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Fed up with All the Spin Posted about 3 years ago

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England coach Stuart Lancaster has been in Australia recently surveying the techniques of other codes. The All Blacks have learned a great deal, for example, about catching the high kick from Aussie Rules. Lancaster’s England, indeed the whole of the Premiership, the rest of Britain and France, could learn much from league about passing.

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Watching the Grand Final between the Roosters and the Sea Eagles was a joyful revelation that most league players still know how to pass. This may seem a crass statement of the painfully obvious, but many union players no longer understand how to pass. They have become so obsessed with the spin pass over the years that they rarely do anything else.

Now the spin pass is a very valuable part of the passer’s art, but it is just that, a part. In the Grand Final the Roosters’ fullback Anthony Minichello threw a long, floated spin pass off his left hand that was perfect for the occasion. The supporting wing just had to catch the ball to run in the score, so the object was to give him the best chance of catching it. The high floated pass gave the receiver the option of just where and when in his stride he chose to catch the ball.

On other occasions, when speed is of the essence in taking out interim defenders or giving your 10 as much time as possible, then the flatter, faster spin pass comes into its own. Aaron Smith, Will Genia and Quade Cooper are particularly good at this pass.

But when the spin pass becomes a positive menace, and many international union players still do not seem to understand this, is when you are looking for a quick, short, sympathetic transfer. Look at the top league players. They never use a spin pass in these situations. A quick wrist pass is one option. Or sometimes the old, fall away pass off the hips also opens up the option of the dummy and inside break. Look also at the height that they carry the ball in different situations.

I would recommend that any union coach gets a tape of the top league sides, and with Australia and the Kiwis about to come to Britain for the World Cup there should be plenty of footage available. They are an invaluable coaching tool for getting rid of the scourge of the spin pass that has plagued the union game for far too long.

It is abused and overused by players who put style ahead of choosing the right method. The spin pass can often take a good deal more catching than more conventional and simpler passes, and so it often takes the receiver more time to adjust his ball position after he has made the catch. It is certainly not the best pass for tight spaces.

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The other issue I would just like to have a froth about is the penalty try. Rugby seems to have a fundamental misunderstanding of this law. The other week Wayne Barnes said he could not award a try because he could not be certain that one would have been scored. The certainty principle was again applied in league’s Grand Final by an experienced former player who said a penalty try should not have been given because he was only 99% sure one would have been scored.

Certainty is not an issue. The penalty try is an extreme sanction in rugby, just as the red card is for the last defender in soccer. It is to penalise cheats who are playing the odds. That is why league says a ref may award a try if “in his opinion a try would have been scored but for the unfair play of the defending team.” Union’s law states “if the offence prevents a try that would probably otherwise have been scored.”

League basically asks the ref if he thinks a try would have been scored, not if he knows a try would have been scored. We are in the land of the subjunctive. It is opinion based on likelihood. Union goes further still and specifically uses the word probably.

So to all refs, commentators, players and coaches who still struggle with this immense law, one of the finest in all of sport. The penalty try deals in likely outcomes not certain outcomes and therein lies its genius.

Are players / coaches obsessed with the spin pass? How do you coach pass selection based on game need?

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Mark Reason has been a sports journalist for over 25 years. He currently works for Fairfax Media and will also be part of the Telegraph's World Cup team and a regular panellist on Radio New Zealand during the World Cup. He has covered every Rugby World Cup since 1991, the 2000 and 2008 Olympics, over 40 golf major championships, the FA Cup final, the Epsom Derby and a lot of other stuff he can't remember. Mark emigrated to New Zealand in 2010 having spent over 20 years covering sport for the Telegraph and Sunday Times in Britain.

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