by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
The holiday period is all work as a professional rugby player. There are rich traditions of matches being played just before and just after Christmas in the United Kingdom. Attending matches on Boxing Day is something families build into their schedules, as these matches are often as fun to watch as opening presents under the tree.
Paul Emerick is no stranger to the hectic nature of this time of year. Emerick, a fellow native of Iowa, is now a seasoned professional rugby athlete. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was watching Paul compete for his school, the University of Northern Iowa, but over the past several years Paul’s dedication to becoming a student of the game has made him a name brand player in world rugby. I could not be any more proud of him.
We recently chatted on the phone in between training sessions for his pro team in Wales. The following is part of our conversation that I thought you might enjoy reading.
Coach Tom Billups: What would you encourage a young rugby player to focus on as a midfielder?
Paul Emerick: In attack I think your focus should be on looking at yourself as a secondary fly half. You make a lot of the same decisions as a fly half, the only difference is, your doing it at a bit more pace. Kicking, creating space for the outside runners and organizing players around you is a big job. Some one needs to tell the mutants that play in forwards where to be and what to do. Did I say that out loud ?
In defense you need to look at yourself as a back rower. There are plenty of poaches (stealing of the ball) to be made out wide. When the ball gets out there it often takes an extra second for the support to arrive, and that is your opportunity to poach the ball. Like a flanker, you should put your defensive focus getting the ball carrier to ground and then quickly get on your feet to poach the ball. This is a great asset to have as a backline player.
TB: You create great line breaks, using both acceleration and deceleration, talk about it.
Paul: Being able to accelerate and decelerate is a very important skill to have. It is the way I fool defenses when I am carrying the ball. If I ran at the same speed all the time it would be much easier to defend and tackle me. Running at pace, then giving the defender a quick dose of deceleration will let the defender fly by and miss a tackle on me. Being able to accelerate and decelerate is the key to the old “in and out” move as well. Sometimes after a line break the best finishers will, after accelerating through the whole, decelerate just enough to buy some time for the support to get through to them so an offload is an option before the cover defense can get to him.
TB: How would you rank speed, strength, and skill on an importance scale?
Paul: I think all 3 of these attributes are very important. I would venture to say you need a good mix of all of them ideally. You could be the most skilled player, but if you aren't fast enough to get through a gap, you will probably struggle. Personally, I am always working to raise the bar, and constantly push to further all three aspects of my game. I think for the most part, people are just born with strength in certain physical attributes. I'll never get below into the 10 seconds on a 100 meter sprint ! I wasn't born with the physical attributes. For me, I think my skills are my weakest attribute of all, but I am constantly work on improving my skills. One of the things I do have control over.
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand, the U.S. and England 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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