though it’s not to say they SHOULD!  I still think the non-spinning push pass is the one that should be used most often as it’s easier to employ, easier to catch, and takes little time.  It’s ideal for passes up to, and beyond if the passer can keep it flat, 5m – which accounts for most passes in the game.  Another pet peeve of mine for those who over-use the spin pass is that not only is it slower to deliver, or delivered too hard for the distance being covered, but spin passes over short distances tend to be over-rotated, which actually makes the ball fly slower than a classic flat push pass.

But when a wide opportunity calls for a long pass or to allow the receiver to stand wider, and away from the blob of defenders around the ruck, for example, the spin pass is a great technique to have in one’s repertoire.  I also encourage forwards to do so to keep our attack moving quickly and if the scrum half isn’t in position.  Keven Mealamu from the All Blacks is very good at this, as is Richie McCaw, helping the All Blacks be as amazing as they are in between phases.  I’ll cover passing from the ground in a subsequent post, though, and focus this on the standing spin pass.

Especially with kids, I try and keep teaching it down to just a few key elements.  We do this by isolating other body movement factors and focus just on one handed passing, standing still.

My key elements are:

1. Must have a solid grip of the ball with the passing hand, with fingers out stretched to the rear third of the ball (where exactly can depend on comfort and size of hand, and while there may be a more exact science I learned by just adjusting slightly until I found the best spot, and it seems to work for the teens / adults I coach.  Some prefer more underneath, some on the side.  Some more to the back of the ball, some more to the middle.)

2. Two-thirds to three-quarters of the action is the arm ‘snapping’ out quickly from a low position, near the hip toward the target.

3. The twist comes in the last third/quarter and I even tell the adults, that it’s like turn a door knob inward.  The thumb should start by pointing toward the target and upon release – turning the knob – should be pointed straight down.

4. Finally, the follow through must be toward the outstretched hands of the receiver.  Where the receivers hands end up pointing often gives an idea of where the pass will go.  In my opinion, they should be aiming to pass the ball flat, rather than with the front pointed up, as the ball is more likely to fly straight to it’s target.  (I’ve noticed that a lot of tip-up passes continue to rise and end up around head-height too often.)

Hosea Gear has the twist and follow-through here, hands together pointed at the target:

We do two passing drills which emphasise this as well as the shoulder rotation.  Partners stand in line with each other, but face opposite directions (i.e. if on a goal line, one facing in-field, the other in-goal) and are spread out at a comfortable distance apart.  Receiver has hands stretched out and toward the passer, who has to rotate his/her torso to put the ball on the target.  If still working just the one hand, I say to stand with the backside leg slightly forward and rest the ball on top of the thigh.

We then transition into going it in groups, adding two pairs together and walking down field in fours, still just using the one hand and focusing on all the elements above, but also making the pass at a point where the hip is ‘open’ to the receiver, allowing for a better rotation of the hip / torso.

When adding pace and distance to the pass, I find many players ignore the rotation / open hip aspect and their passes either don’t have the distance or drift forward.  While I don’t want them running across field, I stress that there’s no shame in ending up facing the touch line after following through because if a spin pass is actually needed, then the passer probably isn’t immediately needed for inside support as the opportunity is much wider (otherwise, a normal push pass would do)

All his showboating aside, Quade Cooper’s one of the best long, flat passers in the game today, showing good form here.  Note back elbow up, eyes on target and hip open to the target:

For the girls I coached, who didn’t have the arm strength, I said it was okay to even take a step into the pass, going sideways, to get some body weight momentum behind it.  I’d be willing to bet that’s what Berrick Barnes is doing in the photo below, and it already gets the passer heading in a secondary support line to fall in behind the players out wide who’ve been delivered the ball.  (Rather than those who pass and watch the play unfold like a quarterback.)

… you can also see how Berrick Barnes seems to prefer to have his hand more to the middle of the ball, while above you can see above that Cooper has his toward the back …

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