Skills and drills in rugby? It’s simple: Rinse and repeat

gatesy Roar Guru

By gatesy, gatesy is a Roar Guru

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    The poor crowd last week at Bruce Stadium was not down to the weather. They didn’t all go skiing. They just stayed away.

    The Brumbies faithful are not afraid of the cold weather, or the traffic. We’ve put up with all of that since day one.

    It’s down to more sinister circumstances.

    Hark back to the days of the George Gregan death stare and his management of referees. No doubt who was driving the bus in those days.

    Currently there is aimless leadership – although Tom Cusack would make a great captain. He showed us last week that he is getting more and more comfortable in his role and all of a sudden acted as a great link man, so it’s no surprise he scored a try and set up another. Hopefully, he and Joe Powell can form that same sort of combo that Gregan had with Owen Finegan, back in the day.

    Under Rod Macqueen, sublime handling skills and running lines had the team playing like a well-rehearsed orchestra. But then, back then, most coaches were still coaching to the ARU playbook. Along comes the internet and suddenly there is a plethora of coaching resources online, gurus everywhere and each with his own theory, like Eddie Jones wanting it to look more like rugby league.

    I always think about one of the lunar landings when, after a flawless touchdown, the astronaut was heard to say “just like the drills”.

    How many times had they practiced that routine? Who knows, but I would guess it was until they could probably do it blindfolded.

    How many times should you do a drill? As many as necessary to make the skill second nature.

    The old coaching books had a drill called ‘no mistakes’, which players hated because it was boring and slow and repetitive. But when you coach at a club that has blokes playing from different backgrounds, schools and standards, you have to find a common denominator and if that common denominator is a low one, you have to lift the bar – and that only comes from drills. A rising tide lifts all boats!

    You don’t earn the right to play the instinctive game until your instincts are properly honed, and that only comes from growing muscle memory through boring, repetitive drilling. Robbie Deans did Aussie rugby a slight disservice by talking about playing what’s in front of you, because it led to players going out there and chucking it around.

    People like the Ella brothers or Quade Cooper could chuck it around with gay abandon, but they had massive natural talents – most of us mere mortals get whatever talent we have from working at it.

    Deans’ ethos was founded on the fact the people he was used to coaching had all the skills because they had done the drills. After all, what is so different between the psyches of Aussies and Kiwis that the latter can change gears and put their foot on the gas at around minute 60? Why is there such a different mindset among all the Aussie franchises?

    As for the Brumbies, I’m pretty sure that Laurie Fisher and Peter Ryan are pretty hard taskmasters, so who is the culprit in the backline?

    We have to get better and the backs need to do a lot of running-straight and catch-pass drills. Most of all, everyone needs to be more effective at protecting the ball going into contact, and learning to be more patient and play the phases. We seem to run out of patience for grinding it out and putting together more than about five phases. That is where you win – by grinding the opposition down.

    The frustration that can slowly build at not being able to force a turnover saps energy, and creates a certain mindset. It can force an otherwise good team to start taking chances and making mistakes.

    On the flipside, if you are playing against a mistake-prone team, you know that all you have to do is wait patiently for a few phases. It’s a whole different attitude and the one the Kiwis seem to adopt more often than not.

    Kicking to exit your rear lines is all very well, but you have to have a plan for it and be able to execute. Even if a kicking duel ensues, the endgame should be that you achieve a net gain when the ball finally goes into touch, or you bend the defensive line and find holes.

    Good teams learn how to grind it up the middle until they have earned the right to go wide and use the edges. The team making the most mistakes is also likely to be the team that the referee focusses on, possibly unfairly – it’s just human nature and, believe it or not, refs are humans too!

    So c’mon Aussie, lift your game – drill, drill, drill and then drill some more. But more importantly, get into the mindset of thinking your way through a game. A gameplan or structure should just be the framework that the team needs to adapt or improvise a little – that’s where the championship moments come from.

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    The Crowd Says (41)

    • May 17th 2018 @ 3:15am
      Ken Catchpole’s Other Leg said | May 17th 2018 @ 3:15am | ! Report

      Mills of drills
      Means skills
      Then thrills

    • May 17th 2018 @ 4:46am
      Geoff said | May 17th 2018 @ 4:46am | ! Report

      There’s a lot more to it these days. The good old days didn’t really exist, skills of even the most average super player in Australia are higher than yesteryear.

      It’s a bit more complicated than just hours of simple drills to reach the heights of all black rugby for instance.

      • May 17th 2018 @ 9:23am
        Fionn said | May 17th 2018 @ 9:23am | ! Report

        I don’t think so. Passes these days are often behind the man and kicking skills are dire.

        Players are bigger and stronger than in the past, but I don’t think they’re all more skilful than the early 2000s.

        • May 17th 2018 @ 12:38pm
          RTT said | May 17th 2018 @ 12:38pm | ! Report

          The difference is the pressure on attack from rush defence in the modern game.

          Even the crusaders when under pressure last week looked like they couldn’t pass and catch

          The early days of professionalism and the amateur there wasn’t the organisation in defence and so players attacking appeared more skillful.

          In saying that there were many people in he early days of the pro era saying the exact same things about the lack of skill and I’m sure every generation has claimed to have been the more skillful.

          The fact is the ballnisnin play more, there are more completed passes and less knock ons in the modern game. That’s a statistical fact.

          • May 17th 2018 @ 12:44pm
            Fionn said | May 17th 2018 @ 12:44pm | ! Report

            Doesn’t change the fact that while the Kiwis pass in front of the man and at chest height almost all of the time the Australians’ passes are often behind or to the man, not in front, and are often head height.

            A halfback with an inaccurate pass has been in the Wallabies’ 23 for a lot of the past 5 years, we have a fullback with a slow and inaccurate kicking game (and no vision for kicking), before him we had a fullback that was suspect under the high ball. Our incumbent flyhalf of about 5 years struggles to pass long, and often passes forward as a result.

            The lack of skill in the play in which Folau threw an abysmal non spin pass into the ground to Foley, who threw an equally abysmal non spin pass into the ground to Beale was pathetic for supposedly three of the most talented players in Australia.

            10 years ago Latham would have picked it up and booted it 50m. If he had passed it to Larkham it would have been straight to him and Larkham’s pass to Giteau would have been straight to him.

            • Roar Guru

              May 17th 2018 @ 12:55pm
              PeterK said | May 17th 2018 @ 12:55pm | ! Report

              Latham would not have booted the ball at all, there were 3 players close to tackling Folau, it would have been charged down.

              IMO Latham would have tried to run it and stay on his feet waiting for support to get there.

              On handling it is better now than ever before. There are less scrums and the ball is in play more than ever before.

              I looked at old games and the play is at slower speed and the ball was still being passed to the man and not in front.

              Also I have noticed the wallaby players are passing in front more over the last 2 years but yes from a low base.

              • May 17th 2018 @ 1:02pm
                Fionn said | May 17th 2018 @ 1:02pm | ! Report

                Folau jogged after the ball thinking it would go out. I don’t think Latham would have made that mistake. But yeah, if he had then he would either have passed or tried to run it.

                I think the referees are also playing longer advantages, and the ball would be in play more as it is easier to retain possession again and again.

                Watching some games from the early 2000s the passes are definitely out in front. I mean, it’s easier when you have Gregan, Larkham, Horan (Even Gits and Flatley) as the main distributors.

                Go and watch some of the matches of the 2010 tour to South Africa. There you’ll see some brilliant passing to the front of the man.

                Forward ball skills have definitely improved though.

              • Roar Guru

                May 17th 2018 @ 1:13pm
                PeterK said | May 17th 2018 @ 1:13pm | ! Report

                Larkham and Gregan did pass in front agree, a lot better than Foley or Genia / Phipps but no better than QC.

                Horan didn’t , nor did Herbert , or Morltock.

                Forwards now pass more than they did then especially tight 5 forwards.

              • May 17th 2018 @ 1:18pm
                Fionn said | May 17th 2018 @ 1:18pm | ! Report

                No way would Latham or Horan (or even Mortlock) have thrown passes of the quality that Folau and then Foley threw.

                We haven’t had many outside centres with fantastic passing games. Horan’s passing game was good though.

      • Roar Guru

        May 17th 2018 @ 9:41am
        gatesy said | May 17th 2018 @ 9:41am | ! Report

        Not a bad starting point, though, Geoff

      • May 17th 2018 @ 11:02am
        jameswm said | May 17th 2018 @ 11:02am | ! Report

        Geoff why do you think the ABs are the best? It’s because their basics are the best – which they get by doing drills over and over.

        Why are they the team that with an overlap, never throws a cutout but runs straight, draws and passes? At all levels? It’s no coincidence.

        Our players get to a certain level and think they don’t need to drills any more. Watch the Abs train though.

    • May 17th 2018 @ 5:55am
      Val said | May 17th 2018 @ 5:55am | ! Report

      Let’s be honest about this the standard of coaching in Australia is poor.

      One example – Polota Nau was always recognised as a strong scrummager, good around the field but weak with his lineout throwing. A weakness that he had for all his time in Australian rugby – how many coaches had the opportunity to fix this problem.

      He goes to Leicester – they spot the weakness, spot the problem and slightly change his stance and bingo problem solved (most of the time).

      It highlights the problem for Australian rugby!

      • May 17th 2018 @ 6:29am
        Ex force fan said | May 17th 2018 @ 6:29am | ! Report

        Spot-on. The theory that there is not enough competition for places in Aussie superugby teams as we had to many teams has been proven wrong this year as the four top Australian franchises are just as competitive as they were last year. Australian coaches are also not at the standard that Cheika and McKenzie were especially re experience as coach to win the competition. Alan Jones is correct that even the coach of the coaches, Kafer, lacks experience t and has no success to show as a coach. He has not won anything yet. Good coaches build strong teams, but it takes years to do so…. unless you use an experienced coach like Jake White, Cheika or McKenzie in. The problem is at Rugby Australia that is making the dumb decisions such as axing teams, picking inexperience coaches to learn how to coach in Superugby and that is not putting the support systems with the right experience and skills in place.

      • May 17th 2018 @ 9:21am
        Fionn said | May 17th 2018 @ 9:21am | ! Report

        Polota-Nau’s line out throwing had been of a high standard for the last few years he played in Australia.

        • May 17th 2018 @ 11:03am
          jameswm said | May 17th 2018 @ 11:03am | ! Report

          Well – reasonable standard. Still sufficiently good when you look at the rest of his game, and close to Moore’s.

          I didn’t know that about changing his stance Val. Where did you hear that from?

          • Roar Guru

            May 17th 2018 @ 12:27pm
            PeterK said | May 17th 2018 @ 12:27pm | ! Report


            I do agree he really improved his lineout throwing last 3 years or so until he got tired but people don’t move on with their evaluation , but it has gone the next step o/s, now even when tired he is accurate.

            Polota-Nau has benefited hugely from the tutelage of Simon Hardy, a specialist lineout coach who he says has transformed his throwing action.

            “I have changed from a split stance to a normal stance and a few other technical areas where I am confident in my throwing that I could hit any mark,” Polota-Nau said. “I just wish I had that earlier because I wasn’t an ideal thrower back in the day.”

            • Roar Guru

              May 17th 2018 @ 12:42pm
              Ralph said | May 17th 2018 @ 12:42pm | ! Report

              Right from the horse’s mouth.

              • Roar Guru

                May 17th 2018 @ 12:50pm
                PeterK said | May 17th 2018 @ 12:50pm | ! Report

                just reinforces how poor the skills and technical coaching across all levels in australia is.

              • Roar Guru

                May 18th 2018 @ 1:06pm
                Hoy said | May 18th 2018 @ 1:06pm | ! Report

                I want to know if we see it and don’t care, or can’t fix itdffH

    • May 17th 2018 @ 8:07am
      StuM said | May 17th 2018 @ 8:07am | ! Report

      Aus society is very privileged now compared to years earlier tho. Kids don’t bust their balls as much anymore like they used to.. Instant gratification from too many Apple screens.. When I was a kid, everyone I knew was busting their arse to be good at something, cos we were all pretty poor.. I don’t know any kids doing that today. Prosperity for all and smashed avo for breakfast. If fame doesn’t come in 15 minutes of gimmicks, back to the iPhone! I don’t see Australia as a toiling society anymore. Perhaps kids do still toil (swimmers etc.), and have just moved away from Rugby particularly?

      • May 18th 2018 @ 7:18am
        Angus Kennedy said | May 18th 2018 @ 7:18am | ! Report

        I read (in newspaper letters) and heard exactly the same comments in the 70’s and 80’s when very young. We were told that we were not as dedicated or as hungry as the previous generation. Older peoplr always told us we were good for nothing compared to them. There is a Monty Python sketch that covers this. The World is always changing and we always look at the past through rose tinted glasses. If anything, today’s players are able to focus more completely on rugby and their performance levels reflect this. I think the 2018 Wallabies would easily defeat the great teams from the pre-professional era. It has nothing to do with character or hunger.

    • May 17th 2018 @ 8:48am
      rugger said | May 17th 2018 @ 8:48am | ! Report

      Tom Cusack will not make any Kiwi Super Rugby squad period.

      And for some to suggest captain – therein lies the problem for our rugby.

      No – Naisarani
      No.7 Pockock
      No.6 – Valetini.

      No place for journeymen.

      • May 17th 2018 @ 9:22am
        Fionn said | May 17th 2018 @ 9:22am | ! Report

        He would make the squads of at least some of the teams.

        Whether he would make the 15 or 23 is a different question.

        He also isn’t a journeyman.

        • May 17th 2018 @ 1:04pm
          rugger said | May 17th 2018 @ 1:04pm | ! Report

          He would make the squads of at least some of the teams.

          Whether he would make the 15 or 23 is a different question.

          Says its all….not even guaranteed spot on the bench and talked of as captain.

          Grit is not per-requisite for being captain – smarts, calmness and athleticism and for mine lacks later in spades similar to Tahs No.8.

          Jed Hollway is what you need as No.6 or 8

          • May 17th 2018 @ 1:08pm
            Fionn said | May 17th 2018 @ 1:08pm | ! Report

            So you need a bloke who is good in a highlights reel but who does very little clearing out and has a very low work-rate?


    • May 17th 2018 @ 9:19am
      Ray said | May 17th 2018 @ 9:19am | ! Report

      The Brumbies strength has been based on the forwards for many years and they still potentially have a great platform for that if they could get their best team on the park. For the past few years their set pice has been very good even with the bench on the field. Just look at the influence of the Smith brothers when they come on for the Reds. The Brumbies let Fady and the Smiths go, and their bench is no longer what it was, but still the forwards is where the team strength remains.

      What doesn’t make sence to me is the new coach suddendly decides, despite his existing team strength, to play a running game, especially with an inexperienced half, the 5/8 underpressure, Christian not where he was at, and the fullback still finding his way up from NRC.
      I don’t want to see every play a maul, but the coach hasn’t adapted the tactics to what he has in his team.

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