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Space, the final frontier in getting rugby up and running


Matthew Burke

Swan dive ... Waratahs winger Tom Kingston scores during Friday night’s scrappy win over the Western Force in Perth.

Swan dive ... Waratahs winger Tom Kingston scores during Friday night’s scrappy win over the Western Force in Perth. Photo: Getty Images

The coaches I had through my time advocated the need to be close enough to a defensive player to commit them in attack. This doesn't mean you have to be on top of the opposition and crowded for space, but commit a man by running at speed and then getting them to turn their shoulders in defence. What you do need is some space to be able to create something in attack.

So I need some help … help to turn the game of rugby back into having attacking dominance rather than being too defence-oriented. To promote a game that will win back the hearts and minds of the fans with the mantra of running rugby as it was once spoken about.

When they came up with the new laws about where the defensive line should be, I think "they" mixed up the scrum and the ruck laws in regards to where the defensive line should stand. No change to the lineout, still 10 metres back from the set piece. At the scrum the defending team has to be 5m back from the scrum.

I would revert to the original way of defending at the No.8's feet. Where the lawmakers could have improved the game is around the tackle area, as a greater percentage of play revolves around this area of the game.

The solution: defence from the ruck area should be moved back 5m. In effect, the 1,2,3 defensive positions off the ruck have to retire from that area so the attacking team can play the ball closer to the advantage line. We are seeing teams struggling to get forward. Teams have to move through a series of phases, generally losing ground, to generate the momentum needed to get the ball going forward.

With the existing laws in defence off a ruck or maul, the teams have to be behind the last man's feet. Can anyone please tell me when you have seen this law enforced in the past couple of years. Players in the defensive roles have been creeping up the last foot, leg even, so far as standing one-third up their side of the ruck. The effect of this is that they get a flying start and usually knock the team with possession back behind the advantage line, perhaps no more than one pass from the ruck, maybe two.

With the eventual slow ball we now have a scenario where the halfback waits with the ball at the back of the breakdown and gets his forwards organised to smash it up only one pass from the previous ruck. I find this part of the game frustrating. Why are you playing slow? I know the answer is to set up for the next play but how many times have we seen a turnover from that ruck, or worse, a knock-on by a forward who received a bullet-like pass from the halfback around the ankles or even around the toes. The result? Scrum.

With this aggressive line speed, the defenders can shut down any attacking play that looks to get wide. Unless your back line stands at 70 degrees depth you just about have no chance of getting the ball to the width. Even if you do have depth in the backs, some teams are employing the ''outside in'' defensive style, catching the attack up to 20m behind the advantage line. Turnover ball at the breakdown means the defensive team comes up with the advantage.

Teams in attack are therefore being dictated to from how strong the defences are. If the advantage line were moved in favour of the attacking team - 5m behind the last man's feet - it would at least allow some momentum to be gained and even some kind of attack to be constructed. In theory, if referees were able to see an imaginary line back from the ruck or maul, the momentum would automatically go to the attacking team. No more of this waiting game of ''We're ready? Are you ready to defend? OK let's go'' … dropped ball. Result - scrum … again.

Where you can make a difference is by varying your depth in attack, so perhaps I need to explain some more about having a defender closer to you when you have the ball, that is, from the scrum. Try this down the park. When there is space between you and the defender, most often a ball player will run to the space, away from the man who is going to tackle him. (We are seeing a lot of that now off the current scrum plays.) I can hear you say yes, that's right. In actual fact, you are taking the space away from the outside support player.

Running into space limits the attacking opportunity for the support player. If you run at a defender, they have to stay still. When the defender stays still and sets for the tackle, you draw and pass, giving space to the man outside. If the defender begins to slide off the ball player, you dummy and go straight through. The basics of running straight, and drawing and passing.

The question then becomes: What do we want to see? Teams running with the ball or teams defending well? I know which game I would prefer to see.

25 comments so far

  • A good article Matt and as a back coach I agree with your thoughts entirely. The game has slowly been taken over by the defence orientated countries and coaches. The countries that breed very few backs with natural flare (like England, Argentina, ) or countries that have the players but the coaches play a very forward dominated, kick, kick and kick again ( France, SA ), they are ruining the game. It got worse after England won the WRC in 2003. All the SA teams bar the Cheetahs play a boring type of game, the Stormers base their whole game around defence, they should join the NRL. In a few more years we will be watching the same game, we need to do something about it now. Shift the defence back 5 metres, reduce the penalty to 2 points and increase the try to 7, that will take these kickers out of the game. We need to see a far more attack based game, go and play league if you want the opposite and take all the defence coachs ( Muggleton and Co ) with you.

    Coach's Comment
    Sunshine Coast
    Date and time
    April 15, 2012, 8:59AM
    • Yes change the points system that devalues the kicking system. I wouldn't be referring to the NRL or AFL to that matter. they have been changing thier game for the better for a long time now. ARU/IRU have been stagnate in comparrison.

      Date and time
      April 15, 2012, 10:40AM
  • Good article. Sad to see that the game is still being played like this. Stopped watching this game along time ago because of it.

    Bring back some Ella/Campese flair, be harsh and sinbin all the deliberate breakdown fouls that are stopping good attacking raids. Watch the game flourish from there.
    Oh, develop the juniors properly. Not just some of them!

    Date and time
    April 15, 2012, 10:36AM
    • Maybe Rugby League got it right with 13 players. Watching Rugby it seems obvious that there's too many bodies in the same space & therefore opportunities to run it are fewer. Also worth remembering that players are bigger, stronger, fitter & faster and still using the same sized pitch as when we were amateur. The solution to create more space seems to be to either increase the size of the playing field or reduce the number of players. We could of course tinker with such things as Laws and shift more to reward attacking play but lack of space will continue to haunt Rugby.

      Blinky Bill
      Bellingen NSW Australia
      Date and time
      April 15, 2012, 11:12AM
      • Or reduce the size of the players; a Pygmy XV.

        The Couch
        Date and time
        April 15, 2012, 12:59PM
    • Good article and 100% agree.

      However I think the real main problem that needs to be addressed is this - we can all share such great ideas from people who care about the game BUT where will this article and our words really go. Rugby admin needs to change so that they listen to the people. Until that time these articles are just that - good talk that goes nowhere.

      Date and time
      April 15, 2012, 12:47PM
      • Sorry, I don't agree. There is another solution. Its proven at international level. Its called Ella-rugby. everything old is new again.

        1. Get your backs to stand closer.
        2. Get your fly half to take the ball to the line.
        3. Introduce cut outs, extra man plays etc. with the fullback, and blind side winger in the space just behind the defensive line so that the defensive does not have time to slide.
        4. Every backline player runs straight, committing defenders, and every player must then support the ball carrier and position themselves so that they distract the defence and/or can take a pass.
        5. Do not kick the ball.

        The result is that defenders will be isolated and face 50:50 decisions. Probability theory says that 50% of the time the attacker will break the line. 50% of the time, the defender will get the ball carrier.

        The best part is that it is lots of fun to play. Not much fun defending against it.

        Date and time
        April 15, 2012, 1:10PM
        • That works from 1st phase, but not when there are 10 guys in the defensive line

          Date and time
          April 16, 2012, 12:03AM
      • I disagree as to changing the rules with a view to chasing tv ratings.One of the most fascinating aspects of the game is how teams evolve to get the edge. 2010 & 2011 saw the Reds play a game that gave them a very slim advantage in most of their backline plays & they were rewarded with being top dogs last year. This year no team has standout inside backs so their has been a relative stalemate, so many games have been decided by penalties, usually conceded at the breakdown. But sooner or later a side'll work out how to crack the code. I agree with Left Arm Spinner about Ella Rugby. But you need a Mark Ella. Blokes like that are born, not made. He could be the bloke to teach the Tah backs to run onto a pass rather than receiving it standing still. He sure was the master at it.

        percy p
        Hong Kong
        Date and time
        April 15, 2012, 4:19PM
        • Good article Matt. The IRB needs to be aware their "new" games is not working. It is not about ratings, its about a game that the players enjoy playing and it follows that the game is then worth watching. The games are too influenced by the man with the whistle and the laws are selectively enforced eg the All Blacks are always ahead of last feet at the ruck and never penalised. When teams can win matches by scoring fewer triies than the loser, the fans will continue, like me, to drop away.Too many matches are dtermined by penalties - boring. Who wants a penalty shhot-out. I prefer to watch club rugby now as there appears to be more rugby - less whistle.

          The Magus
          Coffs Harbour
          Date and time
          April 15, 2012, 6:12PM

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