by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
Statistical analysis of a rugby match tells us that there are multiple players on the field who will have 8 or more “touches” (a pass or catch) of the ball during a match. Being able to successfully pass and catch the ball is a fundamental skill for all rugby players.
Over the next several weeks I intend to present a rugby skill series for players and coaches to use as a guide to skill development. In this first instalment, we will look at the most basic of skills involved in rugby, that of being able to pass and catch the ball accurately and efficiently. Throughout this discussion, the type of pass referred to will be a purposeful spin pass. When training passing mechanics, we do not wish to train a floating or knuckleball type pass, the pass should have the appropriate amount of weight behind it.
First the passer needs to be put in a body posture that is conducive to the passing mechanics that we will utilize. Have the passer bend at the waist and knees so that they can place their hands on tops of their knees. This will create an aggressive body posture that should be maintained while passing the ball to the right or left. Next, have the passer lift their hands from their knees and have them reach as far toward the ball as they are able, all the while maintaining the desired body posture.
Now there is a nature inverted triangle established in the players upper body (the shoulders forward and turned toward the ball, hands up and together). This is referred to as the passing pendulum. While the passer focuses on keeping their shoulders forward, they access the pendulum for which to pass the ball to their teammate. If a player is passing the ball from the right to the left, their right hand is dominate hand in the passing motion. The left hand is therefore used as a guide hand. Obviously the reverse is true when passing the other direction.
I cannot stress enough how important it is for players to train passing from their left to their right, in doing so making their left hand the dominate hand while the right hand acts only as a guide. Another challenge for players who are new to this passing technical is keeping their shoulders forward while running.
The follow through motion of the pass, regardless of which direction the ball is travelling, is equally as important as the pass itself. The passer should finish their passing motion as if shaking hands with the person they are passing to. If the passers hands “fly” away from the player they are passing to, the pass has a greater chance of being above the target area offered by the ball receiver.
The receiver of the pass assumes the very same shoulders forward body posture and they have their hands up and stretched toward the passer of the ball. We refer to this as the target area of the pass. The ball receiver has the responsibility to keep their hands up at all times during this skill installation activity. Once the receiver has passed the ball, using the passing pendulum, and hand shake follow through, they are responsible for maintaining their hands in the up and ready position.
As the ball is being passed down the line, the person about to receive the ball should be communicating to the ball passer in articulate and economical manner. It is of little use to the ball passer to hear, “yea yea yea” in their ear when trying to pass the ball. Descriptive, concise communication is best practice in this regard. “Short right, deep left” is of much more use to the passer of the ball.
Split up your players in 3 to 6 columns and have them work up and down the training area using this shoulders forward body posture as they advance forward. All players should all be in a similar body posture as the ball passer, providing early and accurate communication to the player about to pass them the ball.
Work to get as many quality “touches” of the ball during your training session. The best players typically know how many passes they would like to have back after a training session. That number may start out high, but by using sound passing mechanics, and keeping a mental tally of how many passes were below the standard, players position themselves to improve their passing and catching skills.
Next time we will look at safe tackle mechanics for players of all ages and abilities.
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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