Archives For Analysis

In the video below, I highlight the behaviours that the Chiefs base their attacking philosophy around.

Having facilitated a number of leadership programs with various teams, I assure you of the value it would bring to establish your own.

In fact, if you are just coaching skills without a governing framework of values, behaviours and trademarks, then you are selling your teams (development) performance well short of potential.

The challenge here, is not to copy those contained in this video, but to establish your own based on your team’s unique strengths and traits.

As you’ll learn, the most successful ‘pillars’ are those where the players have been empowered in their establishment, enhancing buy-in and ensuring they become a part of the way you play.

What else could you create pillars around?

By Stuart Lierich

It’s amazing the value players and coaches can gleen from simple grid activities in practice.

The short clip below is a passing activity from a rugby league pre season session a few months back, looking at playing flat and fast (as the game may dictate).

The focus for the activity is for the first receiver to get into a position where he commits both ‘A’ & ‘B’ defenders in the line to make a decision.

Sometimes referred to as “arse away” we are looking for a ball player in this situation that will:

  • Start on ‘A’ defender, and with timing skip out between ‘A’ & ‘B’ when receiving the pass off the carpet from dummy half
  • Run straight, play square and play late with the intention of holding up A & B thus isolating the next defender out
  • Create passing options including:
  • back inside to support player pushing up on ball
  • pass short into gap between B & C (if it exists) to a teammate running a hard ‘unders’ line (ideally a second rower)
  • long pass to attacker outside last defender (if space exists)

Watch 4v3 Clip Here (20seconds):

Sidenote: Whilst on the surface this appears a passive passing drill, it is important to have an intended focus or coaching theme. This activity is about the first receiver (attackers – flat/fast), yet we always find many other coachable moments for defending players too. With practice I encourage you to manipulate various aspects of activities such as this to replicate intensity and challenge decision making…..more often than not we would turn this into a game allowing for continuity of play, re alignment and fatigued decision making…

By Stuart Lierich

There’s few sights better than a goal kicker that is effortlessly able to slot goals from distance, and under pressure.

The tireless Welsh fullback, Leigh Halfpenny is one such player.

Aside from his silky skills in general play, it is his goal kicking that provides a great learning example for many young players looking to improve their own game.

Leigh is a prolific goal kicker from reasonable distance, yet rarely varies his kicking framework to do so.

Get Access To The FREE Goal Kicking ‘Pro Tip Video Series’ Here:

The short analysis video below will take you through some of the keys to making great contact on the ball, in particular:

* A prolonged, steely gaze on ball sweet spot.

* A controlled and direct approach to tee.

* Great balance & body stability upon contact with the ball


By Stuart Lierich

A word of warning with these ramblings.

If you are a conservative rugby coach then I suggest you look away now, as for many of you this article may be too challenging to long held beliefs about catching a high ball.

This is not an instructional piece by any means. More a view on what I believe should be the benchmark standard for catching “Attitude”.

“What?!”, I hear you say, “is catching attitude?”

Take a look at this clip (25secs) of Willie Le Roux catching a high ball for the Sharks in Super Rugby:


Catching attitude is a measure of a players commitment to the ball (catch attempt). We can all tell a mile away the player that doesn’t really make the required effort to make a catch, or at least create a contest.

This highlight of Willie making a high ball catch highlights several things (yes, aside from the fact you may get hurt):

  • An unwavering focus (on the ball) throughout the whole play for the ball, including his ground steps
  • Controlled tempo into the vertical leap, creating a (high) dominant position in the clouds away from defenders arms

And here is the attitude part:

Willie put aside all self preservation when committing only to the ball. This was a catch he had to make, and he didn’t let his team down.

Granted, Willie does turn his body at the highest point. I feel this was to ensure a comfortable chest catch, rather than for protection as he was already ‘wide open’ to having his legs taken out.

You see, (the coaching of) self preservation is the enemy of catching a high ball in rugby.

Yet, you only have to trawl the internet, search on Youtube or have a chat at your local club to see that still most players are coached this way:

  • Keep your eye on the ball
  • As you jump turn your body to protect yourself from on coming traffic etc etc

The focus in rugby for far too long has been more about protecting yourself than catching the ball (contestable kicks), and I believe this must change. A player with great catching attitude (positive) is more likely to secure catches than the player with a ‘protect first’ attitude (negative).

Often these closed catching drills in practice are far removed from the chaotic & dynamic reality of what actually happens when a real ‘up and under’ is launched in a game.

If we, as coaches, remove much of the mechanical/technical aspects of catching a little and just let the players learn to adapt to catching in traffic, they WILL improve. They will also become more confident and skilful as a result.

Sure you can assist with key coaching points of tracking, leap and catch, but do it with a BALL FOCUS.

What I am saying here is try losing the protect yourself, technical aspect of coaching and bring out a committed attitude to making catches. Quite simply, the ball must be the primary focus, before self protection.

Coach, I implore you to bring this mindset into your coaching of the skill, and I assure you your players will benefit.

Still not convinced?

Have a look at some brilliant examples below of “ball focused” catching from the AFL. Many of these are contested catches (marks), and worth noting this is a ‘360 degree’ game :

By Stuart Lierich





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In this article I thought I’d take a slightly different approach to breaking down a player’s kicking action and look at “Focus of Attention”.

For me this is such an overlooked area of coaching (goal kicking), yet so very influential in determining quality of contact and bulletproofing from both internal (your own thoughts and judgements) and external distractions (crowd jeering, opposition calling at you).

Annoyances like a crowd jeering, players running at you on approach or even those thoughts in your own mind can be quietened by a disciplined attentional strategy.

Why do we want a focused, quiet mind anyhow?

Good question, and I’m glad you asked.

Perhaps content for another day, but essentially a relaxed and focused state is much more likely to allow a shift to autopilot and thus increase our chances of a good kicking outcome. The more we try to control our thoughts (or our body), as well as taking in too much visual stimulation can certainly be counter productive.

The kicker in the spotlight today is the one widely regarded now as the ‘Smiling Assassin’, none other than the Chiefs (Super Rugby) dynamic fullback Damian McKenzie.

My observations are outlined in the video below, showing examples of Damian lining up for goal in his now trademark fashion.

Damian has introduced a ‘smile’ to his pre performance routine with the aim of ‘blocking out distractions’.

Although the planned outcome is fine, is this method of attainment really working for him? Could he have a better strategy to not only avoid distraction, but improve his kicking overall?

I believe, yes!

In particular, here are some key points in summary:

  • Place Kickers need to give structure to what they focus on (and how long for) before approaching the tee.
  • A target focus is much more likely to produce good reults than a ‘body control‘ focus
  • Too much information (for our eyes/brain to process) is too much information
  • Focus of Attention is a skill that must be practised
  • There are two targets (ball and goals), and the ball requires most attention for your body to calibrate the approach, steps and strike etc.
  • Focusing on smiling promotes conscious thought (a possible distraction and misdirected attention)
  • Knowing YOUR (yes, not the same for everyone) sweet spot a pre requisite
  • This strategy will improve accuracy and contact quality if practised or adapted

Click the video below for the analysis

It is worth pointing out, although I don’t know Damian, he has been quoted as saying he is ‘aware of people around him’ (when shooting at goal) making fun of his pre kick smile. He has also stated he has ‘been working hard on this to help prevent distractions’.

Some evidence that this initiative isn’t working perhaps?

Damian would be better served by not making “avoiding distractions” an aim or outcome. His current methods require conscious investment of thought as it appears. Rather, I feel “avoiding distractions” is a by-product of a good attentional focus strategy that is target oriented.

I guess what I’m suggesting is spend less time on the smile (avoid distraction) and more time on the ball (assist strike quality and avoid distraction).

It is an easy enough task for a coach to test whether a kicker is aware of distracting surroundings or operating on autopilot. I suggest saying something out loud whilst a player is about to approach the tee. A focused individual will not be able to recall what you said.

An extended focused gaze on the exact spot the player shall strike on the ball is in my experience the best way to avoid costly distraction when kicking from the tee.

So, my suggestions for Damian (as if he’s actually going to read this..):

  1. When you are in your “gather” position after marking out, take in a view of the goals for about one second.
  2. After taking in a view of the goals, bring your gaze back to the specific sweet spot on the ball that you wish to strike. Maintain a committed focus of attention on this spot only for about 2-3 seconds.
  3. Continue to gaze at the ‘spot’ on the ball as you approach the tee.
  4. The aim is a deep focus that actually clears your mind
  • Note, only one look at the goals (first) and one look at the ball (last), approach and kick….

Whilst some flexibility should exist within the coaching framework for this, it is fair to say Damian is a little erratic with his ‘direction’ of attention, so even just reducing his head swings with more time looking at the ball would help him long term.

As a sidenote it is fair to say that I have only isolated and discussed one aspect of Damian’s kicking routine. His action is the sum of many parts. Maybe fodder for another day but I also notice he often ‘finishes’ in different positions (posture), possibly a clue to weight transfer issues? As well, his stutter variations when opposition teams almost run his kicks down also suggest he is conscious of them and thus (possibly) misdirecting attention.

Click the video (20sec) to view a ‘close shave’:

A fine young prospect nonetheless. I had the pleasure recently of watching him play live in Canberra during the Chiefs rout of the ACT Brumbies in Super Rugby. Great vision, tireless support, fast and skilful.

I certainly hope he realises his full potential and sustains a long professional career. My tip is a likely future All Black…..

By Stuart Lierich

One of many articles on gaze behaviour and ‘Quiet Eye’ in sport performance 


There are a variety of ways that teams can exit their own half successfully in rugby.

Generally, I suggest having a framework (not set rules) works best and allows players to make the best decisions ‘in the moment’.

The clip below highlights a deep punt style kick from a flyhalf that came from his team winning their own ball off a lineout.

As you will see, he made a lightning quick assessment that there was space deep behind the defence. Still, with pressure approaching fast, he was able to make the kick.

A great case in point here, that not all kicks need to look pretty to get a result.

The key to this was his ability to ‘load up’ quickly, make reasonable contact, yet carry his weight through the ball to achieve the distance and roll.

It’s amazing how often the good players can get a result from kicking ugly.

It may have appeared to look a little lucky, but I can assure you that players that practice under close oncoming pressure like this will make many more ‘lucky’ kicks than those that kick against fresh air.

It was a great option kick, from around the (defensive) 10m line requiring only a 35-40m flight with roll to achieve a result.

If the defence is up then ball flight only needs to clear opposition players then get good shape on the roll..

Watch the clip (20secs) and observe:

* The kicker’s ability to make best use of very little ‘kicking space’ under pressure

* The distance & speed of the flight, and subsequent roll to touch

* The chase back from the green team unable to stop the ball rolling out

And here’s the response in the very next play from the lineout!

So the green team win a free kick from their lineout after the original kick in focus. Watch the fast reaction, quick tap, amount of player traffic and ensuing punt kick to safety (opposition half!)

A great response indeed, and overall, two very well executed kicking plays!

By Stuart Lierich

For rugby teams to get maximum value from possession, they need to assess and exploit all available opportunities. Not many are handed on a plate, so generally appear as half chances.

I am a big advocate for aggressive attacking patterns, those structures that make fast decisions, execute well and involve all players on and off the ball.

An often passive aspect of rugby (attack) is receiving kick offs.

In the junior and club level game, many re starts are not delivered with enough height or hang to be truly contestable, providing welcome advantage to the receiving pod. Also when a kick off isn’t delivered to the ‘plan’ it’s difficult for chasers to track ball position.

Herein lies the opportunity for Attack!

The clip below from Qld Premier Grade Rugby (20secs), is one such example.

Watch and observe the following:

* The ball travel path? Which team has the advantage?

* How close are the approaching chasers? Do they look committed?

* Does anyone on the black team look interested? What if there was hard running & support?

* Play it out in your mind. Blue numbers are mostly left of pitch approaching the ball, with slow and broken shape. Imagine now you are the receiver attacking the space to the left with running support options. For sure you could establish great field position, and keep possession. Think of how far you you could move that ball before the first contact.

The game is tempo, remember…

Teams that kick off, as you know, are always heavily stacked to one side on the chase. When it is not more than a jog, receiving teams receive valuable time to assess and run to space out wide if they want to take it.

With better assessment by the ball carrier and a fair dinkum effort from team mates to work back to support, this SHOULD have been a counter attack opportunity to the left.

Instead… ah yep, as often happens, the ball is kicked back to the opposition for..Zzzzzzzz

By Stuart Lierich