by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
As teams around the nation begin training for summer rugby sevens tournaments, it seems an appropriate time to offer a basic technical approach for the game that was originated in Melrose, Scotland, 1883.
As has been previously mentioned in this column, a team’s pattern of play should be created around the skills and strengths of the players within the team. An assessment of the squad’s passing mechanics and receiving skills should take place before a coach begins building a sevens pattern of play for their side. As an example of an assessment, have seven players line up across the field, 5 meters apart, and have them run the length of the pitch passing and catching the ball. If they are successful at the conclusion of each length, increase the width between each player by 2-3 meters until they are no longer able to accurately pass and catch or you have a player on each five-meter line. For more on passing and receiving, see my previous post (August 1st, 2008).
Once the player’s passing and receiving skills are strong enough to allow them to keep their spacing across almost the entire width of the field, have the ball passer follow their pass, bellying back behind the player they just passed to. This repositioning should place them a minimum of five to eight meters behind the ball carrier. This “pocket” position is critical to the attacking team when there is defensive pressure. Each passer repositions in the pocket position as the ball is passed across the field, and the furthest most outside player should work to additionally “stretch” the defenders to the outside without taking unnecessary contact or being bundled into touch.
Encourage the most outside player to “curl out” their run, creating additional width while maintaining separation from the defenders. The ball carrier now has several options of what to do next with the ball, including completing their “curl out” run, squaring up their shoulders and attacking somewhere else, or passing the ball back infield.
Work this pattern of attacking play for several lengths of the field, fence posting the concept of the passer following their pass to create a pocket as an outlet to relieve defensive pressure or regroup from an errant pass gone to ground. The balance of the attackers must focus on maintaining their width and depth while running down the field.
This basic pattern of attack can be utilized from primary phase (scrums and lineouts) or secondary possessions. Simply running straight and passing the ball causes the defense to have to cover the entire width of the field. As previously mentioned, the attackers need to be able to run, pass, and catch at a sufficient distance between one another for this approach to be the most effective.
Once teams have established the ability to run and pass with sufficient width and depth (created by establishing a pocket), the attacking team needs to focus on being able to fix or “pin down” a defender before passing the ball. Without the ability to fix the defense, the defenders will simply slide across the field, covering more than one attacking player as they pass the ball. Fixing a defender in sevens is quite different from pinning a defender down during a two-on-one in fifteens. In sevens, fixing the defender will happen earlier than in fifteens. The pass is made further way from the defense. This happens because there are fewer defenders who have more space to cover. Again, this fixing will not take place simply because the attackers have maintained an adequate amount of width, they have to be coming from enough depth to being running vertically down field at the defenders.
If a team is able to effectively move an attacking possession across the width of the field while running at the defense, demonstrating sound passing mechanics and receiving skills, good things will happen. Once a team is skilful enough to execute this basic pattern, patience is required so the ball can be moved back across the field. If the ball is successful passed across the field, stretching the defense, and reversed direction before contact has occurred, defensive gaps will be available to exploit. Of course, as was demonstrated by the 2010 Samoan national sevens team, players are at liberty to run through any gaps available to score tries.
This is a tried and tested basic attacking pattern of play. Give it a go and best of success this summer.
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand (Bay of Plenty), the U.S. (The Old Blues), England (London Harlequins), and Wales (Pontypridd) for domestic teams as well as representing the U.S.A. at international tournaments with the Eagles. After hanging up his boots, Billups got into coaching leading the Eagles and now with University of California – Berkeley. Read the entire bio of Tom Billups as well as Billups first column My Rugby Path and then check out what Billups is saying about the game of rugby in The Billups Column on Rugby Rugby.
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