by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
Previously we examined the role of the first supporting player in establishing and maintaining continuity. We called this role Link. In those earlier examples, the ball carrier was stopped or held up, and still on their feet while being linked. Let’s further our understanding of the role of Link as the ball carrier goes to ground.
In this scenario the ball carrier has determined that contact is inevitable and put an evasive step or, as we call it, a “wiggle” into their run just prior to engaging the defender. As the ball carrier executes this, the first supporting player changes their line of support so they are able to either link the ball carrier or drive the tackler away after the tackle. But before we go any further with the role of Link, a quick review of the ball carrier’s responsibilities.
Players that are the best at carrying the ball into contact execute three skills well. The first skill requires the ball carrier’s legs to “come alive” once in contact. During this moment, the ball carrier lowers their center of gravity by bending at the knees as they drive forward while going to ground. The second skill is obtaining a good body position once on the ground. The two most common body positions being traditional body position or a long body position. The third consecutive skill needed as a ball carrier is once on the ground, to then purposely place the ball. All three of these contact skills will, along with good linking play, produce continuity. Now, let’s circle back and talk in detail about Link’s techniques as the ball carrier is now on the ground.
As the ball carrier finishes their run, and then subsequently wilfully places the ball, Link looks to enter over the heart of the ball, with their knees flexed and off the ground with their back flat and positioned either perpendicular or parallel to the ball carrier’s body. We refer to this technique as putting in a “roof”.
When Link has put in a roof on the ball carrier, Link must be completely self supported and ready for an immediate contest for the possession by the defense. The role of Link is even more under the microscope now as teams are allocating additional resources to counter ruck when defending.
The role of the second, third and fourth supporting players will be largely driven by the productivity of the ball carrier and Link along with the amount of competition taking place for the ball at the ruck. If the landscape of the ruck sees only the tackler, ball carrier and Link, there will be an opportunity for the subsequent supporters to continue play forward. If, however, there are multiple defenders competing for the possession, our secondary support players will have to work to clear the defenders away from the ruck, entering the fray over the heart of the ball.
During secondary phases of rugby there are multiple roles that are to be filled as the ball is being taken into contact. Each player is required to have skills as ball carrier, Link, or a secondary support player. Each has it’s own set of techniques that are used to assist us in maintaining continuity of possession.
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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