Rugby Sevens the key to fix attacking woes

Matt Simpson Roar Pro

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    Wallabies' wing Digby Ioane celebrates with teammates flanker Michael Hooper and centre Ben Tapuai. AFP PHOTO / Juan Mabromata

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    Robbie Deans has yet again managed to grasp a win when the executioner was sharpening his axe. However, despite showing plenty of courage against the old foe, the men in gold also showed their ball handling skills are on par with six year olds playing tunnel ball.

    There are numerous targets who can be blamed for the Wallabies’ butterfingers – Robbie Deans, the Super Rugby coaches, fitness staff, coaching programs, national playing philosophies, Quade Cooper, the list is endless.

    There is not much we can do for the current generation except, as Spiro Zavos put it in his intriguing recent Roar article, get the coaches to “take their players out of the gym and put them on the training paddock more, honing up on their skills rather than becoming muscle-bound crocks”.

    This is obvious; however, the problem is that players should already have these basic skills when they enter the system.

    Staff at Super Rugby and international level should only need enough time in their training schedules to practice and maintain these most basic ball skills, not have to develop them.

    What about future generations of Wallabies? Will they still be “muscle bound crocks” with below par ball skills?

    It should pointed out that, when referring to ball skills, abilities such as peripheral vision, decision making, creativity, and judgment of ball movement should be included along with the literal catching and throwing of the ball as part of the skill.

    Australian rugby players are seriously lacking in this regard, especially compared to our close neighbours the All Blacks and Pacific Island teams.

    So what about the future generations? Well, we already have the answer – Rugby Sevens. However, not in the traditional sense of developing seven-a-side players and then picking the best fit for 15s, such as with Matt Giteau and Nick Phipps.

    Junior players should start playing Sevens (obviously on a field to scale) and then move to 10s and 15s as they get older. Perhaps Sevens until under 10s, then 10s until under 14s, for argument’s sake.

    The reason for this is that young, developing, impressionable players will be getting a lot more of the ball and space to use it. This is much better for development of players than being one of 15 players on a side, with the biggest players being the most important, using solely their size to crash through the middle while the outside backs stand on the sidelines doing nothing.

    Sure, bigger kids may still have an advantage, but the main thing is getting all players involved and comfortable with the ball, so that passing, catching, vision and movement become more natural.

    Eventually, big kids stop growing. The tragedy is that too often they are left with not much ability once the other kids catch up to them.

    Look at the flair and confidence of nations like New Zealand and Fiji. They are not worried so much about creating complicated attacking strategies, but basic strategies with skilled players.

    The players can react to situations. It is no coincidence that these nations also have the strongest Sevens traditions.

    Look toward the round ball game as well- it is no coincidence the top ranked football nations also are strong in futsal, the five-a-side equivalent of rugby Sevens.

    Critics will point out it may hinder development in the ‘dark arts’ of rugby – scrums, mauls, rucks and lineouts. However, this why players should move into 10s then 15s – the scrums get more complicated as they get older, but the players are not lost at an early age, and develop with the scrum.

    Look at Fiji’s win in the Gold Coast Sevens and the amount of ball turned over in rucks. Again, get the players involved.

    In my first post Sport needs a social conscience, I mentioned that I coach the St Patrick’s under 13 Rugby team here in Ballarat. In many of the games, we would have eight, 10, or 12 players, instead of 15.

    It was disappointing in the sense that boys who were part of the team where often absent, but I also believe the players who participated in those games where a lot better off with the increase in space and reduced team numbers.

    The most telling point may be the failure of the Robbie Deans’ strategy of ‘playing what’s in front of you’. It worked with Kiwi players, already possessing attacking skills, but not Australian players.

    Working Class Rugger got it spot on in his article Sevens Olympic Gold: Not that important. Let’s put some Olympic funding in junior and grassroots Sevens, develop basic skills for life, and reap the rewards later in both formats.

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    The Crowd Says (11)

    • November 20th 2012 @ 6:54am
      Shahsan said | November 20th 2012 @ 6:54am | ! Report

      Good point, Matt, and I’m sure someoen wil llist all the great Test players who have had a lot of 7s in their CV. But I wonder: does 7s make you a better 15s player, or are some players just suited for 7s, and you can be a great 15s player without 7s?
      That is, was Jonah Lomu a good player because he had a 7s background or was he one of those good 15s players who had the skills for 7s?
      After all, there are many good Test players who were appalling at 7s while some great 7s players never quite cracked teh 15s game to teh same level. For example, Sean Fitzpatrick, Ian Jones and Brian Moore were a few of the worst 7s players I’ve ever seen, while Eric Rush and Waisale Serevi were brilliant at 7s, and seemd to have all teh ingredients for 15s, but never quite became top rank in 15s.
      And size has nothing to do with it. South African Rudie Visage, a huge, lumbering lock forward of the 1980s Spirngboks, was very good at 7s even though he obviously lacked pace, as was Owen Finnegan.

      • Roar Pro

        November 20th 2012 @ 7:42am
        Matt Simpson said | November 20th 2012 @ 7:42am | ! Report

        Thanks for the comment Shahsan. I absolutely agree with you that some player are suited to one and some to the other. I am talking more about using 7s Rugby at Junior level as a means to increase motor skill development. I also agree that, especially at adult level, size means nothing, However at junior level, before tackling techniques are fully developed, big kids tend to be the easieast way forward. That is my point- it is a big kidwith everyone else following him. The problem is that the other team memebrs then miss out on valuable time on the ball, and the big kids get used to using their size rather then ball skills and proper technique, and it leads to underdeveloped players all round.

    • Roar Guru

      November 20th 2012 @ 10:23am
      Dogs Of War said | November 20th 2012 @ 10:23am | ! Report

      Maybe the answer to the dilemma of no real 3rd Tier, is to play a comp of 10’s after the Super Rugby season has finished (Probably best to start in Oct after both the NRL and AFL have finished), which will assist both 7’s and 15’s a side games. A quick 8-10 week tournament, with say some invited International teams to make up the numbers, and provide some more varied competition.

      It could end up a good money spinner for the ARU as well.

      • November 20th 2012 @ 10:48am
        CBDoggz4lyfe said | November 20th 2012 @ 10:48am | ! Report

        I like your thinking DOW, the lack of some type of competition outside of super rugby for Australia will always be the “sore toe” development wise. Its the little things skill wise (eg being able to win ball at the breakdown ala McCaw/Reid/anyone wearing a black jersey! against Pocock…and no one else…) and yes you can have the odd moral victory over the neighbours but I as a AB fan would be fearful if the ARU actually got it together and was able to have there own players playing in a competition regularly at a provincial level (similar to the ITM/Currie Cup) developing the “little things” once learnt you never lose.

        • Roar Guru

          November 20th 2012 @ 11:58am
          Dogs Of War said | November 20th 2012 @ 11:58am | ! Report

          I think it could be a fun event, allowing teams to try things, and with only soccer against it, could actually carve out it’s own little niche with a series of fun weekends around the country, with all states represented.

          Plus it gives an opportunity for say a TV broadcaster such as Channel 10 the ability to pay a little to subsides the event, and have it broadcast, providing the ARU with an attacking form of Rugby that would allow more interest in the sport, even if it was a highlights type show on the Sunday afternoon with the finals shown live.

          • Roar Pro

            November 21st 2012 @ 7:10am
            Matt Simpson said | November 21st 2012 @ 7:10am | ! Report

            Base it on the big bash, franchises perhaps, and few internationals to make it more exciting, and go town to town for a few weeks- DOW and CBD, you may be on to something!

    • November 20th 2012 @ 7:35pm
      onside said | November 20th 2012 @ 7:35pm | ! Report

      there are hundreds of rugby teams in Australia ranging in talent from semi professional A grade XV’s down .

      Plus rugby clubs feild reserves ,thirds,colts,under age teams ,schools, city and country, the whole shebang.

      Is the Wallabies lack of fundamental ball handling skills, that you and many others bemoan, endemic, evident
      right across the complete national rugby spectrum , or is this malaise just a Wallaby trait.

      • Roar Pro

        November 21st 2012 @ 7:08am
        Matt Simpson said | November 21st 2012 @ 7:08am | ! Report

        Interesting question onside, however, I believe the Wallabies are the summation as they are the best we have. Also, remember Im talking about sevens for juniors, not all the way through the system and age groups, in order to increase the base levels of basics skills that players have.

    • Roar Rookie

      November 20th 2012 @ 9:03pm
      Neuen said | November 20th 2012 @ 9:03pm | ! Report

      Anyone notice Australia got beaten twice by Kenya in the 7’s this year?

      • November 21st 2012 @ 12:35am
        Working Class Rugger said | November 21st 2012 @ 12:35am | ! Report


        And your point is? You are aware that for those guys in the Kenyan teams 7s is their full time job right? They’re not mugs by any means and would have been deserved of those wins.

    • November 26th 2012 @ 12:34pm
      Shades said | November 26th 2012 @ 12:34pm | ! Report

      About the ball handling skills that Australians lack…get your neighbourhood children to go outside and play touch rugby every single day instead of sitting behind a game control. Fijian children play touch every day and they do it with all the fun in the world. For development purposes joining a junior club is great but for simplicity and natural flair, play touch….and have FUN FUN FUN. Why do you think NZ and Fijians especially are incredibly talented at the shorter version?
      Don’t believe me? Take a plane trip down to our shores for your next holiday and witness it for yourselves

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