Archives For Strategy

A much used weapon in Australian Football (or AFL now to most), is the switch kick from defence that shifts the ball quickly to the fat side (open space) to the advantage of a team mate.

Executed well, this can be an extremely efficient way to move the ball from defensive traffic all the way to your attacking 50.

As with all attacking movements, they must begin (at training/strategy sessions etc) with everyone knowing they have role in such movements.

Off the ball it’s so important for players to either sprint to space (marking option) or take their opponent away from the space to get their match up.

The clip below is perhaps the exploration of a switch in play, rather than a switch kick as it stands. As you will see, the initial short pass from beside the behind post was technically the switch kick.

Done well, a movement usually starts with the ball carrier pushing hard back off the mark. Given they are usually executed around player traffic, most are performed off only a couple of steps and delivered the the outer side of the field very quickly.

It is a common observation of mine that many switch kicks are very nearly smothered, as in the case below. On the surface this appears that kicker is composed, but as a coach I’d worry about unnecessary turnover of possession.

In the clip (one minute) observe the following:

* The players beginning to fill the space as the Fremantle player (purple) in the goal square takes possession. Perhaps taking up valuable time?

* Great inside pressure from the Melbourne player (white) approaching the kicker. How close did he come to smothering the kick?

* The kick from the goal square appears rather speculative and very “airy”, giving the Melbourne players plenty of time to get numbers and create at least a contest.

* The player movement off the ball. Who has an opponent? Who is filling space?

* The kick was directed toward a 2v2 situation, no advantage to Freo.

* The whole move was performed at speed, but was the kick’s flight time too long?

Anatomy Of This Play:

1. The switch begins with short pass (not 15m) to a team mate in the goal square. Everyone, including the opposition knows what to expect next. This kick is a cue to the opposition and gives them time to shift bodies into the space they anticipate the ball will travel next.

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2. The race is on into the space. This kick will need to be performed quickly to preserve any spatial advantage the passing option across field may have.

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3. Players continue to fill the space on what was the fat side of the ground, including further upfield. Even if this pass was successful, there may not have been an uncontested option on the wing or further up forward.

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4. Awareness is paramount. I’m all for not panicking down back, but a near smother in the last line of defence. Did this change the angle or flight of delivery? Did the Freo player re adjust based on this duress? Or just lucky he kicked it in time?

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5. A switch is for clean, sure possession and movement. The ‘flighty’ nature of the kick has given Melbourne time to track the ball and get numbers to the area to shut the movement down. Even just a contest would have been a good result for Melbourne.

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6. A 2v2 situation plays out, and hard committed running to the space (against the flight of the ball) by Melbourne sees them win possession back. The ability for teams to identify cues and react quickly enables them to shut down rebounding via switch kicking.

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Maybe a short, unmarked option would have been a better way out on this occasion, if only there were more options (or even decoys) within kicking distance. More activity off the ball in situations such as this will preserve valuable space and release players.

It is quite a responsibility to switch the point of attack, and good situational awareness by all is required. It simply cannot be an opportunist play.

Remember, even if a player out wide is calling for the ball, it may not be the best decision to switch.

Let it be said that many teams still practice these kicks (full field drills) against ‘fresh air’ at training. If no defence is present in training then this would surely have ‘looked good’, and no doubt eventually hitting the full forward lace out on the end of a strong lead.

You get tremendous perspective of kick quality when defenders are sniffing around.

And here’s another video example (20secs). Woops.

This player (and intended recipient!) surely needed to be aware of the situation. No point kicking blind anywhere on the ground, but it’s here you can get ‘hurt’.

Ok, so what does a good option look like?

The cleanest of switch kicks will hit a teammate, who can continue the movement without re adjustment or opposition pressure. Off the ball, particularly upfield, team mates must time their movements as they present themselves.

Remember, we don’t want to go into contact or contest when switching. Do what you can to provide continuity for the attack.

Here’s another good option for a switch movement:

Although by foot is the fastest way for a team to switch play, below is a clip (20secs) where the rebounding team chose initially to link up by hand, before successfully transitioning into attack:

Now it’s time to go work on your switch kicking…

By Stuart Lierich



No. Nothing’s wrong.

I know this isn’t a kicking article, but their are some silky rugby league skills on show in this example, nonetheless!

My favourite game concept is by far “Counter Attack”, helping players, units and teams become more effective (ruthless) from receiving kicks, turnovers and fractured ball.

With these situations you have a short ‘window of opportunity’ in which you can capitalise on yet to be aligned defensive shape.

But what about when the defence is already set?

Yes. You’ve got to find ways to manipulate them to create space. Insert all of the cliches here, and I’m sure you can picture all the 2v2, 3v2 drills & progressions you run at training.

Below is a great example of what can be achieved even when the defence knows which way you are attacking.

What we don’t often get to test at training with one dimensional 3v2’s is sustained effort and support play off the ball. So much work needs to be done by a team, generally, before they find this match up on the field.

Think – engage ruck defence, fix edge defenders, backs holding their run with width and depth etc…

Watch the clip below (40secs) and observe the following:

* The intent of the attacking team to quickly shift the ball outside the ruck and edge defence.

* The lead runners on each pass play providing option and engaging defence

* Find the point at which the space becomes apparent. What is the posture of the defence? Which way are they moving, if at all?

* The attacking winger’s decision to take the tackle near the sideline, and speed of his play the ball.

* The whole movement is carried out at speed.


1. The halves have decided the point of attack is wide on the other side of the pitch. Perhaps targeting the last 3 defenders in the line.

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2. The first receiver (halfback) after drifting slightly, squares up and ‘digs’ into the defensive line attracting interest. This is the beginning of creating the space out wide. Draw and pass.

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3. With a lead runner going through taking out two defenders, you can now see the opposition beginning to scramble across. Good width and depth from the attack to preserve space for the winger.

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4. Good momentum onto the ball. Beginning to develop a ‘front foot’ feel about this play. Important to note that now is where the work is being done to get the advantage on the next play or at contact. Again support runners provide options and commit defenders.

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5.The ball carrier continues to draw and pass, further fixing two more defenders and the outside man is in two minds. Asking questions of the defence is key in creating this space. Draw and pass. Lots of grass appearing now.

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6. The ball carrier again delays his pass preserving the remaining space for his winger as the defence slides (scrambles). The last in this exchange of passes see the winger receive the ball and still achieve some good carry metres.

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7. With the sideline (14th defender) quickly approaching as well the cover from the inside, the winger is presented with his choice. Foot race? Or, take the tackle and re load? (For any effective play after this, there MUST be a team mate move into dummy half quickly to get advantage from the PTB).

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8. The winger takes no chances close to the sideline and takes the tackle. Note he doesn’t ‘fight’ for any length of time as getting to his feet to play the ball quickly is the only objective. This is the critical piece of this attacking puzzle. The work has been done to fracture (get around) the defence on the last play. With many defenders still trying to get back on side, the ball carrier knows exactly the space to attack and wastes no time.

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9. The result, although not a try on this occasion is great field position. The ball carrier chooses the space where the ref is standing and puts his foot on the gas. The defensive posture hasn’t been given time to recover. The reward from the first exchange of passes indeed!

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Whilst I’m certainly not saying that generic attack v defensive grids aren’t effective, be sure you are adding the necessary context to provide decision making opportunities to both. At least ensure you are progressing to opposed plays more than your players take on ‘fresh air’.

Modified or conditioned games will provide the necessary elements required for your players to communicate, support, make decisions and execute within the context of competition. It is repeat, or sustained group effort on display in this article. Everyone playing a role on and off the ball, for more than one play at a time…

Rugby League is about building pressure, & creating field position from which to strike. When you are clear, and work to a team process, great things can happen.

By Stuart Lierich

Many articles, as you know, have been written about the counter attack in Rugby. As a professional kicking coach, (often collaborating with backs/attack coaches) I feel it necessary to provide some of my considerations on the subject including focus points for successful execution. With such a subjective coaching topic, I will outline some key considerations, with the aim of giving your Counter Attack some layers and structure. Although definitely not exclusive, many a good counter has been launched on the back of a kick receipt or turnover. The “transition”, in my opinion, is an area of the game that has been under-coached at many levels , so here I will endeavour to provide some of my thoughts and simplify the subject.

If we consider the age old cliche about Rugby being a simple game, then what really is the essence of a good counter attack? In my opinion we are only ever interested in exploiting weakness in the opposition defensive structure. Game plans developed using objective analysis will give a holistic view on the opposition’s attack/defensive systems and potential opportunities, so this will always help. But spur of the moment events are prevalent in Rugby, so a PLAN is needed to better handle these moments (opportunities) for successful game management.

With defensive systems becoming more sophisticated over time, renewed emphasis has been placed on seizing these chances to launch an attack during transition phase of possession.

So what’s a transition anyway?

A transition is essentially one of those moments in a match whereby one team surrenders possession, presenting their opposition an opportunity to attack through (or around!) unstructured defence.

These key moments only exist in small windows, so it is essential for teams to be able to quickly assess the moment and make a correct decision on how & where to attack. Although still considered risky by some coaches, a well executed counter attack can produce great returns. I have even observed, particularly at schoolboy level, that many teams find it very difficult to “stop the bleeding” against good counter attacking opposition.

More often than not, a team that is strong in this area generally has “counter guidelines” that are played out, depending on the specific situation. I believe it is critical that teams develop their own set of flexible team rules for counter attacking. This builds unit cohesiveness and a sense of responsibility, but ensures all players understand their role when a counter is to be played out. Although appearing very chaotic and free-wheeling, most well executed counter attacks are built on solid foundations in the first phase after taking possession.

Any attack, including a counter, should be designed around what the defence presents at that particular time and place. For instance: how is their shape? Is their chase committed? Where is the space? 

This will also assist players to decide if the counter is NOT the right decision to take. So many players (noticeably schoolboy rugby) continue to counter (often one-out) when just considering (quickly) the above, may have prevented a poor decision. We will agree, I’m sure, that this is a team movement, right? And the team need to all be on the same page…..

What should the ball carrier/counter attacking players be looking for?

Generally moving the ball away from the traffic (or herd, or masses etc..) is a nice rule of thumb, when initiating a counter attack. But eventually the contact will come so we need to look deeper into what to exploit here.

I know of several coaches that instruct the counter attack to come back through centre field, ideally with the 15. This is a great starting point when considering a quick shift (away from oncoming traffic and/or sideline) will most commonly find space and centre-up the options. (Usually from deeper kicks where a winger or centre has time to link up). Although I have seen this executed successfully on many occasions, I feel the first priority is to assess & scan the space and defensive shape. Even though generally the defence will track the ball across during transition, the best opportunity to attack may in fact be right in front of the ball recipient, not always through centre field or the open side. By simply returning the ball to the middle (if not the best decision) may remove time and space from any such attacking movement presented in front. The key is to scan all options first (quickly), not just instinctively throw long ball just yet.

Considering this is a team movement, we need to give roles and instruction beyond one player and one pass..What next?

A positive carry, good support and recycle can most definitely keep a counter attack alive! Here are some target areas and focus points for successful execution…..

  • Own the Space – Be totally positive…
  • Find A Mismatch – Where are the numbers, big on small, fast on slow, injured player?…
  • Make a Quick Decision – No Dancing! Pick the obvious route (space) and go for it, time is of the essence here…
  • Passer to Follow in Support – Your job isn’t over, the team will need your follow up play. If not at the next breakdown, consider a “trailing” position on follow up to be another receiving option…
  • A Good Gain Allows For Numbers in Support At Next Breakdown
  • Quick Ball Essential at Ensuing Breakdowns to Hinder Defensive Realignment – And “Long Quick Ball” is a killer if well directed into the right channel… 
  • Midfielders to Work Back to Assist/Support the Back Three

It’s important to remember:

Most tries from counter attacks will involve at least one pass and one ruck. Don’t worry if you don’t make a clean break. If you have correctly identified the right avenue for attack you will most often make the gain line or even a breach of the line. This, in itself will continue to unsettle the defence allowing for continuation of momentum at next breakdown. It is here that good support to the breakdown, and well recycled ball will keep the counter alive. The process continues: Identify (or create space) or target the mismatch etc..but pick the obvious and do it Quickly!

Teams must Exercise Patience and Recycle Clean Ball

Watch the clip below as respected Rugby Analyst Murray Kinsella  demonstrates the concept of identifying or creating space for successful Counter Attacking….Note the:

* Limited amount of time a team has to counter attack, particularly from a turnover

* Every player needs to execute their job effectively for counter attack success

Session Design

In a recent article on this blog (Rugby Kicking Games & Development), I outlined the benefits of providing well designed modified games in your program to develop skill and game awareness. As coaches we need to facilitate an environment that fosters the learning that comes from simulating game scenario in our practice activities. For counter attack I see this as THE ONLY WAY to improve execution. It certainly is the best way to practice your “plan” under pressures closely matched to that of a real game. Generally speaking “Technique + Pressure = Skill”, so we will only know for sure the likelihood of countering effectively (making correct decisions) if your players are working on their “game awareness” in match-like conditions. And of course modified games, where the coach provides thoughtful constraints and relative player questioning have a profound effect on other skill areas as well! Adaptabilty in training is the key to successful transfer in matches.

We’ve covered some key areas for teams when countering, but what should individual players work on to improve their involvement in such movements? Here’s how I see it:

  • A player must be good (strong) on their feet, particularly in contact, staying alive as long as possible…
  • A player must be able to beat an oncoming defender in a 1v1 situation. A good fend or step (footwork) is paramount…
  • A player must be able to (when off the ball), keep space for the team by engaging defenders. Clever line running…
  • A player must be able to receive and pass from either side of their body. Of particular importance is sound offloading when countering.

The Rugby Counter Attack, in my opinion, has no definitive right or wrong way. However, for consistent results, all teams need a plan where players are clear on their roles and intended outcomes. 

By Stuart Lierich