by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
It is one of the signature moments in a rugby match, when two teammates work in tandem beating a single defender. It appears to be a simple athletic task, yet so many players struggle to successfully execute a two on one. In this column offering, we will discuss a handful of skills needed when converting a two on one.
I don’t remember where or when I first heard the coaching comment that “the best ball carriers possess the ability to either create space or preserve it.” When preserving space, successful ball carriers are able to “pin,” “fix,” or “hold” a defender. How do great attacking players do it? For this discussion, we will first look at the ball carrier’s last several steps and the importance of their distance from the defender. Additionally, we will discuss three responsibilities of the supporting player.
Plainly stated, for a two on one to be successful, the ball carrier must be an attacking threat. If the ball carrier isn’t running at the defender, the defender is able to anticipate moving off the ball carrier and on to the second attacking player as the ball is being passed. The ball carrier must be acknowledged as a viable threat by the opposition. A tool the ball carrier can employ to make themselves more threatening is to make their last few steps toward the defender decisive and deliberate, moving away from, and back toward, the direction they are passing the ball. Using this deliberate footwork positions the ball carrier in such a way as to “pin” the defender down. The ball carrier’s run should end approximately 1 to 1.5 meters in front of the defender with their shoulders square. Critical to completing a successful two on one is the ball carrier’s ability to monitor their distance from the defender. The importance of this cannot be underestimated. The best ball carriers do not pass across the face of the defender, nor do they fall away from the direction of their pass. It is an unfortunate, yet common occurrence, when ball carriers run themselves into contact during a two on one opportunity.
Along with the ball carrier altering their line of run at the defense, they can move or show the ball while running at the defender.
Using the combination of running with intent and showing the ball (while in two hands) will create doubt as to whether the ball carrier will run with or pass the ball. This entire skill is what is commonly referred to as “pinning,” “fixing,” or “holding” a defender. Elite ball carriers demonstrate these skills while running at pace.
Similarly, the supporting player has a short list of skills they must be accountable for. The supporting player must work to time out their run onto the ball so as not to be too early. Supporting players who are flat are of no use when trying to successfully converting a two on one in rugby. Essentially, the single biggest offence the supporting player can commit is creeping forward and thus ending up in a flat supporting position.
The supporting player should always use their voice to communicate their position to the ball carrier. “Yeah yeah yeah” doesn’t tell the ball carrier anything. Top flight supporting players offer concise, economical communication to the ball carrier such as “short left” or “wide right”. A supporting player is responsible for holding their depth, communicating their position concisely, and then timing out their run allowing them to show up at full tilt. Supporting players who place a high priority on demonstrating good timing and velocity are welcome on successful rugby teams.
Great rugby requires all fifteen players to be able to demonstrate these skills multiple times throughout a match. I would encourage all players to train basic skills such as these on a daily basis. It is all part of playing the best sport on Earth.
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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