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Opinion

Super Rugby teams need better kick-off strategies

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Roar Rookie
15th May, 2022
13

Legend has it that the expression ‘to mind one’s p’s and q’s’ possibly dates back to a time when local taverns served their drinks by the quart and by the pint.

According to the folk explanation, bartenders had to keep an eye on the customers and keep the drinks coming, paying special attention to who was drinking pints and who was drinking quarts – Ps and Qs.

The expression highlights the importance of detail. It’s pretty clear from the Super Rugby competition so far the New Zealand teams have a greater pool of talent to pick from. If the Australian teams are any chance, they must get their details right. They must control the controllables well.

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An area of detail that is often overlooked is the kick-off.

It seems strange to me that the kick-off strategy is so varied among teams. It’s such a fundamental part of the game. It determines possession and territory. Given the degree of statistical analysis that shapes modern-day strategy, surely a team’s approach to this key aspect would be homogenised.

I reviewed the kick-off strategy in the Brumbies-Crusaders match on the weekend. My key markers were where the kick-off landed and where possession was reclaimed by the kick-off team. This resulted in a net gain-loss relative to where the team kicked off.

Crusaders strategy

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The Crusaders didn’t seem to have a kick-off plan. I’ve mapped their kick-offs on the graphic below. The base of the arrow is where the kick-off was received by the Brumbies and the tip is where the Crusaders received the ball back.

The Crusaders kicked down the middle of the field. It was uncontested around the opposition 22, often with inconsistent pressure on the receiver. They weren’t targeting a player or attempting to execute a clear strategy.

It didn’t seem to cost them much though. They still usually regained possession within their attacking half. However, kicking down the middle of the field seems unwise. It opens up the entire field for all three return options – kick, pass and run. It creates a favourable kicking angle for the receiving team. It’s just that the Brumbies weren’t good enough to punish them.

If they had a bigger kicker – for example, Reece Hodge – they could have given a return kick deeper in the Crusaders half.

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Brumbies strategy

The Brumbies always went deep and to their attacking right. They were targeting George Bridge’s side of the field. It usually worked well for them, claiming possession back inside their attacking half and usually resulting in a net gain.

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Both teams’ kick-offs were uncontested, as the receiving catcher is lifted, making it very difficult to win the ball in the air by the attacking individual chaser. However, the Brumbies landed their kick-off just in time for the chaser to put pressure on the receiver, hoping to induce an error. They were able to achieve this on Friday night.

Both teams got punished when their deep clearing kick failed to find touch. We know the NZ teams are lethal in unstructured kick return play. The Brumbies kick-offs were high enough to enable time for the chasers to arrive, and always near touch.

This meant that the Crusaders had to take the tackle and attempt a clear on the next phase. They would try to move the ball more infield, opening up the angle to find touch and gain territory. Here they would either box kick or pass back to a kicker, which would concede more ground.

My opinion is that it doesn’t really matter whether you land it inside or outside the 22. The only significance is the receiving team can’t kick it out on the full. If they can, it will create a contested possession lineout; if they can’t, it will often create a contested possession with a box kick for the fullback.

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On each occasion on Friday night the team kicking off won this contest for possession. Hence you may as well kick it deep with enough time for your chasers to arrive and ideally close to the sideline.

The outstanding worst option was to kick-off deep without enough height for your chasers to arrive. This provides the receiving team plenty of time to open up the angle and kick it back without any pressure.

Take-home messages

First, kick it close to touch so the receiving team has no angle to work with.

Second, if you have a powerful and accurate kicker, the ideal would be to aim for the corner, high enough for your chase to create pressure and prevent an immediate clearing kick.

Third, you can land it just outside the 22, but you must create pressure so the team cannot clear until the next phase.

Finally, kicking long down the middle of the field gives the receiving team too many options and favourable kicking angles.

If the Australian teams are to win, they will need to start with minding those p’s and q’s and paying attention to detail at the kick-off.

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