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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.

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I’m not the biggest fan of sevens, but it can be a great venue to grow the game in smaller areas / schools and can serve to create a microcosm of the (much superior 😉 ) XVs game for skill and vision development purposes.  As some schools in these parts have opted for sevens tournaments this season, and to any of you who are heading into your sevens seasons, here’s how I addressed tactics with the successful school boys team I coached last year.

Our simple rule in attack was “attack the easy space”, which was broken down into two or three ‘tactics’ if you will:

1. Two passes away from the ‘muck’.  I conceptualised this by getting them to think about simple maths.  One guy makes a tackle, one guy probably goes to ruck and two more will probably get into ‘post’ positions around it – 4 guys in about 15 or so metres of width.  That leaves three guys left to cover the other 40+!  There’s going to be “easy space” elsewhere.

The “easy space” is space in front of the ball-carrier, giving the him more time to think and act; space in between defenders, the bigger gaps the better; and the space behind, angling runs behind defenders ‘fixed’ by team mates.

2. Go with the flow when we have quick ball and momentum.  If we are beating them to the break down, they won’t have time to get set – if they’re even there at all!  Eventually, we’ll draw them into a narrow area and we’ll go back to Plan A.

3. Stay on your feet.  We talked about how being tackled was a ‘fail’ (kids love that word!) to the principles of going forward, maintaining possesion (not guaranteed in contact), and maintaining pressure (giving the defence chance to contest and re-organise).  So we worked on timing of runs and both timing and quality of passes, support lines and communication to get the ball to the “easy space” and of what the support options are, all in an effort to avoid getting tackled.

4. … not really a ‘tactic’ but possession is everything in sevens.  Keeping it when attacking.  Winning it when defending.  And getting it back after a try has been scored.

In this photo, the French player has space in front, a supporting player on both sides and two Canadian defenders turned sideways – he should have plenty of options!

Technically, I also preached that the early, deep pass was the preferred one to start our “two passes” tactic to get the ball to the quick runners in a bit of ‘easy space’.  I demonstrated how attacking close to the line against an organised defence is like bashing into a wall.  Not ideal for any team when you’ve only got seven and at least three get involved in a tackle contest, let alone smaller players!  Instead, I showed them how typical defences react to seeing a quick runner with the ball 10-15m away from them… some panic and rush out of the line, or the line comes up slower to stay together, or it otherwise loses its shape and provides opportunities.  (Conversely, we called our defence THE BLUE WALL – saying that it’s what the colour of our jerseys would look like to the opposition … they wanted to call it THE BLUE TSUNAMI, but someone reminded the group that Japan had just experienced a tragic one and it wouldn’t be in good taste.  I was impressed with that, coming from a Yr. 7 boy, and with the group who never mentioned it again!)

Positionally, my other recommendation is NOT to have your most creative player in the traditional ‘first receiver’ role – if you agree with the ‘two passes’ tactic.  We’d have one of the ‘speed’ players as the ‘first receiver’ who’s immediately play the ball to the decision maker, who had another speed player outside him.  We also conceptualised this as the ‘diamond’ of our attack strategy, with the decision maker trying to always get the ball in a central position, with support to his left and right, and the player who started the play following in behind (i.e. the acting half / original passer from the break down or set-piece).

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By the end of the week, I’ll have been involved in three rather large sevens tournaments for Middle School (approx. 11-14 year old) students on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.  Sevens is relatively new to schools rugby around here, but with it’s recent admission to the Summer Olympics in 2016, I gather that the time was right to make the switch.  Some conversations I’ve had over the past few days, and going back to the start of the season, has altered my thinking somewhat with regard to how sevens can possibly take rugby one more step forward in this country.

I’m still a bit sceptical and worried that a full change could come because I fear the shortened code could take over university and even high school rugby, which would be a shame, because I still believe fifteens should be the main focus for our country.  It will always be the high profile sport and we should aim to remain part of that club even though Canada’s relative competitive status has slipped in the last decade and a half since professionalism was made official.  But as a development vehicle – a way to introduce rugby to youngsters and smaller schools / communities – sevens is the PERFECT way to grow the game.

One complaint I heard was that there’s no room for the bigger kids.  As a former front rower, I can sympathise and this is part of the worry I have if sevens were to take over high school sports.  At the moment, high school rugby still has room for chubby kids, but with our short seasons and lack of support / funds (at public schools) to field more than one team per sport, that’d be the end of rugby for them, I’m sure.  But at the Middle School level, the pitches are smaller and the physical / fitness abilities of all students is not yet so pronounced, giving the slow, chubby kid a better chance.  As one coach – surely a PE teacher! – said, it’s also an early enough stage to suggest to those kids that it’s time to take one’s fitness / nutrition / health more seriously and get in shape for sevens and eventually senior fifteens rugby.  If sevens had been around when I was in elementary school, I probably would have ended up the centre I’ve always wanted to be!  (We only had the very pedestrian baseball when I was a boy.)

The other negative comment was how it limited one coach’s preference to play a forwards’ game.  The cynic in me immediately shot back saying that’s a major problem with Canadian rugby now that we need to over-come – too forwards-oriented, without the basic skills and vision across all players to compete with other nations.  There’s no hiding in sevens.  Everyone’s got to tackle and ruck.  Everyone’s got to pass and run the ball in space.  But I do think there’s an opportunity on the smaller fields to play such a game, if one so desired.  … but I still have to think ‘why’???  Rugby’s such an amazing game to watch when people are running in space and the ball is being tossed about.  Even for those who like the biffo, there are still individual battles to be fought and even the close-quarter, up-the-guts battles should teams spread themselves too thinly on defence and allow a couple of the bigger lads to have an old fashioned Northern Hemisphere style rumble.  In short, smaller field sevens for middle school aged kids is perfect to practice any style of rugby in a microcosm. In this microcosm, fewer players means getting involved to a greater degree in both attack and defence, allowing kids a greater opportunity to become better at both!

What I also like about how Middle School rugby is run on Vancouver Island has to do with the spirit of the game, encouraging more kids to play.  First off, girls are allowed.  Despite contact, it’s not a big issue for pre- / early- teens whose growth spurts are all over the place (often in favour of girls until about 13/14!), so why not?  Girls that start that young, in my experience as a women’s coach, are always great later in life.  Related to that, playing levels are weight-graded so that the bigger kids cannot dominate and smaller kids are not on the receiving end.  Some might argue that this is bad for the big kid who has to play up a grade (in some cases where a Gr. 8 is too heavy and hasn’t a connection to a high school to play with Gr. 9s) or cannot, but I don’t think it’s as a cruel thing as some would make it out to be.  In some cases these players still play alongside their team mates, but with a yellow bib indicating they are ‘touch only’ players.  Either way, it forces the ‘big’ kids to use not their bulk and power, but actually focus on the skills and vision all the other kids have to acquire and develop.  We’ve all probably seen kids like this before – ones who dominate because of size at a lower level who have wasted years not acquiring any abilities because they didn’t need to and end up being poor teenage / adult players.  With weight grading, a level playing field is presented that’s good for all.

The final spirit-of-the-game bonus of adopting sevens relates to the growth of rugby on the whole and accessibility.  Instead of having to field a full side of 15 (or 11 as some do on the mainland), sevens allows schools with just 10 interested / able kids – and even less in some cases! – to field teams.  While maybe only one or two might end up sticking with rugby into their teenage years, there’s nothing wrong with growing the game one or two players at a time!  In such cases, sevens allows even the one kid who’s really interested in the game has a better chance of playing as it’s not so hard to get those few kids together, even if the others aren’t that into the sport.  When trying to get a full fifteen together, for a brand of rugby that requires more subs given the extra time and contact, many schools simply wouldn’t be able to adopt rugby at all.  For those schools which do have quite a lot of interest, sevens allows them to field two or even three sides, so that every kid gets a chance at significant game time.  By grouping together A, B (and C!) teams, kids at various levels of ability also get the opportunity to enjoy the game with less likelihood of getting smashed or utterly dominating – ensuring that each gets a fair chance to work on skills and truly enjoy the experience.

In conclusion, I think adopting sevens rugby (contact OR touch) is a great way to grow the game at the crucial grass roots level in Canada, and especially for the pre-teen age group.  I hope this recent increase in awareness and a move to include more kids continues to grow so that we can show that this is truly a wonderful sport for all.

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