As great as our boys were against the All Blacks in Bloemfontein, we are still getting some vital things wrong. Something I hope I will see a change in when we move towards the Durban test.
It is a topic I highlighted just after Peter de Villiers was appointed as Bok coach and one I felt the need to re-visit after the Bloem test.
For all the dominance and effectiveness of the Springboks in last weekend’s test one very worrying aspect again reared its head. The Springboks given all their dominance and possession, still seemed impotent on attack and my explanation for that now, is exactly my what my explanation was a year ago – SA rugby players fail to build momentum and pace on the ball or more crucially, fail to maintain it.
One can look at areas of our attacking play and single out potential problems as the crux of where we get things wrong. For instance we can argue that we run too laterally in the flyhalf and inside center channels, we lack depth on attack, or we clear the ball too slowly from set and ruck phases.
All of this of course are reasons we are getting the overall plan wrong which is to play effective attacking rugby, but all of this comes down to two very simple things – or areas where all the above mentioned (and other problems) start which leads to situations where we run across the field or have no depth on attack.
Let me start with the two aspects which is needed to play effective and explosive attacking rugby and they are the decision making ability of the players, and the ability of the players to keep the plays dynamic and avoid them from becoming static.
Both influence one another of course, for instance if you make the wrong decisions your plays will become static, and if you allow play to become static, decision making becomes more difficult or erratic.
Players (and coaches) need to understand that by keeping plays dynamic things like maintaining pace and momentum on the ball will come naturally, and that will make decision making easier. It is a circle where without one, the other will fail.
So how do we define decision making in rugby?
Decision making in my books is not the ‘godly’ ability of one player to do the impossible or the abilities of some superhuman players who has so many X-factors it puts the X-files to shame.
No, effective decision making in rugby is the ability of the TEAM or each individual in the team to read the game tactically, and plan accordingly (strategically) as a COLLECTIVE.
If you want an even simpler definition you could say it would be the ability of each player to read and predict the actions of not only the opposition defenders based on what he sees, but also predict the actions of his own team mates whether that would be the ball carrier or support player because of what they see (which is the same as what he sees).
It is getting the players to sing from the same hymn sheet, to get them to develop a common code amongst one another where they all play and think from the same platform, or base, or reference point.
Is that possible?
Of course it is, and it starts with how players are coached.
The only way players will be able to make effective decisions in a game environment, at game speed, is if they are given the tools and skills through coaching on the practice field in a game-environment and game speed. This means full contact training sessions where these skills are developed and refined and players are taught to read certain situations and then act on them strategically.
One such method I have read about is to have up to four coaches, all looking at specific areas of play, to oversee a full contact training session of 15 vs. 15. If anything breaks down or mistakes are picked up the coaches and players analyse this and corrects this. Of course you can break this down to having forwards against forwards, backs vs. back or specific groups with specific numbers, either the same or different numbers on attack and defense.
The point really being to equip and condition players to not only read the game better, but support the ball carriers better either as cleaners, continuity recycling or support runners because they read situations better and are able to correctly assess situations and predict what the best course of action would be, for either a ball carrier, or support player.
An example would be that if a player sees a spread defense, they are conditioned to employ a penetration type of attack, i.e. a more direct line of attack to penetrate defense or get across the gain line through either running, mauling or rucking (pick and go) or even kicks. The point (in every player’s mind) will be to bunch up defences and as soon as a defense is bunched, you know the best point of attack would be wide where there is space.
The second part of this now comes down to ensuring that through this decision making you create and maintain momentum and pace on the ball, and this comes down to keeping your game and plays dynamic.
There is one major area which contributes to our plays becoming static where we lose pace on the ball and that is the fact that firstly players are coached to go to ground quite quickly and secondly, support players are tasked to clean rucks rather than support tackled players, effectively going to ground with them.
A moving ball, a ball in the air is a dynamic ball, a ball on the ground is a static ball. Quite simple really.
Firstly our ball carriers should be coached to remain on their feet for far longer than what they currently do, and secondly the first support players should be coached or instructed to support the ball carrier to remain on his feet almost creating a mini maul. A maul is a dynamic, moving area of rugby where defences are constantly shifted backwards or forced to keep on moving.
Once the ball eventually goes to ground or is played from the back by the scrummy it is done with movement still taking place, forward for the attacking team and backwards for the defending team. More importantly the ball never becomes static which allows for defences to form static defensive lines which is much more effective than shifting defensive lines.
The result, momentum is built, kept and through that, speed is generated on the ball not only through passing, but also through phases and rucks, or for a better word, dynamic rucks…
If this is maintained the end result will most definitely be that defensive lines will break down, gaps will appear, your team’s players will constantly attack from depth (they are constantly moving forward onto the ball) and because of that will be inclined to run much straighter lines (running onto the ball at pace).
You see, it will take care of 90% of the problems I mentioned in the beginning of this article on problems we pick up, scrummies taking too long to clear (ball is static in the ruck), people running across the field and flat attacking structures.
I think it should also become much clearer now how this will positively affect decision making abilities of players and how both aspects or skills of the game needs one another, to cancel out many other problem areas.
We know our coaches subscribe to a more open, attacking style of rugby – the question is, what are they doing on the practice fields?Tweet