Friday, January 06, 2006
The importance of phase play
The Guru, the wisest coach in all the world, talks this week about phase play, unknown a few years ago but now an essential part of a coach's jargon.
By phase play, I mean deliberately working your team into positions or to a platform from where a certain type of attack will be much more effectively set up, because of its position on the field of play, than from where you start- and therefore have a very good chance of success. In order to do this, you will have to take the ball through several continuous phases of play.
Let me take, as an example, a line-out on the right hand side of the field. I have a flyhalf who is an excellent right-footed kicker of drops. There are only minutes to go in the game and my side is two points shy of my opponents’ score. We have found it extremely difficult to penetrate the shift-defence of our opponents. We now realise that the only thing that is likely to win us this game is the flyhalf’s drop from this line-out - but the line-out is on the wrong side for his boot. However, knowing his strength and our penetrative weaknesses, we have worked on a ploy in practice that should fit the bill.
We throw the ball in to 6 or 7 in the line-out, deep because we want to get as close to the middle of the field as we can. The ball is played off the top of the line-out (we want a quick ball off which to set up a drive with momentum and we do not wish to tie up the jumper’s two supporters to the extent where they cannot get out of the maul that would ensue were we to bring the ball down from the line-out). From this off-the-top ball we play down to the front of line-out “pod 1”, consisting of hooker, prop and lock, who take the ball up to the left and towards the posts. Their object is to go as far forward as possible, going at a slight angle in towards the posts. Were the angle to be too wide, they would be running sideways and thus fairly easy to take out. The first pod is now to play to the second pod, moving around it on the left, consisting of the other lock, prop and one loose forward, from the ruck that it has set up. It has formed it just before actually making contact with opponents but not before committing them, thus guaranteeing a quick, clean ball, which scrumhalf picks up to pass to the second pod, coming around and forward towards the posts (forgive the long sentences but this is a long, continuous bit of phase play- you must have patience). Pod 2 also goes early to ground but not before taking the ball up and “fixing”, or drawing, their opposites. Ball again comes back quickly, cleanly, and is fed to the flyhalf who is straight in front of the posts, now, behind pod 2 and his scrumhalf and far away enough from his opponents not to be bothered by them but close enough to the posts to put his drop over. We win the game. Phase play!
Like it or not, phase play is the type of game employed by almost every nation in the world that plays rugby at any high level. Every facet of the game is worked out. Where are we in the field? What sort of attack would be best from here or would it be better to move the ball to some other spot which would better suit? We want to penetrate through the centres, therefore it is important to take out as many defenders, especially backline defenders, as possible before releasing the ball to our fighter plane, the centre. Therefore we must take the ball through three or four phases, each time drawing opponents into contact and thus out of defence. As Ian McIntosh, past Springbok coach, used to call it, subtracting and adding, meaning taking out their players (subtracting) by pulling them into deliberate contact, and adding our players to the attack. Analysts have worked out how many tries are scored after numbers of consecutive plays or phases and it seems, the greater the number of consecutive phases, the greater the chances of scoring.
I have put this simply. Let me go on a bit. To play this sort of rugby, every player must know where to go after each phase either to help to set up the next phase or to become part of the attack or attack-support or a dummy-runner, and so on. It simplifies the game for the player (and perhaps the coach) and makes for a very effective unit. So, the game becomes a series of phased plays (rather like American football). Generally accepted is that play off first phase is unlikely to be immediately successful in scoring points, that “off the cuff” play can be immediately successful but is not sustainable because it cannot be anticipated and therefore is unlikely to build to second , third or fourth phases.
How does it come about that rugby with its infinite possibilities is now becoming rather predictable and somewhat boring to play and watch (and coach- all you need is a good text book)? The answer in my opinion is that the law changes that have almost guaranteed the side that goes into contact carrying the ball will win it have done that damage. Hence the set defences, set because you know you will not win the opponent’s ball- hence the many phases, because you know you are most likely to win the ball which you have taken in to contact; you know that you will win your scrum, line-out, kick-off etc. The variables are out of the game- there is no longer fifty-fifty ball, only ninety-nine–one ball. Sad!
There is a sportswriter in this part of the world who calls me the last of the romantic coaches- somehow, I don't feel insulted.
However, there is no point in bewailing what has occurred in our sport. Today’s solutions are tomorrow’s problems, as our law-makers keep making obvious to us.
I should like to bring to the attention of all coaches and players who study this game the excellent CD, ‘Grassroots Rugby’ brought out by Alan Hutchinson of Ireland. In it he gives the seven foundations of play which lead to successful rugby. His diagrams are very clear and good as are his comments, his drills and his coaching tips. Whoever you are, if you are involved in playing, coaching or even just watching rugby, you need this CD as it gives you a much better understanding of the modern game of rugby. I say this genuinely as neither I nor Rugby 365 has been cajoled into even mentioning this coaching aid. I do it because I think it good and I love my rugby. It has certainly made me re-think my game.
The Guru is an excellent coach
I have most of his tips off line and is in the process of studing it with other material
Somebody who was instinctively good with these Phase play was Stoney-yip theyare all stoney- Steenkamp who was the coach behind most of the Free State home grown greats of the past 25-30 years.
I hope Sors will do a doccie on Stoney soon as he is a passionate supporter.
I especially liked the Guru 's take on the today's solution is tommorrows problems- hence my continious harping on the next IRB rule changes as the current rules benefits England. Just puts the AB in proper perspective as well
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