The first thing that hit me when I began coaching at the Brumbies in the Super 15 competition last November was the range of body shapes.
Wow they have so many more aspects to the way their game is played requiring those very tall or very round and nuggety fellas to get their particular jobs done. And they work very hard and very smart to meet extremely high technical levels! Very impressive.
The other thing that is so different to rugby league is the lack of left and right sidedness (if that’s a word). It’s a long time ago since that left and right structure became the dominant feature of rugby league – the mid-80s from memory. In those days centres were inside and outside roaming to either side of the field and often together in both attack and defence. Second rowers were just that, not with an adjective to send them to one side of the field or the other for the duration of the game, season or career.
So whilst unfamiliar after all those years, no, decades of coaching the balanced distribution of players across the field I had to get my head around this new, no, old school follow-the-ball and then adjust type of footy.
It provides so many differences and I was so excited by it. I hasten to add my role as a tackling coach was not greatly effected but it was just so wonderful to be on the inside of this back-to-the-future type moment in my own career.
You won’t be surprised to know that the league style of structured, systemised footy can be seen as highly restrictive. In many footy clubs even at NRL level some halves never go past the goal posts mid- point as their responsibility or restriction is confined to the left or right only. Same goes for second rowers and centres and of course to wingers!
Without those restrictions rugby union coaches and players can be very creative. Watching Steve Larkham plan and practice with all sorts of plays from set play and from less structured situations with those Brumbies showed me of the many more possibilities when players are unshackled from that league style I have been some sort of disciple to for all that time.
What has really struck me throughout this NRL season is the player most affected by this same factor exposed to me at the Brumbies. No prizes for guessing that player is Sonny Bill Williams, fresh from his time in union, and particularly whilst at Super 15 champs Waikato Chiefs.
So I watched some of that footage of SBW doing his thing playing centre or “first five” as the Kiwis refer to it. Just a few minutes of watching his roaming role and effectiveness makes you wonder if that couldn’t be possible for him and others of his type in the NRL.
The only other player who has at times played with that sort of licence to roam as an athletic back row type is Paul Gallen. Whilst not wanting to upset Paul or his family members, I would suggest that he is not quite the same athlete as SBW at this point of his career, but surely some others are?
Ironically I reckon Andrew Fifita is doing a little bit of it this season, roaming to all parts of the field and isn’t he having a whale of a time! Certainly in the top five players in the NRL in 2013 in my opinion and definitely the most improved player.
It takes a bit to get your head around if you have grown up knowing nothing else other than left and right play but I am really hoping to see some young inventive head coach cut the restrictive ties of limited thinking to create an attacking system that no other coach dares to attempt.
I am wondering if SBW is heading back to Super15s as the dogs are barking again, that some of that freedom of movement from one side of the field to the other might have played a part in that decision.
On a much broader level I feel that our game could develop more variety if all of our coaching programmes at least offered this sort of lateral thinking in how attacking play could be developed with fewer restrictions.
Just sayin ……… lol.