Back rows and full backs will win you the Rugby World Cup in 2023. However, refereeing interpretations and emphasis may make it difficult.
In a recent Chiefs v Reds game, the referee Paul Williams coached both teams’ defences at the breakdown and at kick chase situations. If a player infringed, he told them to stop at kick chase, and get back if they were offside at the ruck. This was repeated throughout the game.
If your team is losing by 2 points with a minute to go and a defender is offside at the ruck in front of the posts and the referee only tells him to get back, you may lose the game!
In theory, referees are there to implement the law. But as we saw in the final of the Heineken Cup this may not be the case. Players didn’t stay on their feet at the breakdown and a new “coached” technique was introduced, “belly flopping” on top of an opponent who is trying to retain or jackal the ball.
Who will referee the quarter finals will be a huge issue. Let’s hope that refereeing consistency prevails.
To win the World Cup ball retention and successful jackaling techniques will be necessary qualities. Courageous full-back play will also improve a team’s chances.
The tackle contest/breakdown/ruck is not just about retaining or winning possession. It is also about seeing opportunities for keeping the ball going forward and putting/keeping your team on the front foot.
This level of decision making is for the very few.
The best exponent of this is Ardie Savea, the Hurricanes and All-Black No 8. He has an awareness both prior, during and after contact. For him it is not just a case of picking and going. He is not just gaining meters. He is saying, if I’m on the ball come with me. The New Zealand Super Rugby teams in 2023 have been supporting the pick and go player, down narrow channels and it has been hugely successful.
Firstly, it puts the defence on the back foot and secondly concertinas in the defensive back line. The attacking back line is now on the front foot, attacking against a retreating defence. This creates an attacking shape that makes for exciting play.
Always support the ball carrier, either side and from depth. Want and expect a pass. Accelerate onto the ball. Communicate don’t shout.
France is heading in this direction, prompted by Dupont and Alldritt, supported by some very heavy artillery. Continuity doesn’t always have to be at 100 miles an hour. Correct timing and weight of pass critical. Executing quality technique under extreme pressure can be learned at training sessions, usually down a 5-meter channel with a mixture of shield and non-shield holders.
Two or more channels can be operating at the same time. (Groups of 5). Use your assistant coaches. Mix up the groups, backs, and forwards. 15-20 meters of intensity using quality technique. Play off the last piece of contact (move it away by adding trailing support players.)
Power running in midfield, in straight lines, (parallel to the touch line) creates space out wide and is a must do!
Periods of kick tennis are becoming less and less exciting and generally unproductive. A 10–20-meter gain followed by a line-out to the opposition is hardly a gain.
Ramos, Keenan, and Will Jordan will set the World cup alight. All 3 are confident and instinctive players. They will not be put off by failure! They will keep running and counter attacking.
Courageous full backs can see and attack openings in the defensive lines and when they do anything is possible.
Their relationship with both wingers will at times be both practised and freelance. This will challenge opposition defensive systems as well as an individual defender’s ability to plug a hole. A Teams mobility and fitness will also be threatened.
I expect the player of the tournament to be a full back.
Much is yet to happen and warm up games will provide some answers as well as some injuries. Squad depth will be tested, and some teams will be glad they are in the weaker side of the World cup draw.
Exciting times ahead.
Coaching thought: “In support, when wrapping round the ball carrier, get as close as you can to his outside shoulder, straighten, receive the pass, and accelerate away.