|About 7s Special||Introduction||Seven and Fifteens||Basic guide|
|History of Sevens||Melrose and Middlesex||Hong Kong||Taupiri|
|7s in USA||Seven Styles||Attack||Deffense|
|Kickoffs and DropOuts||Set Scrums||Lineouts||Set Plays|
|Kicking||Drills for Sevens||Three-week practice||A 7s program|
|Fitness & Training||Fitness Testing||Selection||Analyisis Using Videotape|
Attack in the Open Field
"The possibility of victory lies in the attack." Sun Tzu, The Art of War.
This chapter will deal with the options available to a team with the ball in its possession. The original ball winning situation (the set piece, that is) is outside the scope of this chapter, as is any set ploy attempted directly from set piece possession.
Retaining possession when confronted by the defenders (e.g. at a tackle) will be treated here.
Although conceptually they belong here, attacking kicks in open play will be treated in a separate chapter.
Because of the limited amount of available space in 15s -- especially in the vicinity of the ball -- the defense must almost always be attacked by moving the ball forward as quickly as possible, whether by running or kicking. This does not have to be the case in sevens, where enough space exists so that moving the ball backwards may be part of a successful effort to create space before going forward again. Or so some people say, as we shall see.
Use the width of the field
The more we can use the width of the field, the more we can create attacking opportunities. Australia's Bob Dwyer notes that "although the space available is 75 yards wide, too many teams make it about 40 yards wide."
"Everything is done," says New Zealand coach Peter Thorburn, "to use the width of the field."
So we actually will get the wing to just take the ball and run straight across toward the opposite sideline, and the others go with him, keeping their spacing, each guy falling into place and if you move it back quickly, quite often you'll find you've got some gaps there.
"The most important thing, I feel," says the Harlequins' Dick Best, "in winning the ball and keeping it is that you use the whole width of the park, i.e. that every player in the side must have the ability to pass left and right at least 10 yards."
Mike Williams teaches this with a concept he calls "area discipline:"
Area discipline is the most important technique designed to give support. . . . When the playing area has been divided into seven areas of approximately the same size, each running parallel to the touch-lines, position one player in each of the areas and instil in him a sense of area discipline. If players become accustomed to this discipline all kinds of malpractices like bunching, accidental offsides, opposition overlaps and defensive line gaps will not occur.
Who/what does the work?
Do we "let the ball do the work?" Must the ball carrier initiate the attack? Are the players running off the ball the key to success? If we listen to our sources in a vacuum, the answer would seem to be unclear. Some talk about letting the ball, rather than the ball carrier, do the work, others say the opposite. And some stress the value of the support players to the exclusion of the ball carrier.
In fact, of course, the IBM answer to all questions -- "It depends" -- applies here as well.
For example, it is more likely that a ball carrier in an area of defensive pressure can get the ball clear of pressure by initiating a quick passing movement than by trying to run away from pressure.
"Work load can be shared," writes Mike Williams, "by intelligent field positioning and by various techniques which make the ball do the work rather than the man."
In addition, players without the ball can often clear a space into which the ball can be moved away from pressure. Jim Rowark's Hong Kong team works on this constantly.
We've been trying to adapt players to the idea that, just because you have the ball you don't have to be doing something with it. The people who don't have the ball are often more important in doing things than the person with the ball. . . So that the ball carrier is not necessarily the person who is going to inject the change of direction, the angle of the play [needed to surprise the defense].
Australia is well known for its movement of the ball, and the players off it, to force the defense to crumble. Coach Bob Dwyer explains:
I want to play the 15-a-side game as flat as I possibly can; I want to play the 7-a-side game as deep as I possibly can. It's not a game for putting opposition defenses under direct pressure; it's a game for outmaneuvering opposition defenses.
There's only 7, so you can move them to one part of the field and leave nobody in the other part of the field. In 15 a side, you can't maneuver people to one side of the field, because there's too many. But in sevens you can, so the idea is to just keep the ball. The game is really just keep the ball. I tell our guys, if you keep the ball for a minute, you'll score.
Nevertheless, according to New Zealand's Bill Freeman, the concept of creating by passing the ball, of utilizing the players off the ball, had become so ingrained in world sevens that it was only by a reversal of thinking that the All-Blacks were able to scale the heights in sevens that they had achieved in fifteens:
We studied the concept of using the ball by passing it to look for some form of penetration, and we fast came to the conclusion that the person with the ball has to create the opportunity of getting the penetration, and not just the passing, not just the passing of the ball. So, A passes to B who passes to C who passes to D: nothing is going to happen unless the guy with the ball creates some trouble for the opposition. If the defense against us leaves us enough room, we will force the penetration in front of it by the movement of the ball in the hands of the player, not the movement of the ball through the hands of players, and I think it's very important that the guy with the ball is endeavoring to undiscipline the opposition by getting two defenders onto him.
In New Zealand's case, as will be discussed below, that "guy with the ball" might be an agile back, but it may well be a powerful forward going in to knock over an opponent or two.
Although the latter will not be a preferred option in the Australia team, Bob Dwyer, who eschews any offensive contact, and whose philosophy of sevens is very different from that of Freeman, nevertheless notes the value of his statement:
What Bill Freeman says, though, is very important. I feel sevens is a lot like fencing, where you make a thrust and the ball carrier has to initiate that thrust, but he has to keep the back door open all the time. So he makes a thrust, then the defense closes and he comes back away.
If you don't do that, it enables the opposition defense to align, and when they're aligned, they can keep you under control. The idea is to pull their defense out of alignment, so you make a thrust there, you pull them there, you run up there, that one runs there, and then there's a hole through here. And then you start to play with the defense. If you don't do that, you can't play with the defense.
Go backward to go forward? Avoid contact?
Different nations have different tendencies; in the end the welcoming or avoidance of contact may well depend on a team's size, strength, speed, and mental attitude, compared to that of its opponents.
"Even if it is found necessary," writes Mike Williams, "to run away from your opponents, sideways or backwards towards your own goal line, in order to retain possession, it is worth doing."
Bryce Rope notes that he began his All-Black sevens coaching career with a similar attitude:
The first 2 or 3 years in Hong Kong I played a style of rugby which was along the lines of the teams of the Northern hemisphere in Europe. It was a simple game, where they were prepared to lose 10, 15, 20 meters to re-form into a certain prearranged pattern, through a switch, a double round [loop], or another ploy, to breach the defense of the other team.
I realized this was not New Zealand's outlook.
I said to our team in 1986, we will change our pattern, we will never go backwards on attack or defense, and we formed a special pattern to put this new aggressive approach into being. It destroyed the game of seven-a-side rugby as it had been played for over 100 years. It perhaps destroyed a lot of the spectator appeal in the game. But it was successful and it was winning rugby.
Using their new power sevens style, and especially their uniquely talented power forwards such as Wayne Shelford, New Zealand took the sevens world by storm.
Nevertheless, equally successful sevens coaches, such as Australia's Bob Dwyer, retained their confidence in the avoidance of contact. Agreeing with the characterization of Australia's style as "keep-away," he added:
Like all games, it's a game of taking the percentages. But in sevens you want to play your percentages in a much more conservative way. In a game of 15s we might say, we've got a 75-25 chance of scoring here, and take the chance, because the consequences aren't so grim. In a game of sevens I'd never take a 75-25 chance. I want to get the guys to work their way into a 95-5, and take a 95-5, don't take a 90-10: keep the ball for another 10 seconds you'll score.
I would love to play the game where none of my players were tackled in possession. I think the game is best played, and for most fun, so that when you have the ball no one makes contact with you with the ball in possession -- even to shoulder in and move the ball away. That puts great demands on your concentration. And that's good I reckon, because the greater the demands on the concentration, the greater the feeling of satisfaction if you succeed.
I want to place my players under a lot of stress in their levels of concentration, so I want to say to them "Don't make contact; make it an absolute no tackle situation."
Dick Best agrees:
In the Harlequins we avoid contact at all costs, bearing in mind that in this country we do not have the physical or the upper body strengths in order to make contact and still release the ball.
I realize that of late New Zealand have based the game on their 15-a-side style, which is all contact. That's all very well for them, but it doesn't wash in this country.
"This country" obviously doesn't include Scotland. Speaking of the Scottish Borders' approach to the game, Kelso's coach Jim Hewitt notes that
We always play very direct. For example, if you watch the London teams playing, you'll see that they will play the ball out to the wing; if there isn't a 60/40 chance of breaking, they'll wait until they get that. We take a 40 percent chance and have a go at that and try to break through the defense. And all the Border sides are the same, it's just the way we play.
Fiji falls into the category of teams that would rather move the ball than be tackled. Coach Kitione Tuibua:
In our team we minimize contact [in attack]; we expect communication to be very good and the support to be where the pressure is not. If the pressure is on the right, all of a sudden we'll switch to the left and that is where speed counts.
As soon as the player commits himself to the defender, the body is there but the ball has gone.
Within the US, certainly the trend during the 1980s has been to play a "keep-away" style of sevens. Lately, however, several teams have had success with all-action, all-attack, "caution be damned" sevens. At the international level, the US has experimented -- with mixed success -- combining the keep-away style with the use of its big forwards to create mismatches with smaller opponents.
In general, the "mainstream" approach is to play some sort of "keep-away," and to accept going backwards as part of a process to get the team going forward (although today's pressure defenses generally preclude teams from going backward indefinitely, a successful recourse several years ago).
Even New Zealand, despite their proclamations to the contrary, will in fact go backward in order to go forward. Speaking of the crash style of offense, Peter Thorburn noted in 1990 that
without [power forward Wayne] Shelford, we don't spend a lot of time on those moves [running players off the big men]. He was able to [uniquely] initiate a lot of that stuff.
The loss of Shelford seems to have moved New Zealand sevens a lot closer to the mainstream in that respect.
Clear the Ball from Pressure
Mike Williams refers to the golden rule of pressure: "you pass the ball away from opposition pressure and not towards it." Obvious, perhaps, but watching games it's not so obvious that the players realize it.
All three New Zealanders with whom I spoke -- Bill Freeman, Bryce Rope, and Peter Thorburn -- stressed over and over again the importance of clearing the ball from pressure.
We have a code word called "CP," clear pressure. The moment that the ball carrier hears "CP" from his option player behind him, he immediately if possible feeds the ball immediately back to him, and there again it is spun wide to open up the defense of the opposing team.
Thorburn notes the importance of stressing this concept early in a team's preparation:
We spend a lot of time, early in our program when we come together, just taking pressure off the ball carrier, guys getting back in the line to take a pass, guys getting in behind the ball carrier, and calling something to tell him that he's there, so they can release the pressure for that guy. And then forming back quickly around that man, so that immediately they've got 6 players at all times that are in position to receive a pass.
It's the laziness, the minor things, -- guys that won't go that extra 2 feet backwards -- [that can stop you clearing from pressure].
Give the ball carrier options
Regardless of their philosophy with respect to contact, everyone agrees that the ball carrier needs to be provided with an option to clear the ball from pressure. One way to provide this support is the technique of the swivel line, documented by Mike Williams and described later in this chapter. In the swivel line, the "swivel player" is the person that has dropped behind the ball carrier to provide support.
The swivel line, as presented by Williams, is one of the key elements of the "possession," or "keep-away," style. Nevertheless, Bryce Rope, an opponent of this style, describes an almost identical pattern of support:
Every ball carrier must at all times have what we call a scheme B or an option. For instance, if he decides to have a run on his own between two opposing players, and gets caught, he must know behind him, or behind him to the left or right, there's another player to whom he can pass that ball. That other player becomes his option player.
Likewise if he goes to the ground and has to release the ball, he must know that, as he goes to ground, the next player to regain that ball is one of his team, his option.
If he has no option, he then gets isolated and gets zoned out of the play, he's in a position where he cannot restart the game, he's in a position where he cannot hold possession and of course eventually, sooner than he would wish, the opposition has the ball, and the ball game then is in their court.
My players with ball in hand, to put it crudely, squealed like stuck pigs when they got caught if there was no one there as an option player to keep possession of the ball for our team and make play from that.
It must become a matter of pride to perfect this pattern of option players, because once you get a team organized into the thinking that there's always an option player around the ball carrier, a terrific sense of confidence comes into the team: they know possession is theirs, they know that they can withhold possession, and they can keep their battle plan in force.
Fiji's "option player" on offense often resembles a defensive sweeper: he may be as much as 20 yards behind the play, and a ball carrier in trouble knows he can send the ball flying back to this deep supporter. Given Fiji's incredible team speed, however, this may well be a technique best left to them.
The Swivel Line
One documented technique to assure the presence of an "option player" is known as the "swivel line," a term coined in print by Mike Williams in 1975. Although the term "swivel line" is the expression I will use, thanks to Williams and those of us that read his book, many other terms are used to describe the same technique.
The philosophy behind the swivel line is simple, and if you use it, and if you all know that you're using it, you are always guaranteed to have support not only to both sides of the ball carrier, but also directly behind.
The basic premise of the swivel line is that the player who has just passed the ball drops in directly behind the player to whom it has been passed. See Figure B2-1.
Note that this player, the "swivel player," does not loop, but gets in right behind the ball carrier. This area behind the ball carrier is sometimes referred to as the "pocket."
Figures 1c and 1d show the swivel line as it progresses, and how it helps the attacking team maintain possession. Figure 1c shows how the swivel player is available to a) take a pass and clear the ball from pressure by running and/or passing, b) be of assistance in the tackle situation, or c) come into the line on either side to support or initiate an attack.
The swivel player that receives the ball will either run it or move it to support. The best support will come if there is a line of support on the swivel player as well as the ball carrier. Thus, in Figure 1d) we see that the players that have moved the ball to the swivel player have dropped back to support not just the current ball carrier, but also the swivel player, by creating two separate lines as shown.
The resulting formation can be thought of as two separate lines, one on the ball carrier, and one on the swivel player; a movement of the ball back to the swivel player will give that player the option of moving the ball back along this secondary line.
According to Australian coach Bob Dwyer, the creation of these two lines as described above is their first choice when operating in this possession phase:
The basic framework of the game is -- if the ball's moving from right to left, as you pass the ball to the player, you've got to get in behind him and be a shortstop. Now the players on the left of the ball carrier are aligned off him. Then we have a player behind him. I want the players to the right, then, to be aligned off the shortstop. So I have a back line there, and I have a back line here, and a player directly behind. So that at any one time, we can throw the ball back to the shortstop, with a back line on him, and as soon as the ball goes back, the [first set of] guys drop off and you've got options either side. [This is shown in Figure 1d.]
Other Swivel, or Option, Players. The player that has just passed the ball is the swivel player according to our pattern. There are situations, however, when other players will assume the role of "option" player. In the case of a miss pass, the player being missed, rather than the passer, would drop in behind the player that receives the pass.
There are also situations in which the player that has just passed and swiveled will continue to swivel behind the next, or perhaps more, player(s). This might happen, for example, if the player that would be the swivel player is tackled while passing. Another option in that situation might be for the player on the other side of the ball carrier to become the option player and drop in behind.
The main thing to remember is that we want the ball carrier always to have an option of clearing the ball from pressure by getting it to a player supporting from behind; knowing that there will be someone there allows the ball carrier to play with more confidence.
Furthermore, although it's good to have a preferred method of getting the support player there (e.g. the swivel line), it's up to the players on the field to recognize individual situations and make sure that, by whatever means it takes, an option player gets into the proper support position.
The swivel line is normally used when a direct attack on the defenders -- for example, a called play from a set piece -- has failed to score a try, and the attackers are regrouping for another attack.
The swivel can be effective against either a very passive or an overly impatient defense. The former gives the attackers time to get one of the defenders leaning the wrong way--in much the same way that good ball movement will beat an inactive zone defense in basketball. The latter often leaves a hole in an area that an over-aggressive defender has vacated, or simply allows an attacker to put in a quick side-step.
If the swivel technique is carried on too long without an active attack being created, it is susceptible to being beaten by a defense that moves forward relentlessly but under control. Combined with patience and discipline, this type of defense can eventually wrest control away from the swivelling team.
Regardless of their policy towards contact, all sevens teams need to have an element of discipline to provide support ingrained in them. The swivel line is one proven and effective way to accomplish this.
Open Field Situations
While in possession of the ball in the open field, many things can happen. Some of them, and our method of dealing with them, are outlined below.
1. We make contact with the opposition.
Depending on one's style of play, this may or may not be welcome contact. Regardless of one's intent, however, one of several things will happen.
a. Ball carrier held, but not brought to the ground.
o Ball carrier free to pass, gap in defense.
The first option, if the ball carrier is free to pass, is for the support player nearest the ball to look for a hole in the defense and run through it, taking a pass from the ball carrier on the burst. This is most likely to succeed when a big player has forced two defenders to make the tackle. See Figure B2-2.
This, in fact, is the situation the "power sevens" game played by the Scots and New Zealanders tries to create. Bill Freeman explains:
We will use [a power forward] to create the opportunity for us to run off. There are several techniques for the ball possessor with power to maintain position and keep the ball available. For example, when he makes bodily contact with the opposition who put their arms around him, we want him to sink, lift, and open the body up to flip the ball away. We concentrate on those things, we don't concentrate on our support player going in to physically support that player, to rip, to give it to somebody else.
Our support players are going forward onto the ball; they run onto the ball off the player . . . onto the ball off the player.
o Ball carrier free to pass, no gap in defense
If there is no gap in the defense, but the ball carrier is free to pass, the ball carrier's "option player" -- probably but not necessarily the "swivel man" -- will be responsible for clearing the ball from pressure.
This may be a pass back to what some call the "pocket" position -- the area directly behind the ball carrier, about 2-5 yards deep; from here the option player will move the ball quickly to wide support.
Freeman, however, feels that passing the ball to a static player in that area is dangerous.
We don't want the player in possession laying it back on the pass 2 or 3 meters, because it would allow a member of the opposition to get into the penetrating area. . . . If we haven't got the clearance in front, what we'll do is pull a player from out of the line, and run him behind, with a very similar role to what you call the swivel player. We'll pop the ball back to that swivel player, who will take off across the field, running to the outside, and drawing the opposition players over. Our players would drop back a bit and we'd then use long passes to get the ball back to the other side of the field.
Part of Freeman's concern over the safety of the pocket area is due to the fact that, at this point, there is no off-sides line to keep the defenders back (no ruck or maul having been formed). Thus defenders may -- and often do -- step directly into the area between the ball carrier and his support to intercept a pass; the inadvertent pass directly back into the hands of a defender is certainly one of the most common turnovers in sevens.
John Maxwell cautions against accepting any formulaic answers at this (and any other) situation:
I don't think you can play a textbook way. It's not something that you can say, right, in this situation you must go in and give it to the next man who stands off. Players may be taught to do that, but it's not going to be successful if it's not in the player to do that.
The right decision should come from the player's instinct.
o Ball carrier not free to pass.
If the ball carrier cannot pass the ball, but can maintain his feet and at least partial possession of the ball, the support player will go in and make it available, either by securing it, or by clearing out the tackler and freeing the ball carrier to pass it. The next support player then goes to the pocket position, talking to the players in front, advising them of their options. Other members of the attacking team fill in spots to the right and left of the player in the pocket, in a position to take a pass from that player (to whom they continually communicate the best option). See Figure B2-3.
At this point, a maul has formed, and any defenders in the passing lanes must get behind the offsides line. If the ball is now available, the pocket player calls for it (obviously if a gap has opened up, our first option is still to go through it). Otherwise, the pocket player will also drive into the maul to take it forward. At this point a fourth player moves into the pocket position. If it becomes apparent that the ball is definitely not coming out, we will commit as many people as necessary to make sure the maul is going forward when the whistle blows, so that we get the scrum. When the ball is tied up, possession at the next scrum is very important, and it is vital that it be our scrum and not theirs. See Figure B2-4.
We will certainly have taken too big of a risk if we end up losing the ball with more players committed to the maul than the opponents. Obviously we don't want to commit too many people if we may lose the ball; the assumption is that the support players have determined that this is a situation in which the ball will not be lost. As in other situations in the game, you need good decision makers.
The above advice violates the "traditional wisdom" that teams should not commit more than two players to a maul. I don't subscribe to that wisdom, nor does Bill Freeman:
If one of their players contained our aggressive player, in possession, and they threw another player in around on the other side, onto the ball, we would send two players into that with power, and just, you know, boom it forward, bearing in mind that our player in possession of that ball is not just passive there. You know, he's leaning into the guy opposite him, he's got his feet pumping to get that "go forward" onto it.
And if we needed to, we'd send another player in.
b. The ball carrier is taken to the ground.
If we are operating the swivel line (or otherwise assuring that the option player is in the right place), there should be support for the ball carrier in this situation. This is a critical situation, because, as in all rugby, more turnovers occur in the tackle situation than in any other, particularly when the ball carrier goes to ground away from support. And, perhaps more so than in fifteens, where there is greater cover defense and more time to make amends, it is absolutely critical to avoid turnovers in sevens.
If the swivel player (or another supporter) is in or moving into the pocket area as the ball carrier is being tackled, that support player must communicate with the ball carrier: the ball carrier needs to know not only that support is there, but also that the support area is not shared by any defenders. The ball carrier then puts the ball back 3-5 yards (it could be more) at the tackle (as opposed to posting it directly on the ground as would be the most probable option in 15s).
If a defender is "cluttering up" the support area, the support player must communicate that to the ball carrier (perhaps by shouting "No!" or something equally appropriate). At this call, the ball carrier must post the ball, and protect it to the limits allowed by the laws.
2. The ball remains in play, and the opponents sit back and wait.
Defenses such as these used to work, and still work at the lower levels of the game, because attacking teams would run, out of frustration and without a pattern, at the defenders, where they would be tackled and lose possession.
With a pattern of support such as the swivel line, a defense such as this plays right into the attackers' hands, and several attacking scenarios are possible.
On the one hand, the ball carrier can look to create a situation to commit two defenders, and either put someone through a hole or move the ball to space. Alternatively, quick movement of the ball combined with hard work off the ball, will eventually result in a defensive lapse and either a hole in the defense or an overlap situation.
3. We find ourselves going backwards.
a. We remain in control
Although going backwards carries with it the risk of losing control, if we practice it often, and are not afraid of going backwards, we may be able to initiate a very effective attack if we can exploit defensive errors. We must recognize, however, that going backwards is merely a stopgap measure and that the goal is to get us moving forward again as quickly as possible.
Bill Freeman and Bryce Rope have totally rejected the notion of going backward in order to go forward. I don't feel so absolute about it, and in fact, examination of New Zealand's play in the last couple of years seems to indicate that they don't either.
b. We continue to swivel backwards, and slowly begin to lose control to opponents that have effectively pressured us.
There are three ways to get out of this situation: one is for the swivel player (or other deep supporter) to call for the ball, either to run it or to pass it away from pressure. Another is for the ball carrier AND a supporter, acting together, to "crash" into the nearest defender, creating a maul and forcing the defenders behind the offsides line. A third way, of course, is to kick to safety. This may well mean getting the ball to touch and regrouping.
4. We make a break.
a. A break away from support; get the ball back to support.
Although not recommended, it's not always wrong to run away from support: sometimes it will bring you a try. But if it doesn't, you'd better make sure you get either yourself or the ball back to support. Otherwise losing the ball will have been your fault. Being tackled away from support is not only a common cause of turnovers in sevens, it's also one of the leading causes of giving up tries to the opponents.
One way to get back to support is to literally turn and run back to your teammates. Often a cardinal sin in 15s, this can be very effective in sevens. Many times it's merely necessary to stop before you make contact with the defender that is pressuring you, still committing the defender to the tackle, but giving your support time to catch up to you. The support player has got to decide whether it is possible to continue to attack and go forward, or whether the ball needs to be returned away from pressure and possibly again into a swivel situation.
Eagle Charlie Wilkinson makes an interesting point about this situation:
I often feel that "running away from support" is a contradiction in terms -- the support should work to get to the ball carrier.
b. "Deep support"
This is an option at which many coaches -- and even some players -- cringe, yet can be very effective when used correctly. The game situation is: one player makes a break, one defender closes in, one attacker is in support many yards away, all other 11 players are taking a rest. This is a situation that happens perhaps more often than most players would like to admit, particularly at the club level.
The support player shouts "deep left," "deep right," "right behind you," etc.: this shout brings with it a promise to the ball carrier: "Just heave the ball somewhere near where I'm telling you I am, and I'll do the rest."
The ball carrier then sends the ball into the general area of the call (even a "blind pass" may well be OK). See Figure B2-5 for a diagram of how this situation develops.
Practicing this situation, and then actually using it in games, will be worth a couple of tries per sevens season.
c. Break turns into a 2 on 2 near touchline
If we have the speed, and they have no one downfield to chase down a kick, a long kick down the touchline will often result in a try.
The subject of kicking in sevens, however, is a topic unto itself, and will be treated in a separate chapter.
Changing the Pace of the Game
One of the "over-achievers" in the world of sevens has been Hong Kong itself. Hong Kong coach Jim Rowark has put a lot of thought into the game, and one of the areas into which he has put a lot of priority is into changing the pace of the game.
Too many sevens sides play at one pace, and my feeling is that if you play one pace sevens, it's easy to defend against: if you're playing flat out all the time, all the defense has to do is play flat out as well and you're not going to surprise him.
What we've been trying to do is change both the tempo of the game and the direction of the game at the same time.
The ball carrier is not necessarily the player who is going to inject the change of pace, the change of tempo, the change of direction.
One very simple thing we do, as an example, is to move the ball to the flank, where the man with the ball slows the game down immediately. One man loops him going at pace. If the defenders don't cover across, that's the man he gives the ball to.
At the same time, however, he should have a man also looping, but looping on his inside, who can take the ball back towards the defenders' inside shoulders (a difficult tackle).
By adding more support options to the player that has slowed down the pace of the game, the attackers present more problems for the defenders.
American football pass
The use of the long American football pass in sevens can be very effective. Used poorly, however, it can be a disaster.
A typical example where the American football pass can deliver a long break, probably a try, is illustrated in Figure B2-6. (7) has made a break, and the cover defense, struggling to stop the try, has left a huge overlap at the other side of the field. The presence of defenders in the passing lane means, however, that the ball cannot simply be moved through the hands.
In the situation shown in the diagram, one of the three open players has called for the ball. (7) clears to (6), who throws a football pass over the top to one of the open players.
This exact situation created one of Bethlehem's tries in its 1987 Eastern championship overtime victory.
Two important points need to be made regarding the use of the American football pass:
1) It is far safer when the receiver makes the call for the pass; the receiver can see where the defenders are. When the ball carrier passes the ball without a call, the risk of a bad decision and an intercepted pass increases.
2) The deeper the receiver is positioned, the less likely the chance of an interception.
Get the props off the touchlines
Since the forwards are usually stationed at the edges of the field at kickoffs, lineouts, and set scrums, they tend to end up there as the game moves into its "open field" phase.
The props, however, are usually the team's slowest and least agile players, and therefore a) unable to finish an overlap created at their side of the field and b) vulnerable if put into one-on-one defensive situations. Furthermore, in the physical style game, they can often be valuable taking on opponents in midfield and putting people through gaps.
With the ball away, therefore, the props should start moving infield as faster players (e.g. scrum half, hooker) move to the touch line; hopefully one of these players will have the speed to act as a second wing.