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Supplement: Depth, Reloading and Off-Loading

The Usual Situation:

The space between two players, an attacker and a defender, gives time for each to react to the other. The amount of space a player may need to react to the situation varies according to the ability of the player.

This may happen in attack when the ball carrier reacts to the defence and when a support player reacts to the ball carrier.

In defence it occurs as the defender competes with the ball carrier. This competition occurs on the straight line between the two with the ball carrier wanting to run on a straight line towards the defender holding the defender and at best causing them to get flat-footed and stationary.

The defender on the other hand, coming from an inside out line towards the ball carrier, aims to force the ball carrier to run across the field. This takes away the space of the remaining players in the attack line, forces them to run an inside-out line and allows the defence to cause the attack line to drift towards the touchline and run out of lateral space.

In order to make good decisions the attack needs time and space.

Currently the commitment by the defence to the post tackle is less than the attack resulting in the defence line being more numerous. They are able to align on the offside line and, as soon as the ball is “out”, move forward closing down the time and space of the attack.

The defence has momentum.

Attack Reloading to Accelerate to And Over the Gain Line:

In sevens the defence line needs to reload so they can move forward. With the offside lines at the post tackle in sevens being as little as 2metres apart the defence can be caught flat footed allowing the attack to play over the gain line.

This is enhanced by the attack reloading to give them even more time and space. Because the defence is closer to the gain line what could happen is that the defence will beat the attack to the gain line, but experience shows that this is not the case.

An attacking player who is part of an attack line or a potential penetrator hovering behind the attack line and is some metres back so they can run onto the ball, threatens the defence. The threat is enough to cause them to hesitate and concede time and space.

You would think that space is conceded and while it is to a degree, the uncertainty created in the defence means the initiative is not lost to the defence.

As I said above skilful players will not require as much space.

A Solution to the Current Situation

The current option that is being used in sevens and especially in fifteens is for the attack is standing flat and, often, receiving the ball and the tackler at the same time. The attack, under this situation, will have no momentum.

Also, each post tackle situation creates an opportunity for the ref to intervene and an opportunity for the defence to regain the ball.

The use of time and space also occurs when supporting the ball carrier. Once again depth is necessary so that the actions of the ball carrier can be reacted to.

If the attacking, support players are too flat they will overshoot and run past the ball carrier who changes direction or is tackled. They will put themselves out of the play.

The ball carrier can help by being able to pass into the space he/she has moved away from and, as a result, created. If the ball carrier moves left this means the pass must be to the right and, when the evasion is to the right the space will be on the left.

Many “theories” have been promoted re. patterns of support. Some go for a diamond shape, others an unders line or an overs line.

Think about it, if the ball carrier changes direction the player who is directly behind him/her is in the space that has been created. There is no need to change direction. But the ball carrier must be able to square up his/her hips to make an accurate pass.

Let’s assume there is no support directly behind only to the side – which player should enter the space.

If the player on the right moves into space created on the right or if the player on the left moves into space created on the left, they will take their defender with them and a tackle will be made.

So, the support from a lateral alignment should come from the side that the ball carrier has moved into. In so doing they will create an extra player on that side and create an overlap.


Now the offload.

How can the ball be transferred to a support player in a contact situation?

Stepping, straightening up, going into the tackle and making an “arms through pass merely lifts the passers centre of gravity and allows one or more tacklers to tackle and dislodge the ball – so that’s not much good.

Keeping low, stepping or swerving, accepting the tackle and turning with the tackle enables a pass that goes from the hands to the mid-drift of the support player, a pass that doesn’t see the light of day, works well. This is the “gut” pass from the passer’s hands into the receiver’s stomach area.

Should the pass be attempted in the tackle before it is completed the risk of this offload is higher.

Colin Cooper’s guide to Ma’a Nonu was to regard the ball as a camera and only pass if you can take a complete picture of the support player.

A safer option is a chest pass once the ball carrier is lying on his/her back on the ground. The value of this offload is that the passer can guide the flight of the ball to suit the positioning and depth of the support. 

A further option is for the passer to “hit and spin” using his/her body position to “screen” the ball from the tackler.

To do this the ball carrier runs on an inside-out line towards the defender contacting the inside shoulder. The player now turns back-on to the tackler by stepping back. The support player runs from right to left or left to right to receive a “gut” pass offload as they run into the space the passer has created.