Sevens rugby isn’t terribly technical in comparison to fifteen a side rugby, but teams must appreciate the importance of two very important areas - tackling and turnovers - if they are going to have a chance to be successful this summer and Rugby Rugby's Tom Billups looks at these aspects of the game.
By Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
Sevens rugby isn’t terribly technical in comparison to fifteen a side rugby, but teams must appreciate the importance of two very important areas if they are going to have a chance to be successful this summer. In the abbreviated game, teams must achieve two things: players on defense must consistently make their own tackles and the team in possession must minimize the number of times it turns over the ball. In this piece, we will examine why these two aspects of play should be focused on.
In fifteens, the point of emphasis while in attack is going forward in a very direct, vertical fashion. In sevens rugby, the polar opposite is true in that successful attacking teams work to move the ball laterally across the field, attempting to stretch the defender’s organizational system, thus creating gaps to run through. In either version of rugby union, the defending team has got to be able to make sound, safe, and effective tackles. If players fail to make a tackle that they are responsible for in sevens, it will almost always lead to a try. Because there is so much space to defend in sevens, being a good tackler is tantamount to having success.
Coaches can place their players in position to be successful tacklers by installing and training a defensive system. A defensive system provides all seven players with a high degree of expectation as to where they have assistance and where they might be vulnerable. Examples of defensive systems in sevens include playing six players in a well-connected line, with one player designated as a sweeper. Another more dated version of a defensive system has all sevens players up in a line, with the player furthest away from the ball dropping back to cover any kicks or line breaks. Other examples of playing defense within a system includes identifying specific situations where all defending players will press more aggressively than normal to tackle the ball carrier and attempt to repossess the ball.
As I have stated numerous times in the column over the past four years, regardless of which defensive system a team uses, each individual player must be able to make their own tackles.
Turning possessions over in sevens can be devastating. Turnovers and the negative effect they have on the final outcome of matches are magnified due to the brief amount of ball-in-play time and the limited number of attacking opportunities teams experience if they turn the ball over. Few things are as frustrating in sevens as when you are tirelessly working in defense but can’t regain possession of the ball.
There are key moments in sevens matches when the likelihood of a turnover is evident, but these moments can be curbed if the players possess sound skill sets and intent focus. Obviously, anytime the ball is taken into contact, it is at risk, which highlights the importance of teaching proper in-contact skills (including proper body position and ball placement) on the training field. Successful sevens teams move the ball quickly and efficiently from touchline to touchline, with supporting players constantly working off the ball to ensure adequate depth and width to their support. Teams that are hardwired to keep the ball out of contact lessen the turnover opportunities provided to the opposition.
Another major source of turnovers is restarts, both kicking-off or receiving a restart. It can’t be underestimated how critical restarts are to victory in sevens. If your team is kicking off, the goal should be to reclaim the ball kicked. Likewise, if your team is kicked the restart, assets need to be assigned to ensure that the ball is safely secured and moved away from the immediate contest for possession. Restarts are critical contestable moments when possession of the ball hangs in the balance. Ample training time should be dedicated to promote competent skill sets in kicking, catching, and securing restart possessions.
Teams that pinpoint these two areas, combined with an insatiable appetite to work hard, will win many more matches than they will lose.
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