Archives For Transition (Counter Attack)

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

Quality kick returns in rugby league are an essential part of establishing decent field position from any tackle set.

I’m not necessarily talking about the many players that collect the ball from a last tackle kick and amble forward into the chasing line to take the first contact.

A quality return requires urgency, skill and communication from any players able to support the ball carrier. This, as Al Pachino knows, is a game of inches.

And they all count!

Whilst much of my work is spent coaching kickers to turn opposition backs around and drive deep to the pockets, this example looks at what an attacking attitude and great footwork can do when seemingly there is no space to work bringing the ball back out.

I have had enough, even at the elite level, of watching passive kick returns.

Whilst all teams will play with several exit options, it is the first contact and play the ball (unless a line break) that will determine eventual field position to launch an attack.

It is imperative you instill an “attack ball at all costs” attitude when receiving kicks. Work on developing a “catch on the full” mindset and the rewards will follow. 10m back there means everything to the quality of the set!

Observe the clip below (1.5mins) and observe the following:

* The initial catch from the orange team (Easts), and return to the oncoming chasing line of four

* Cameron Munster (4) in the wing position (bottom of screen) works back to support or be part of the play

* Footwork from the initial ball carrier, and movement taking three outside defenders wider creating space inside

* The pass to Munster (4) who (on the same page!) attacks the space on the inside with aggressive attitude

* Whilst not a quick play the ball, no loss either as Souths (white) with 4 players were unable to get Cameron onto his back

* How many times did he change direction? How many defenders before halting his progress? How many metres gained?

Often after an attacking line break many players can get a rush of blood, wandering even slightly off their channel or losing valuable width and depth as they ‘ball watch’.

Discipline was key to asserting the numbers advantage on the left side, and finishing this set that began way back on their own 20 metre line.

Yes, Cameron Munster is exceptional, but we should all be looking to coach these qualities into our kick returns.

I guarantee you will see results!

By Stuart Lierich

There are, of course, a number of pre requisite inclusions for an effective counter attack movement in rugby.

The clip below will highlight the importance of committed support, that enables attacking pressure (and options) to be sustained beyond the first ruck after receiving the ball.

In particular observe the following:

* The speed & urgency at which the counter attacking team mates work to get back ‘behind the ball’ to play a role. You have a role to play, even off the ball!

* The 12 is a standout here, and ends up with some good carry metres taking the ball into contact, with momentum.

* Look where the first ruck is after originally taking possession (receiving the kick).

* The speed of service from the 9 at the first ruck, making defensive re alignment difficult.

* The change of direction of play by the 9 at the second ruck.

* For the final exchange of passes before scoring, look at the attacking players ‘lining up’.

This committed support provides necessary options, and undoubtedly commits or holds defenders.

You can also see in this example, that if everybody works to support, you can out number the defence, even when it appears there is no space to work in.

It’s funny isn’t it. Committed supportdoesn’t take talent to execute. Just old fashioned effort and communication.

Yet, this is often the reason many counter attacking movements breakdown early. Your job as a coach is to find ways to teach your players the value of this in your team practice.

I guarantee, you’ll be glad you did!

By Stuart Lierich

When counter attacking it’s critical for teams to keep their ‘foot on the throat‘ of the opposition if they’re to have any chance of extracting a result from the movement.

At the very minimum, net gain at the end of the play or turnover of possession must be achieved.

The clip below highlights the following:

* Grubber kicks behind a flat defence appear ‘defensive’ if no support is there to collect, turning over possession.We also give the opposition player ‘sweeping up’ time and space to make a decision.

* Clearing straight into touch is often the easy way out.

* An adaptable kicking style will allow you to, even under duress, return the ball with interest down the tramlines.

In particular observe the following:

* The final ‘up and under kick’ from the team that was originally attacking. (Ouch)

* The final ‘resting place of the ball’. Penalty.

By Stuart Lierich

Re starts are such a fascinating subject area when we consider applying attacking principles for the receiving team.

At club rugby level, it is fair to say that many kick offs and re starts aren’t ideal for the chasing team, and provide advantage to the receivers.

In the case below, you will see one such scenario. The receiving team catch the ball in good field position and with nice ‘attack’ on the footy.

In other words the attitude is right for positive phase play.

In fact, this is where your counter attack framework must be deployed to gain maximum effect or result.

In the short video below, I ask you to observe the following:

Did the ball carrier make the advantage line before going into contact?

Was the ball recycled fast from the ruck? How was the speed of service from the scrum half?

Was the scrum half pass a threat to the defence? Why/Why not?

Was the fly half positioned well enough to maintain momentum and make himself a threat?

Did the counter attacking team lose ground on the play?

Did the defence ever look stressed?

Was this a counter attack opportunity missed?

Far too many teams wander the pitch aimlessly, or are unable to sustain periods of positivity and support. The ruck in the above example should have been the springboard to continue the attack.

Some handy work from receiving a re start (including footwork at the line!) ended up 20 metres backwards with a knock on.

Coaches need to encourage a framework that sees an attacking team probe the defence for opportunities. Having a little more ‘action’ off the ball asks questions of the defence and wasn’t evident here.

If we drift too laterally or pass wide and deep to this style of defence we surrender any advantage we had.

It certainly won’t help when your 10 is not square on the pass! (everyone knew what he was doing next). Anyhow, that’s more an individual skill element for another time.

Play direct and punch the holes or half holes. Often the maintenance of front foot ball from the ruck will be enough to find a defensive breach or even a penalty.

We just need to get everyone on the same page and MOVE FORWARD!

You can read more on Counter Attack Here: Attack The Obvious Space

By Stuart Lierich

This article was originally going to be a few words to highlight a very good kick chase example from the video embedded below.

But much more than that, is a brilliant counter attacking movement that began deep inside the counter attacking team’s territory. The kick at the end of the tackle set was only possible because of the work done to achieve good field position from front foot ball from momentum.

So let’s take a look at some things for you to observe in the clip:

* Where does the team presented with the counter attack opportunity take possession?

* Was their reaction fast or slow to the ball fracture/turnover? How did this help?

* Look off the ball, is there organising or communication occurring?

* Does the attacking team probe the defensive line? How the the defensive shape look?

* Does the attacking team ensure momentum, making for easier ‘play the ball’?

** Note the field position before the last tackle kick option & reflect back on where possession was originally taken. 

So much good work with everyone knowing their roles in this movement. Nothing opportunist about this ‘set of six’ this because this team practices for this very thing. Do you?


by the time the last tackle kick was made, the field position made the execution a lot easier. They even got to turn the last defender around to their advantage.

But it’s not finished there..

So many rugby league halves seem to drop off after a kick such as this. Make note of the aggressive chase lead by the kicker, as well as the speed of support.

Your team can benefit from all of the principles at play here. I challenge you to provide more practice time for kick returns and reaction from picking up loose ball. Your team will benefit as a result

Watch Clip Here:

By Stuart Lierich

Whilst many rugby teams have ‘rules’ for when the ball is in transition, I prefer to coach to a framework.

Effective counter attacking perhaps lies somewhere on the scale between highly variable & highly structured. A team that returns the ball with no structure generally is chaotic and opportunist at best. On the other hand a team with too much structure (or rules) governing the return (from kick or fractured ball etc) risk missing opportunities that exist outside their tunnel ‘vision’.

Below is a clip highlighting ball in transition, and the opportunities presented for a team to counter attack.

Things to observe & consider:

* The length of time the chasers took to arrive and approach new ball carrier

* The quality and shape of the chasing line. Any pressure?

* Did the new ball carrier assess situation before making his decision?

* Does this appear that game plan or set structure decided the outcome? Was it pre determined?

* Where was the obvious space?

* Did the new receiving team work back hard enough to provide support and play options?

* What would you have done? You want to score tries right?


By Stuart Lierich