He who controls the contact situations, controls the game.
Since the inception of the ELV’s we have read quite a bit on the ‘contact situation’ and the importance of dominating it. Heyneke Meyer and Jake White are great believers in the importance of this area and for good reason, because if you control the contact situation, in either defense or attack, you control the game.
Personally I do not think South African rugby players are all that bad in contact, we are traditionally big and strong and love taking contact. I do however believe we get one fundamental thing wrong, and that is when going into contact the mission of the ball carrier, or defender, should be to go ‘through’ contact and not ‘into’ contact.
As mentioned in the previous whiteboard session rugby is all about momentum and forward movement. If you move forward, the opposition moves backwards putting them on the backfoot so to speak – and no team can play decent rugby once on the backfoot.
Too often our players look for contact but only to the extent of going into contact (no forward momentum) and not through contact (gaining momentum in contact).
There had been many studies that have been conducted in this area and the one I like the most was some points raised by Mark Sayers, Biomechanics Coach in New Zealand.
A couple of things mentioned in his studies has relevance to South African rugby players and how we sometimes still get it wrong, even though through our strength and physical appreciation for the game we should get it right.
Domination in the contact situation depends on two main things;
• The player beats the defender outright by using a combination of speed, acceleration and/or evasion or;
• The player beats the opposition by a combination of explosive running, quick decision making and target running.
Acceleration however, either from a standing start or running start is his biggest weapon or determining factor in dominating the contact situation. It is vitally important however to note that acceleration ‘through’ contact is important, not into contact. If you accelerate into contact various things happen most important of which is;
• You automatically decelerate just before making contact. This is a natural action your body takes to protect itself and;
• Your ability to control possession going into contact at high pace is very low.
Now consider what we see on South African rugby fields every week. We have some players that have magnificent acceleration but get no forward momentum in contact because they go into contact and do not try to go through it.
In addition, in South African rugby our coaches choose to use big, slow ball carriers to go into contact and not the guys who have the best acceleration. With this almost no forward momentum is gained and the effectiveness of guys going into contact is just about non-existent.
South African players almost always look for the ‘T-Bone’ contact situation or collision. This is where players run directly into defenders giving the defender an easy target to ‘T-Bone’ back into contact.
The likelihood of dominating the contact situation is increased dramatically when the player directs his line of attack away from the mid-line of the defender. This is also not a dramatic shift that we are talking about here which at most only has to be about 0.3m off the mid-line or T-Bone line of the defender. I believe we live in a false sense of security in South Africa in this area because the T-Bone contact situation is still relatively successful at lower levels of our rugby, the reason for this however has more to do with bad defense than with effective running.
Apart from acceleration into the right areas around the defenders players and coaches should also note that decision making and the foot movements or strikes of the players are vitally important.
If you display any form of indecision with ball in hand you will decelerate going into contact, and this is where the age-old cliché comes in; “The only poor decision is indecision.”
Techniques in running or stepping are also vital. Obviously balance is key, but the great thing is you can coach better balance in running.
Your aim however should always be to encourage forward momentum in movement or running and eliminating lateral stepping or running completely. Schalk Brits comes to mind here where I believe he gets it wrong.
He always tries to beat a defender by jumping or stepping from side to side and not forward. If Schalk adapts more effective stepping and footstrikes* he could become a devastating ball carrier or runner.
*Footstrikes is best explained as the area the player’s feet strikes the turf in relation to his body. Effective footstrikes should be to the back of the hips or at the very least under them. Over-extending steps or strikes in acceleration is a common mistakes player’s make. The best way for coaches to ensure optimum footstrikes is to encourage players to adopt a lower knee-lift when running. This almost forces players to strike the turf behind the line of their hips.
Another important thing players and coaches should take note of the re-acceleration aspect of going into contact. For players like Brits this is a problem because with exaggerated lateral stepping they compromise their ability to accelerate forward going through contact – and effectively, there is no point in defeating the defender if you do not get behind or over the contact line.
The most effective steppers have something which is called a ‘power-step’ which is a much shorter step they use just before they make contact. This step helps them maintain balance while stepping and also promotes acceleration through contact.
Lastly, balance in running is crucial, without it we cannot control the forces at work when running and changing angles to ensure forward momentum.
Key factor in balance is the pace at which players step or run, or even better explained, the footspeed of players hitting the turf. The better the acceleration in this area the better the balance will be. Also key is you body position when running. Run too upright and it’s difficult to control your balance. Again you can practice this by ensuring you step behind your hipline and push forward. The quicker you can do this (footsteps) the better you will increase your center of gravity which will help you step off any foot at pace much easier.
Players and coaches can work on these basic principles to ensure better domination in contact, and most importantly, forward momentum.
Be aware however that it takes more or less 80 hours for players to learn a new skill or technique. None of this comes easy (although it comes natural to some). Importantly coaches should be aware that when they apply this in training and drills the players must be allowed to enjoy and express themselves.
Also you will not find a happier player or achieve more success with a player than one who understands what he is doing in practice. Make sure you explain to them why you do certain drills.
For the young aspiring coaches (and even players) of Sharksworld I can give you some drills you could use in each of the sessions I will touch on during the whiteboard sessions (and note I barely touch on these things) and even provide you with some research material from people all across the world. You can get my details from Rob or KSA.Tweet