Contact session expert approach

Develop your players’ contact skills by creating a bottom-up approach to ensure they are accurate first and foremost and then able to apply the skills in different situations. We follow the approach of top NZ coach, Tony Hanks.

Tony Hanks, who has coached with Wasps and Sale Sharks, before becoming high-performance manager at the Blues Super Rugby franchise, says the challenge for any coach is to make their coaching sessions powerful learning environments. When it comes to contact, the challenge is greater because physicality is mixed with decision-making.

The breakdown is such a vital area of the game that the best teams need to concentrate on the detail all the time in training. Unless you win the contact area, you will struggle to achieve attacking options and disorganize defences.

He says: “As we progress from pre-season to in-season, we want the players to develop good HABITS both in their technique and their decision-making.”

There are three key elements:

  1. The ball carrier into (or through) contact.
  2. Ball presentation (including offload).
  3. The role of the support player.

A meaningful contact session, which develops techniques into decision-making situations should last for around 30-40 minutes. However,  you can run shorter elements to fit around a more general session. It will progress from working on the detail of the underpinning elements and then draw it together into decision-making game-specific exercises.

To allow the session to move smoothly, Hanks and his players will have discussed the exercises before the session and will probably be using some established exercises that they regularly use. He wants the players to concentrate on the skills, not the drills.

The first 15 minutes of the session will be split into three grids. Each player will spend five minutes in each grid. The focus will be on one particular technique, based on the ball carrier, ball presentation and support. The groups will have highlighted key points they want to cover and so that will lead the practice.

The intensity is probably quite low, with the players concentrating on their detail. For example, you could check their hand placement on the ball when they are going into contact. Are they able to manipulate it so they can pass out of the tackle both to the left and right?

Other skills might be how they fend off the defender or how they can place the ball back for the next support player. The support players might be thinking about the angle and timing to reach a potential breakdown situation.

After the three grids have been completed, the next stage is to put this into some decision-making exercises. An example of this is called “Triangle”. It brings together elements of footwork before contact or the fend, with support roles and decision-making at the tackle.

Hanks will run this activity for 10 minutes with another decision-making exercise for the last 10 minutes. That’s normally enough, but if you want a really intense session, you could finish up with a “backyard” game of rugby. This is full-on, but with no scrums or lineouts.

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