Rugby coaching the bouncing ball attack

Alan Reid, an experienced Surrey County coach in England, reflects on the potency of the ball that is passed, hits the floor and bounces up into the path of an attacking player. "With the trend for teams to fire out huge miss passes, there is greater scope to make this an expected form of attack, rather than a lucky break when it does work."

Bouncing pass: advantages

  • It stops defenders who are expecting runners and changes their focus momentarily.
  • It makes defenders look down and not focus on the attackers in front of them. They could then drift out of alignment. 

What happens and what happens next?

The long spin pass, without delving too deeply into the physics of it, does tend to sit up when it hits the floor. This is more likely when it is passed by a player who is moving forward and passing from the hip (as opposed to from the floor, as with a typical scrum half (9) pass.

The on-coming player needs to be patient to wait for the ball to pop up. He must not dip too low, however, just in case the ball takes a different action, requiring the player to kick or fall on it.

Tips for all eventualities

In reality a bouncing ball is not ideal, so cannot be pre-planned as part of a set move, but it can be planned for as a possible occurrence. Any move that is likely to have a long miss pass involved, or any "phase ball" (a ball which has gone through more than one phase after the set piece) that can be spread wide should carry the following criteria:

  • Only try to catch a long pass if you are certain you can make the catch, otherwise leave it to bounce.
  • Supporting players close to the original intended receiver should lie deeper, just in case they will need to pick up the loose ball.
  • If they do receive the bouncing ball, then they should make straight for the gain line, taking advantage of the momentary lapse of concentration that might occur in the defence.

Bouncing ball drills

Don't keep bouncing ball practices to the drill box, but encourage players to play on in drill run outs. This makes players think about covering the ground in the right areas. If a blindside wing is not involved in the move, then they should be working to cover for the possibility of the bouncing ball.

Spin with confidence

With the bouncing ball now being covered, a player who is passing the ball can afford to pass with more confidence, trying to get greater width on their pass to stretch the defence. Even if the ball hits the deck, the defence is spread wider trying to mark the players. Gaps should appear and, if the ball bounces, then bigger gaps might just open up.

Only for professionals?

The answer is a definite "no". Even Dan Carter can be off target with a spin pass and not every player has the reach or ball handling ability of Michael Jordan.

Any side that employs spin passes is likely to need to practise them with rugby drills in training time. In fact any back's move that has a long spin pass included could have a winger or full back covering such an eventuality.

This article is taken from the Better Rugby Coaching e-newsletter. Click here to sign up and get free rugby drills, tips and skills twice a week. 


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