Coaching the side step

The side step is a "movement of beauty." Consequently, most explanations about this rugby skill leave the coach and player cold. Forget weights, shoulders and feet, picture this instead – Phil Bennet's try for the Barbarians against the All Blacks in 1973.

Side Step 3

Rugby drill to teach mechanics of the side step

The ball carrier goes one way, the defender moves that way, then the ball carrier quickly goes the other way before the defender can change. So all the ball carrier has to do is convince the defender of one thing, then do the other. What you need to do, then, is teach the player to lie.

Any decent basketball player spends the game lying to the defenders. Just watch how they use their hands and their heads. A simple nod can be enough to deceive a defender.

Side Step 1

Seeing, feeling, not thinking

Ieuan Evans, one of the many Welsh side step wizards, said that you can teach a player HOW to side step but not WHEN to side step. A player needs to be able to perform the step (see the "Mechanics drill" above) but also to anticipate. Anticipation is something that comes from creating lots of situations for the player to try out.

I suggest this is a good time for player "self discovery" rather than setting out rules of engagement. Give players the rugby skill base, some decision-making situations and let them get on and practise the skills.

Side Step 2

Feet, balance, action

Not every player will be able to skip through players like Shane Williams or Mils Mulliana. But there are some very big guys who still use the side step very effectively. Think of Rokocoko, Tiquiri and even Jonah Lomu. They all have some general characteristics to step effectively:

  • They are upright before their first movement, so the head is above their feet.
  • They have slowed down slightly.
  • They are seeking the space they want to move into.
  • When they step, they are able to move very quickly in the next direction – their footwork never takes them off balance to the extent they lose their momentum.

Too often a side step comes to naught because the step has effectively slowed the player down, allowing the next defender to catch up, or even the "beaten" defender to recover.

There is a "circle of balance" around your body. Step laterally outside this circle as you are running and you lose control. Some player's circle is larger than others. Regardless, the circle becomes smaller the faster you are running. But even a small movement at pace is enough to confuse a defender.

Again, learning your circle is a natural thing and a rugby coach can easily add value by observing a player’s side step and commenting on their changes of pace.

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