Coach’s Corner Issue 5: Could the Reds topple the Crusaders?

Thanks to all of the contributors of questions for this week’s Coaches Corner column. There was a lot of interest in the way that cards of both colours are becoming critical in shaping the course of some big games. Three of Wales’ five Six Nations matches featured red cards for their opponents, and there were […]

Coach’s Corner Issue 5: Could the Reds topple the Crusaders?

Thanks to all of the contributors of questions for this week’s Coaches Corner column. There was a lot of interest in the way that cards of both colours are becoming critical in shaping the course of some big games.

Three of Wales’ five Six Nations matches featured red cards for their opponents, and there were four in the final climax at the Stade de France – three yellows and one red.

Just Nuisance asked, “There’s been a lot of discussion this year over penalties and cards, particularly red cards in the game. They’ve had a significant impact over match outcomes and have influenced the course of the entire Six Nations tournament. France even accusing Wales of milking cards… Have coaches and players fully grasped the real significance of the new approach by World Rugby and how it’s going to change the way the game is going to be played in future or are they just paying lip service to it?”

Hoy added: “1) What point penalising accidents at the tackle? It isn’t going to necessarily prevent them, and 2) How changes need to be made at the ruck? Do teams just acquiesce to the situation, and give over the ball at the ruck? Do they work different tactics to shift bodies that offend them?”

In answer to the first question: I feel that coaches are still struggling to come to grips with the changes in technique, particularly at the cleanout, that are required to avoid contact with the defender’s head and neck.

Support players at the cleanout are taught to move bodies first with the point of the shoulder, and second with force sufficient to persuade the ‘jackal’ to release his hold. Removing them with the arms, by pulling them away from the ball is regarded as a passive alternative.

I examined some of the issues arising in this recent article. If there is no immediate release – of the ball-carrier by the tackler, of the ball by the tackled player – you quickly arrive at a situation with a defender bent double over the ball, which is trapped against the tackled player’s body.

Here are two versions of what happens next.

The first cleanout player (Stuart Hogg in the Scotland game, and Paul Willemse for France) is unable to remove the jackal by use of the arms alone. Hogg tries to use a ‘croc-roll’ technique on the torso of Welsh prop Wyn Jones unsuccessfully, Willemse ends up with his fingers in the eyes of the same player. Because Jones is still established above the tackle ball in the Scotland instance, another player (Zander Fagerson) has to enter and remove him with extra force, by use of the shoulder. Both Willemse and Fagerson were sent off for their trouble.

In the big Super Rugby game of the weekend, Blues prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi would probably have been red carded for a cleanout on the Crusaders’ Scott Barrett if the game had been played in the northern hemisphere.

The conversation which followed between referee Paul Williams and the TMO strained credulity.

“I’m trying to determine whether there’s clear contact from the shoulder to the chin of the red player?” said Williams.

“The contact is on the face as it goes through. It glances off the face to the body,” replied the TMO

“So, it’s a glancing blow, not directly?”

“Yes”.

If that really was a glancing blow, Lord help Scott Barrett if he ever receives a direct hit.

These issues are arising because release at the tackle area (on both sides) is not being enforced in either the letter or the spirit of the law. Until tacklers (including assists) are required to fully release the ball-carrier, and the tackled player is required to place the ball away from his body immediately, there will be little or no change, and the great clarion call of Law 15.3, that “players involved in all stages of the ruck must have their heads and shoulders no lower than their hips”, will go unanswered.

Sam Cane speaks to the referee

Sam Cane. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Several posters asked about the growth of the Queensland Reds’ Hunter Paisami as a number 12, with related queries about potential Wallaby play-making combinations, and the efficiency of passing from those positions.

Hoy asked, “Hunter Paisami… this bloke grows and grows each week… Is he really good? Is his game limited? Can he be the complete package? Where’s his best spot? Does it depend on the five-eighth selected?”

“Is the poor catch and pass we are seeing an indicator of a systemic problem in Australian rugby and why is it not improving with players who have nothing else to do except train and get better?” JC Masher

“Can you explain why so many professional rugby players cannot pass effectively; or if they can pass, they struggle to pass both sides? The added issue is the failure to support the runner and be ready to take a pass or support the breakdown. Is this just a coaching failure or is it something else?” stillmissit

Passing off the left hand is often a litmus test for naturally right-sided players who are trying to cut it as a second play-maker. There were a couple of good results off the left hand for Hunter Paisami versus the Force.

Suliasi Vunivalu is able to take the first looped pass more or less in stride, so attacking momentum is preserved; the second ‘shoulder ball’, to James O’Connor wrapping around the play, also shows excellent touch.

There were two malfunctions off.

In the first instance, there is some space to work with down the Queensland right, but Hunter Paisami has to turn his body in the direction of the receiver and ‘wind up’ for the pass in order to find his (potential) target, Jordan Petaia. The time-lapse takes Petaia and Vunivalu past the ball, before it is ever released.

The second instance illustrates the same technical flaw on a much shorter delivery.

The pass does not fix the defender in front of Paisami (Jake McIntyre), who is already looking towards the attackers outside.

Compare Paisami’s body-shape to that of Richie Mo’unga, delivering the weekend’s outstanding example of a left-to-right pass at the end of the game between the Crusaders and the Blues.

Mo’unga is passing east-west across his body, while keeping his shoulders resolutely north-south and square to the defender. The tackler is fully committed and therefore cannot shift out towards the free attacker.

The passing play had been preceded by a phase where Mo’unga was in support of the ball-carrier, and finished by cleaning out Caleb Clarke one-on one.

Another cache of questions widened out the debate to include James O’Connor and Quade Cooper!

“I’d be interested to see a breakdown comparing 10s that play flat to the line, and those that stand deeper. What are the benefits of each and what works best against the current defensive systems?” KiwiHaydn

“Now that we’ve seen the Reds game-plan, and how they approach matches and work as a team, now from the 2021 perspective what’s the conclusion about how well Quade Cooper would fit?” Ankle-tapped Waterboy

“I would really appreciate an analysis on James O’Connor’s best position. I am a firm believer that he had more positive impacts as a centre than as a 10, especially for Australia.” Bourkos

One of great attributes of the Quade Cooper I remember was his ability to vary his position in relation to the defence. When it was dense and organised, he could drop back and kick or distribute; with quick ruck ball he could take the ball to the line and drop off an offload or inside pass to his support.

He tended to function better without another play-maker alongside him – so, in the Reds 2011 championship year, there were two hard line runners (Ben Tapuai and Anthony Fainga’a) in the centres. If Quade was still at Ballymore now, I’d guess he would enjoy playing with the Paisami/Petaia combination, or even better – with Samu Kerevi at 12 and either Petaia or Paisami at 13.

In contrast, James O’Connor prefers a Matt To’omua alongside him to take on some of the burden in the kicking game, and act as the extra pair of eyes reading play as it develops.

Hunter Paisami

Hunter Paisami. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Another set of questions orbited around the titanic tussle between the Blues and the Crusaders from Super Rugby Aotearoa. The Roar’s own Monday Maestro, Geoff Parkes asked: “Will be interested to get your take on where the Blues are at, and the wee bits of precision they need to take their game another step forward. And let me know if you can recall seeing a better pass, on the run, off the left hand, than Mo’unga’s for the final try.”

JC Masher added, “How do you see coaches defending the rolling maul and what do they need to put in place to have it work?”

The driving maul from lineout is an excellent example of why the Crusaders’ discipline in delivering sound fundamental technique is still superior to any other side in New Zealand, and the vast majority of other club/provincial teams worldwide.

The Blues maul is driven backwards about ten metres at a brisk trot, the Crusaders score a try. The behaviours of the key men in the drive – the receiver and the lifter-cum-lead blocker just behind him – are like chalk and cheese.

These two players have to lock in tight and provide a sharp ‘tip of the spear’ for the drive to succeed. For the Blues, the connection between the receiver (Hoskins Sotutu) and his outside blocker (Patrick Tuipolutu) has been fractured, and they are pushed out of the maul before it ever sets.

For the Crusaders, the relationship between Sam Whitelock and Joe Moody is as tight as a good bass-player in a rock band. Moody has advanced his position all the way around Whitelock’s back to ward off any interference:

The wider aspect worth observing is just how solid the Crusaders are in the decision-making spine of the team, at numbers 2, 8, 9, 10 and 15. I can think of only one Blues player at those spots (Sotutu at number 8) who might break into the Canterbury starting line-up, and the comparison in the halves was especially harsh at the weekend.

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A couple of weeks ago, Roar regular The Late News asked about goal-kicking: I often wonder about goal kicking. What do coaches generally do? Do they observe a player first then aim to work on improving their technique, or do they impose their views from the outset? Or is it quite variable?

I cannot really improve on the answer Phil Larder gave me, when asked about Dave Alred – probably the best kicking coach of the professional era.

“I took Dave down to the local ground and he showed me what he could do. I’d kicked over 100 goals in three seasons for Oldham RL, but it quickly became obvious Dave was on a far higher level to me. Although he was smaller than me, he quickly demonstrated that he could kick the ball much further than I could.

“He was more consistent and exact with his preparatory routine, and his body was like a perfect machine: from the waist up virtually motionless, the bottom half working like a smooth and easy pendulum through the ball.

“It was no accident – he always seemed to hit the sweet spot and be accelerating through the ball at the point of contact. Mud or no mud, time and again he picked the ball clean off the top of his tee and sent it fizzing towards the poles. It was as if the external conditions did not matter to him at all.”

No wonder Alred has also become a swing coach to some of the best golfers in the world: “I feel like a voice in the wilderness at the moment. Most people video people’s mistakes and say: ‘We need to do this.’ How about showing them what they did right? Across sport and in life, the threat of failure is much bigger than the joy of achievement. I’m trying to reverse that.”

Great words.

Doctordbx asked: “Why aren’t more teams aware of the 22 and running the ball out of it at restart. It immediately puts them in a place of having to clear and keep the ball inside the field of play. A few times I’ve seen teams take the ball inside their 22, and then go through a couple of rucks eventually exiting their 22, and then punting it back to the opposition to run it back at them. Why don’t these teams look to set up the clearance ASAP?”

Many teams look at exits as an opportunity to attack the chasing side when it is at its weakest. Oftentimes the defending team will drop three or four players into backfield duty expecting the kick, and that leaves only 11 in the line. Sometimes there may also be a forwards side, and a backs side at the first ruck, and that the exiting side an easy target for attack.

Ambitious sides like Glasgow (under Dave Rennie), Bristol (under Pat Lam), and even the Wallabies in their last season under Michael Cheika, achieved a lot of momentum by taking the ball well outside their own 22 before making the decision to run or kick (infield).

Many thanks to all who contributed by asking a question. I will endeavour to reply to those that remain unanswered in future issues!

Source : The Roar More