Improve support player awareness

Support play is one of the forgotten core skills in rugby, though it remains one of the core principles. A lot of it is about awareness. That is, awareness of the support player’s proximity to the ball carrier, and what might happen next.

The support player might need to be ready to take a short or long pass, win a contact situation or realign for the next pass. Use these activities to help players make better decisions when they think they know what’s coming next, or anticipate what they may have to do.

The initial focus of these activities is around close support, with the support player either looking to take a pass from the ball carrier who’s going into contact, or having to protect the ball.

We start with a session from our Skills Curriculum, called Support the ball carrier in contact. Not only does it work on decision making, it also explores the language that the support player can employ to help the ball carrier. In a sense, the support player is coaching the ball carrier.

Ideally, we want the ball to be passed away from the contact area before a tackle is completed. This can only happen if the ball carrier and support players are connected, aware of each others’ movements. Support pockets is a good activity to develop these sorts of skills.

In situations where there are a lot of defenders, it may not be possible to pass the ball, so the support player has to identify threats and arrive in the best way to protect the ball. Use Close support for the contact area to explore the ways players can keep the ball alive after the tackle.

Finally, our game, Touch rugby to develop realigning and support, focuses on how players react away from the ball as much as around the ball. You may have heard that some teams are now calling one of their coaches an “off-the-ball” coach. Use this game to challenge the players to think about their roles two or three passes or phases into the future.


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