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Building an Alternative Approach


Rather than winning or losing games by playing as your opponents it is better to play to a pattern that better suits the talent that is available. In other words, identify the talents of the players that are available and develop patterns of play that suits them.

This involves selecting players that meet criteria and play to a pattern that better suits them.



All the “content” used to explain the selection process are just my examples all of which coaches can alter to suit the selection of players they have available.


Broadly speaking the criteria for selection in order of priority are:

  1. Technical Skills.
  2. Tactical Decision Making/ Game Sense.
  3. Strength and Conditioning.
  4. Mental Skills.
  5. Self-management.

Selection Method:

Step One – Identify the aims of attack and defence:

Attack – retain possession, go forward and score points.

Defence – stop the attack, regain possession and attack.

Step Two - Decide on the Functional Roles of the players.

These are in 2 categories:

  • Position specific functional roles – The position specific roles are few in Sevens as the players need to be able to perform a wide range of roles when the need arises
  • Generic functional roles – Those roles that all players should be able to perform.

Examples of Core Position Specific Functional Roles:

(There are others)

These roles have to be performed by all players depending on the situation.

So, judging “what is happening in front of you” becomes a vital, generic role followed playing the specific role that for the situation, the role that complements the roles being performed by team-mates.

  1. Scrummagers in attack and defence – Thrower, Props, Hooker, First Attacker.
  2. Line-out players in attack and defensive - Thrower, Lifters, Jumper/ Catcher, Receiver, First Attacker.
  3. Sweepers in attack and defence.
  4. Decision-makers especially in attack.
  5. Drop kicker – kick-offs and conversions.
  6. Tactical kicker – in attack kicking a recoverable kick or for territory.

Examples of Generic Roles – those that apply to all players depending on the situation.


  1. Passer and receiver.
  2. Penetrator / Evasive runner.
  3. Tackled player.
  4. Support player post tackle.
  5. Support player in general play.


  1. Defender.
  2. Tackler.
  3. Support at the tackle.
  4. Support in general play.


Step Three – The Outcome for each functional role and the key factors that will result in the outcome being achieved.


These are examples.

This is a guide and coaches and selectors should follow the process but alter the 3 elements – Functional Roles, Outcomes and Key Factors – to suit the players they are selecting from and their patterns of play.

What I have explained is ideal and comprehensive. It will seldom apply completely to any team, but it will act as a guide to develop a pattern that will suit the squad.


Core Position Specific Functional Roles - there may be others:

Many of these roles have to be performed by other players depending on the situation.

The key skill that applies to all situations is for the player to see what is happening in front of him/her, selecting the role in greatest need and perform the role.

Of course, this can change immediately resulting in a new role becoming the most relevant.

1. Scrummagers in attack and defence:

Attacking Thrower/ Halfback


Attack – To throw the ball in so that possession can be controlled and the best attacking option performed.

Key Factors:

  • Communicate the throw in.
  • Throw the ball in so delivery can be controlled by the hooker and the prop.

Defending Halfback

Outcome: Position to reduce the attack’s options.

Key Factors

  • Cover attacking options to both left and right.
  • Be alert if ball delivery is untidy to reduce options and regain possession.
  • Join the defence pattern.

Props and Hooker


Outcome: Engage to form a stable platform to win controlled possession.

Key Factors:

  • Props bind over, the hooker binds under so as to release bindings and support as soon as possible.
  • Follow the engagement sequence.
  • Maintain stability following engagement.
  • Control the delivery of the ball.
  • Once the ball has been won disengage and reload to support the ball carrier.


Outcomes: Apply pressure to prevent the best option being used.

Key Factors:

  • Props bind over, the hooker binds under.
  • Follow the engagement sequence.
  • Apply pressure once the ball has been thrown in to regain possession.
  • If possession has been lost disengage and move forward in defence to trigger a pattern to take away the time and space of the attack.

Decision-maker – first receiver in attack.

Outcome: Play to a pre-planned option that best exploits the positioning of the defence by going forward as soon as possible.

Key Factors:

  • Play to enable support to be immediately available.
  • Go left or right, the side that has less defence.
  • Go forward getting ahead of scrummers so they can move forward in support.
  • Use support by creating space and passing/ offloading to support running into the space that has been created.
  • Use the kick option if there is space to “kick and chase.”

2. Line-out players in attack and defensive



Outcome: Throw so that controlled possession is won. Keep the options simple.

Key Factors:

  • Communicate the catching option.
  • Be prepared to change the option based on what the defence is doing.
  • Throw accurately.
  • Move to the halfback position.

Lifters – This applies to attack and defence.

Outcome: Co-ordinate the lift with the throw so that the ball is caught.

Key Factors:

  • Use decoy options to out-manoeuvre the defence. The defence uses movement to apply pressure to the attack.
  • Lift using the squat technique.
  • Stabilise the jumper at the top of the jump.
  • React to changes in play.
  • Reload so that whatever option is played the players can support by moving into play.

Jumper/ Catcher

Outcome: Catch the ball and play the best attacking option.

Key Factors:

  • Move to catch the ball unopposed.
  • Options:
    • Being lifted to make the catch. This may result in the lifters and jumper being out of play when the ball has been delivered.
    • Jumping to catch the ball after outmanoeuvring the defence.
    • Catch the ball without jumping by using decoys within the 5m to 15m lines so the catcher is in space.

Decision-maker / Halfback

Outcome: After delivering the ball play to an option that keeps as many attackers as possible in support of the ball carrier.

Key Factors:

  • Players ahead of the ball reload so they are available as an attacking option.
  • Options:
    • The catcher runs forward once on the ground.
    • The halfback runs forward.
    • Form a 3-4 player maul and go forward.
    • Go around the front or back of the line-out.


Outcomes: Take advantage of all defenders being able to move forward to take away the attacks time and space.

Key Factors:

  • Challenge possession to make for an untidy delivery.
  • Mark each defender and move with your defender.
  • Tackle the ball carrier at the line-out as soon as they are on the ground.
  • When the attack passes the ball to the attack line use the line-out players to take advantage of their position on the gain line to drift with the ball and trigger the forward movement of the defence line.

3. Sweepers

The sweepers could be called rovers. They should be the best players in the team with a range of abilities that enables them to enter play whenever they want to in a range of roles that will make a difference, to the best advantage.

There may be 1 or 2 sweepers. 2 is preferred and, when the attack plays right across the field the sweeper on that side can join the defence line in the wing position as there will still be a sweeper to field the kick option.


  • Provide in depth support for the attack in front.
  • Counter attack from an opposition kick.
  • Cover tackle and support tackle when the defence line has been broken.

Key Factors:


  • From depth enter play to receive an offload from a penetrator to take advantage of the situation.
  • Position directly behind the ball carrier and maintain this line so long as the ball carrier draws the defence to left or right as the sweeper will be immediately in the space the ball carrier has moved from to receive the offload.
  • Play as the extra player to make the difference as a penetrator in attack.
  • Change roles as play develops.

Defence: Be in a position to recover opposition kicks and counter attack and to quickly support the defence line when a tackle has been unsuccessful

Key Factors:

  • Be in position to move into play.
  • Communicate the need for defenders ahead in the defence line to reload creating counter attacking options.
  • Carry the ball forward to make reloading easier.
  • Base the counter attack on the positioning of team-mates and the defence. As a rule, run at the largest grouping of the defence and pass to support away from them where the re-loading players should be.
  • If there is not a run/ pass option kick to space and chase as part of the defensive line.

4. Decision makers

Outcomes: Play to space where the attack has a numerical advantage

Key Factors:

  • If the attacking line is greater than the defensive line, draw the defence so as to not lose the advantage.
  • If the defence is greater than the attack, attack where the ball carrier has a miss-match and commit support to the channel as with linear support.
  • Kick to space and chase to regain possession or isolate their catcher.
  • Chase in an arrowhead formation to cover the opposition’s options.

5. Drop kicker

Outcome: To kick accurately to achieve the objective of the kick-off or the kick at goal. Penalties for points are  rare but conversions can be the difference.

Key Factors:

  • Kick off shallow to regain possession.

  • Kick off long and to space to chase, stop the run/pass options and force a return kick to touch or to your sweeper.

6. Tactical kicker

      Outcome: Assess the situation and perform the kicking option.

Key Factors:

  • Defence in greater numbers than the attack.
  • Kick into space.
  • Kick to regain possession or for territory supported by a chase pattern.

Generic Roles – those that apply to all players.


1. Attackers

Outcome: Align so that play can be moved into and the defenders are both committed and threatened by the pace and evasive skills of the attack.

Key Factors:

  • Align on other attackers so that play inside can be seen maximising peripheral vision. Don’t get ahead of attackers closer to the ball.
  • Align on your designated defender so that the defender is directly in front and the ball carrier has left and right options.
  • React to the defender to penetrate over the gain line.
  • Once the attacker has passed the ball run in support of the ball carrier reloading so that play can be moved into whether it is from general play or a ruck or a maul.
  • Should a ball carrier be tackled react to continue play and retain the ball.
  • When there is limited space across the field play down the field by offloading to support or recycle tackled ball and reverse the attack.
  • Carry the ball over the gain line and use support to maintain this advantage.
  • Should off-side lines be drawn at a post tackle ruck or maul reload by moving back and re-align so that the attack can move into as a unit.

2. Passer and receiver.


Passer - Only pass to a player in a better position.

Receiver – Position in space and depth to move into the ball.

Key Factors:


  • Extend the hands in the direction the ball is coming from to catch it early.
  • Commit a defender by running on an outside-in running line to prevent the defence from drifting out.
  • The pass will be made close to the defence. Because the receiver does not want to receiver the ball and the tackler at the same time the receiver should be in motion but with greater depth.
  • Pass the ball at “eye” height so the receiver can see the ball and the defence in the same line of vision.


  • Stand wide enough to force the defence to spread isolating each defender.
  • Stand deep enough to run onto the ball so the ball can be caught with the receiver running at pace and with time and space to threaten the defender,
  • Observe what both the defence and team-mates are doing and react to what is happening in front. This particularly applies to the movement of the defender either moving infield or drifting out, each creating space to penetrate.

3. Penetrator / Evasive runner.

Outcome: Accelerate through the space that has been created, to receive the ball and score or pass to support to continue play.

Key Factors:

  • Arrive from depth at speed as late as possible to catch the defence unawares.
  • Take the gap and score or commit the defence and pass or offload to support in space.

4. Tackled ball carrier

Outcome: Ensure possession is retained.

Key Factors:

  • Evade to ensure a low tackle so that the ball can be made available to support and away from defenders OR
  • If the tackler traps the ball carrier in a standing position, make the ball available by adjusting body position so the ball carrier is facing support players and is able to place a knee on the ground which will complete the tackle.
  • Once the tackle is completed the tackler has to allow the ball carrier to play the ball immediately.
  • Roll away and stand-up before re-entering play.

5. Support player post tackle.

      Outcome: Retain possession by reacting to the options of the ball carrier.

Key Factors / Options:

  • Ball carrier tackled to the ground:
    • The player must support his/her body weight in a standing/ crouched position to pick up the ball in the time between the placement of the ball and the formation of a ruck (1 Vs 1 over the ball)
    • If a ruck is formed drive past the ball to make it available. This may be done individually or bound to a team mate.
  • Ball carrier standing:
    • If the ball carrier is standing bind and drive forward to loosen the maul and free up the ball so it can be delivered. Remember that there are only 7 players in a team and, if the attack over-commits, the attacking numbers may be less than the number of players in defence limiting attacking options.

6. Support player in general play.

Outcome: Be in a position to receive a pass and to continue play going forward.

Key Factors:

  • Reload so that the play can be moved into. Avoid standing stationary as the player is easily defended.
  • Accelerate onto the ball so that speed and evasion threaten the defence.
  • If lateral positioning will create an overlap align across the field in the attacking line.
  • If the defence has more players than attack align behind the ball carrier and penetrate by overloading a channel especially at a mismatch in the defence line.
  • Move to receive the offload or the pass as late as possible to catch the defence unawares.


1. Defender

Outcome: Align so that play can be moved into and the ball carriers have limited options that are easier to defend.

Key Factors:

  • Align on other defenders so that play inside can be seen maximising peripheral vision. Don’t get ahead of the defenders closer to the ball as this will create a gap in the defence for the attacker inside the defender.
  • Align on your designated attacker so that the attacker only has space on the left or right of the tackler not in both directions. This may be inside-out, so space is outside away from supporters.
  • Increasing the defence along the defence line is outside-in so the tackle is made from the opposite direction that the ball is coming from.
  • Once the designated attacker has passed the ball position on the inside of the next defender to defend the inside space. Don’t drop back into space behind the next defender as this will enable the ball carrier to cut back inside and breach the gain line.
  • As play moves across the field retain alignment down the field and move as a group across the field to isolate each ball carrier.
  • Stop the attack before the gain line.
  • Should off-side lines be drawn at a post tackle ruck or maul reload by moving back and re-align so that the defence can move into the attack as a unit.

2. Tackler

     Outcome: Complete the tackle so that possession can be contested and regained.

Key Factors:

  • Tackle from the side be it inside-out or outside-in.
  • Change running lines to initially reduce time and space ahead and then adjust to the ball carrier, so the line of running is from the side.
  • Align on your designated attacker so that the attacker only has space on the left or right of the tackler not both left and right.
  • Complete the tackle so the ball carrier has to release the ball or risk losing possession.
  • After completing the tackle re-enter play within the Laws.

3. Support at the tackle

Outcome: Adjust to the play of the tackled ball carrier to regain possession of the ball.

Key Factors/ Options:

  • Before a ruck is formed pick up the ball from a standing, crouch position.
  • If a ruck is formed drive the opposition off the ball individually or bound to team-mates.
  • If the attack has control of the ball re-align in the defence line.

4. Support in general play

Outcome: Reload to be in a position to move into play based on what is happening in front.

Key Factors:

  • Decide on your role from those explained above and put it into practice

Adding Other Criteria

Technical skills and tactical decision making/ game sense have been used in the selection process.

For greater detail use:

  1. Strength and Conditioning – aerobic fitness, anaerobic fitness, speed, strength, power, agility and flexibility.
  2. Mental Skills – goal setting, pre-game preparation etc.
  3. Self-Management – time management.