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A Winning Attitude - Part Two: See The Light Posted about 1 year ago

Dave Rennie and I were conducting a coaching course recently overseas and it was an eye opening business. Faith is a curious thing. If you absolutely believe in one thing, it is very difficult to see the light, even when it’s shining in your face.

We showed a clip of a team in their defensive 22. The opposition open side winger was a mile back and the opposition full back was on the other side of the pitch. Everything pointed to space in the wide channels.

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We asked the 120 coaches in the room who would kick it from this position on the field. 120 hands went up.

“But look where the winger is, look where the full back is. Are you sure you want to kick it,” Dave asked.

“Yes,” said 120 hands, maintaining their adopted faith.

We then ran the clip forward. The team attacked the space that the wing had left and scored a try under the posts.

“Who would kick it now?” we asked.

120 hands went up into the air.

That episode was proof of how entrenched coaching positions have become. If you watched the last 100 games of top flight rugby around the world and broke down how many passes and how many rucks were needed before teams scored, you would soon find out that endless phase play does not equate to try scoring.

It sounds obvious, but the best way to score a try is to recognise the space in the opposition defence and attack it. Will Greenwood was the best of the lot at that. He knew what to look for and had the clarity and the skill to exploit it. I would have loved to have coached him.

And I suspect that Greenwood would love to have played at the Quins of today, because they are breaking the mould in Europe. They would not be out of place in Super 15 rugby. Scott Johnson and Michael Bradley and Gregor Townsend are bringing some of that attitude to Scotland.

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I would much rather my defence were confronted by big earth shifters who run straight, because then it’s just a matter of courage. The world is full of big, hard runners, but there was only one Jonah Lomu, even though we seem to have spent the past 20 years looking for the second coming.

The guys who are nightmares to defend against are the likes of Aaron Cruden, Quade Cooper, Matt Giteau, Will Genia, Kurtley Beale and Tim Nanai-Williams. They are unpredictible, creative and they don’t give their cues away. They will run a couple of plays to push the defence towards a pattern and then they will pick off the hole in the pattern.

Most southern hemisphere sides play with a mood of optimism. Too many northern hemisphere sides are set up to minimise mistakes.

There are opportunities all over a rugby pitch and often the wide players are best placed to see them. They then have to let the men inside know that there is a whole new opportunity out there. Then it is all a question of trust.

And faith.

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@Mike and John You were saying? Or did you miss the game vs Brumbies and Chiefs? Last year the Stormers did not score many but have you seen the ones they scored? Most of theme awesome starting back in their own half.

SA derby vs the Sharks were killed by Kaplan. In fact most of them are killed by a referee.

Rugby presents a unique challenge in that the referee is required to make a specific decision about a contested tackle almost 200 times a match (once every 30 seconds), and this decision is multi-dimensional, instantaneous and open to interpretation.

This situation exists because so much of the contest in rugby revolves around competing for the ball after a tackle, in the breakdown contest. The attacking team needs to recycle possession quickly, whereas the defending team are at worst trying to slow it down to re-organize in defence, at best trying to win the ball on the ground. The result is a huge contest, the outcome of which goes a considerable distance towards determining the match result, but which is itself determined by how the referee interprets how both sets of players test the boundaries of the law.

I cannot think of another sport where the interpretation of the rule by an official so clearly influences the way that teams play the match. In football (soccer), the most contentious decisions are those when a penalty appeal is made, offsides is ruled, or when foul-play is adjudged. They are fairly clear-cut, and far less frequent than in rugby. And certainly, they can influence matches in a big way.the referee will appear to punish legitimate contesting for the ball, and will reward penalties frequently, forcing players to back right off, killing the contest for the ball. This favors the team in possession. Alternatively, the referee can under-police the breakdowns and allow much more to go unpenalized.

Importantly, when this happens, the result is that the defending team will usually be favoured, because the referee will fail to prevent them from slowing the ball down, and slowing it down creates a disproportionate advantage.

I would love for Wayne to share some tips on how to fall “accidental” on the wrong side and other “accidental” methods because they have been using it and perfected it after the 2011 World Cup. When they were pinned for it they draw and lost a game scoring 3 tries in total same as the opposition.

Its easy to make space disappear if you slow the ball up and that second of falling wrong and rolling away already let you close 10 yards of space. This is what rugby have become. You are at the mercy of the guy with the whistle and cleverly thought out tactics and skulduggery will let you win the match. After all no more rucking and ruck cleaners are marked men by referees and match officials. So the risk of trying everything possible to slow up ball is gone. Its like poachers of rhino’s. The value is greater than the risk.

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South Africa about 1 year ago

Cheers, Tony. Totally with you, as I focus on exploiting opportunities, creating space based on what’s in front and only when the defence is well organised do we fall back on a simple pattern to re-establish the previous two scenarios. I’ve got plenty of resources, but it’d be good to see these freely distributed via coach education programs. I’m in Ontario, which is probably better off than most, but makes me wonder how less-rich provinces get on.

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Canada about 1 year ago

Rob, rest assured that you are not alone. Where are you coaching? I agree with all of your points, especially pertaining to coaching development. My personal opinion is that North Americans believe that rugby is a very close cousin to football and as such based around contact points. I believe that it is a game of spatial recognition, spatial creation and ultimately exploitation of the space either created or existing. I could go on at ad nauseum. I have many resources that are based upon this style of game and would gladly share if there is a way to connect.

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Canada about 1 year ago

The thing is, though, that it starts at junior levels. Maybe it’s just my country, where coach education is sorely lacking, but you regularly see secondary school teams (with far less structured defences and skill sets, mind) attempting things that Super / National teams do to ‘minimise mistakes’ and ‘play for territory’ and yet the holes, mismatches, poor alignment in defence is always there. Much of what I do is about training basic skills under pressure and teaching everyone to spot and exploit those opportunities. What I see elsewhere are low-pressure drills and a lot of set-piece and pattern play practice that doesn’t train true decision making. I suspect that this is common throughout the Northern Hemisphere given a lot of the boring, predictable play one sees even in the U20 comps, let alone the pro leagues and national sides. It has to start somewhere, and trying to ‘uncoach’ bad habits from adults is much more difficult than teaching kids.

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Canada about 1 year ago

Naughty Wayne! You didn’t ask that on our coaching course!

Me, and at least two other coaches would not choose to kick. Maybe because we coach kids … and maybe because we were just speaking about Saracens-Wasps game, with the sarries always kicking to the back three (or two) … Varnell, Southwall, Wade, with Daly in support … not a good strategy for us. The Wasps became near to win in the last play exactly because of that – they didn’t kick back, Wasps counter-attack but this time Wade decision wasn’t the best, unfortunately (All Waspies in that group).

Some “my” rules about this subject: Scan, if there’s space attack it, play to score a try! If we kick, we give the ball to the other team – think twice before kicking! Keep the “baby” until we score!

I hope you agree with them!

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Portugal about 1 year ago

In fact, maybe Stormer Fans can club together and offer Mr Smith a coaching holiday in Cape Town. Bet most of the Stormers players would love to get some attack-minded coaching instead of the boring grinding defensive ‘systems’ that are drilled into them week in and week out

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South Africa about 1 year ago

Wayne won’t you give The Stormers coach Alister Coetzee a call..

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South Africa about 1 year ago

_Graham Henry on Wayne Smith:_ "Wayne is the best coach I have ever coached with. He has a huge work ethic, does lots of research and has a great feel for the game. At the moment he is the defence coach and is also involved with our counter attacking strategy. He is a very thoughtful man and takes a major interest in how we use turnover ball. He has been going around with a little camera which he uses to track individual players for a whole game. It has proved quite embarrassing for some. There is nowhere to hide and the players soon learn where they have to step up. Top bloke."

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