Rugby Union

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Space, the final frontier in getting rugby up and running

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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.