Posts Tagged ‘quickness’

I just fielded an email from one of my players asking about my comments directed at the entire team with regard to choosing better support lines.  She’s on the smaller side, but is extremely quick, and mentioned that she didn’t think she was very good at taking a determined angle of support.  I realised that I needed to be more clear in expectations for individuals, so wrote this rather lengthy response.  (I’ll follow up with my thoughts on taking straight powerful lines, for bigger backs, soon!) …

I’m not so sure if taking early and direct running angles is really for you, given your size but also your outstanding quickness and acceleration.  Players like Shane Williams, Maxime Medard, Cory Jane, James O’Connor are all top international wings / full backs who are on the smaller side, and you’d never see them taking those direct lines.  Look out for their quick feet and ability to squeeze through small gaps – esp. Williams and O’Connor.

What might help you in support situations is backing your quickness to try slipping through smaller gaps than you’d normally take.  Watch this Shane Williams compilation video:

In this highlights video, I think two things stand out as ‘trends’ of his brilliance.

1. Note how many of the players he beats are big, slow forwards (or much larger backs without his lateral quickness).  It’s not that he’s beating them only because they’re not as quick him, but he realises their very presence in the backline makes it worth having a go against the space around them.  There are a couple of occasions where you’d think they’d want to keep passing the ball to use an over-lap or get into more space, but you can almost see him perk up realising ‘Fat, slow player in front of me.  Gonna have a go!’  I think for any quick footed player facing such a player should be seen as an opportunity regardless of what the intended move would be.  I encourage players to not rely on set moves, but scan for attacking opportunities in the way of obvious space or exploitable weaknesses in the defence (players out of position or alignment, players found to be weak defenders, etc.).  Set moves should be the fall back when none of these opportunities exist and the defence is quite organised and disciplined. Williams is very astute at spotting the former.

2. The other is the sudden change of direction – and not for the sake of it – but when specifically when the defender is ‘fixed’ or over-committed.  Two sins often committed even at the highest level when playing defence are to sit on one’s heels to accept a supposed tackle, and to over run the attacker when cover defending.  In the first instance, players feel a tackle will be imminent, so sit back and crouch to accept the impact when really they should continue to move forward – ‘attack on defence!’, as I say – and be on the balls of their feet to be ready for any sudden changes.  In the second, there’s nothing worse than getting beat on the inside as it’s usually impossible to recover from this error and catch the attacker.  Players must ‘track’ an attacking player by looking at the inside hip – which not only indicates direction but is also the target for the shoulder in a proper tackle.  The ‘tracking line’ to take is one that constantly adjusts as one moves forward and shifts to make sure that attacker can’t step inside but also so they can’t get room on the outside.  … and I think Williams is recognising when the defenders haven’t got him properly lined up and/or that he can use his quickness to off-set their tracking / pursuit lines and side step to wrong-foot them and get by.


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Without a doubt, South African Fourie du Preez is one of – if not the – premier scrum halves in the world game.  He is the complete passing, running, defending, and kicking scrum half who marshalls his forwards about, running the show for the Bulls and steadying the Boks.  In a losing cause against a spirited and determined Blues side this weekend, he attempted something that some might consider silly but I’d argue was potentially brilliant.

Skip to 3:00 in this clip and assess his forward pass…

Despite du Preez’ cheeky smile and possible plea that it was not forward, the ref was having none of it.  It’s a scrum half’s duty to try … but I think the announcers are arguing that he intentionally threw it forward as the lesser of two evils, and I completely agree with them.  On one hand, if the ref missed it and they’d gotten away with it, well done you lucky so-and-so.  On the other, a desperate move gone wrong … I don’t think so.  With Rudi Wolf on the prowl, likely to drive him into touch, or worse, smash him and dislodge the ball, a forward pass and scrum was just what the Bulls needed to relieve the pressure.  This simple little decision by an obvious student of the game quite possibly saved the Bulls from conceding a try, or at least having their key man smashed in the ensuing tackle and ruck.  Definitely a sign of brilliance.

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While coaching a women’s club team in the summer, I tried to incorporate as much footwork as possible.  I feel basic techniques are often ignored as coaches try to implement complicated moves and systems (my beef with these in a later post), but without them they haven’t the ability to execute these designs.  While everyone seems to know what a sidestep is – though not all are truly adept at it – I’m often met with a mass of blank stares when I ask someone to demonstrate a ‘swerve.’  If you look at old rugby texts from yesteryear, this is often heralded as the ‘only’ move as it seems players back then more often sought to run away from their opponents rather than into them – imagine!

As an example, I’ve provided some clips.  Josh Lewsey subtly rounds the Scottish full back with one to score at the 1:08 mark.  There’s a more obvious one, going inside this time, at 2:04 where he swerves inside TWO French defenders.

The best example, coupled with a fabulous floating dummy pass, is ‘little’ James Simpson-Daniel’s rounding of the massive Jonah Lomu while

Essentially, a swerve is a preservation of space with a straight run, followed by a sudden burst to the outside (much wider than a side step!) to get away from the defender, and then turning up field. This ‘burst’ must be done suddenly and not on a slant or the defender can simply ‘push’ across and bisect the angle.  Being a quick bugger helps, but even we ‘slower’ types can pull this off if you really ‘sell’ your defender into thinking the straight run ahead is going to lead to contact.  Then, as you see the defender sink onto her heels, you make your burst outside in almost the shape of a ‘J’ lying on its side.  (I’ve even pulled this off jogging at someone slowly, making them think the ‘big guy’ was just going to trundle into contact, and then sprinting away to the side and upfield as you get away from their channel!)

In addition, these clips show wonderful ball handling and straight running to ‘fix’ defenders / preserve the outside space.  The two ‘lines’ taken most by Canadian wingers, especially, and players in general is a diagonal run to the outside or the sadly more-common step back inside into contact.  Whether to simply run away from the tackler or to ensure the tackle is made closer to support, I think both options are negative.  To use the ‘p-word’ again, the initial forward run leading into a swerve preserves all that space to the outside, whereas the diagonal run eats it all up and allows the defender better access to you.  A proper swerve will see you suddenly run into a whole new channel, keeping as far away from the defender as possible without going backwards (often this is directly sideways!), with the important bit being to straighten up to start gaining ground as soon as possible.  Give it a try!

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