With the announcement of the British & Irish Lions squad to tour Australia getting ever closer, a lot of talk in the media has once again been focussed on the merits of Northern Hemisphere teams compared to Southern Hemisphere teams.
Whilst I don’t think there’s a huge amount of difference between the two, one thing that has always impressed me about the SH teams – especially Australia and New Zealand – is their execution of basic skills under any sort of pressure. It’s something I think that coaching in Europe, from age-grade level upwards, just doesn’t devote enough time to.
The most recent and best example of this was All Black Liam Messam’s try against Wales in the 2012 Autumn International.series. New Zealand put together a multi-phase move, the last phase of which involved five or six players passing across the width of the pitch for Messam to go over in the corner.
What really stood out was the fact that most of those players were forwards. All were really comfortable on the ball, running straight, drawing the man and then passing in front of the receiver. Nobody had to check to take the ball and their forwards were as proficient in taking and giving a pass as their backs.
From speaking to a few of the SH lads who are at the Blues, the whole training environment from a young age is geared towards all players having quick hands and a huge emphasis on skills rather than just concentrating on power-based rugby.
Now, they’re obviously pretty good at that, too! However, I’ve certainly seen training at a younger age when the tactic just seemed to be to give the ball to the biggest kid in the team and let him truck it up, instead of improving the passing and ball skills of the whole team.
If all the team concentrate on their ball skills, it eventually becomes second nature. In the intensity of a match you then just execute them without even thinking about it. A number of the Blues forwards, guys such as Scott Andrews or Nathan Trevett, can deliver a pass that any outside-half or centre would be proud of.
Clubs in our region get to adopt a player and when we visit them for the odd coaching session, I always want to focus on passing – even just the straight line ‘up and down the pitch’ drill is worthwhile.
I stress that having fancy miss-moves is all very well, but just a simple well-timed, well-directed pass is sometimes all that is needed to put someone in for a try. During every single game there will be a two-on-one or three-on-two opportunity, so practicing executing those should be a priority at every session.
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