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FEATURE The insane skills that lit up the Six Nations

The insane skills that lit up the Six Nations
1 year ago

It’s easy to marvel at some of the skills on show at the Six Nations and think, there’s no way I could do that. Alternatively, you might be Welsh, have watched the first rounds, and thought I could definitely do that. Yes, the big moments of skill get us on our feet and talking, but it’s often those subtle moments which are key to deciding the games. In this article I will look at six small moments which helped decide matches. If you are a player, you can try and replicate them. If you’re a fan hopefully you can appreciate them all the more.

Sleight of Hand

Analysts like to explore the really niche parts of the game. We love to look for those possible 1% differences where we might gain an advantage for our team. Those things are important, but at its core, rugby is a very simply game of catch and pass.

The game winning try for Scotland in the Calcutta Cup came courtesy of a simple catch and pass by Richie Gray. Before we come to that pass though, let’s look at the situation Gray finds himself in. He has Max Malins infront of him as the last English defender with Mako Vunipola the penultimate defender. That is key. If Gray gets caught with the ball, that situation vanishes, and England have time to set. He has to get the ball away before Malins gets to him.

What are the key things Gray does to make this pass? First of all he has his hands towards the passer. That allows him to catch the ball early and then use the passes’ momentum to swing across his chest. The temptation is to take the ball into your chest, then reload it to your right side, then pass. All that takes valuable seconds that you don’t have. Simply catch it on your fingertips and swing it across your body. Like a golf swing, make sure you continue through the pass. Stopping loses power and accuracy.

Finally, look at Matt Fagerson as he receives the pass. He slows down his run. He has seen that Gray will be under pressure and he is anticipating the pass might not be perfect. He slows down then reacts to where the pass goes. If your teammate has a difficult pass, don’t make it even harder by narrowing their margin of error.

Space Man

At the international level, you need to exploit the smallest of gaps. Have a look for what Ange Capuozzo sees in the clip.

Notice how Italy move the maul infield which creates a 15m blindside. At first, that is covered by both Antoine Dupont and Gregory Alldritt, but Dupont moves to the openside when he sees that there is no Italian threat on the blindside.

Now, many of us would wait for an overlap before attacking. That doesn’t need to happen though if you are either quick or powerful. Capuozzo is the former and he calculates that he can get to the corner before Alldritt can. At no point do Italy have an overlap; Stephen Varney is matched up against Paul Willemse with Alldritt covering Capuozzo, but they use their combined skillset to get the try. Crucially, you need to back yourself in this situation. The margin will be tight so you need to do everything you can to squeeze in at the corner.

Hand to Hand Combat

That Duhan Van der Merwe try might be the best we see in this Six Nations and maybe any Six Nations. We can talk about the balance and agility required, but I want to instead focus on one small detail. Watch the above clip and focus on the moment before Van der Merwe hands off Alex Dombrandt.

You have probably noticed how the Scottish winger switched the ball in his hands. That might seem simple, but it’s a crucial skill to master. If you get comfortable with changing the ball in your hands, you can significantly increase your ability to hand-off or offload. Notice how Van der Merwe moves the ball to the hand furthest away from Dombrandt. It allows the winger to hand-off the number eight, but if he is stopped, he can still offload in any direction. If he is brought to ground, he can then place the ball as far back as possible to help ensure quick ball.

Best of all, it’s possible to practice this movement of the ball while you’re set on the sofa reading this article.

Shifting Gears

A good way to beat a defender is to be in a different place to where they thought you would be. Look how Josh Van der Flier calls for the ball and then keeps moving sideways. He is like a fly trying to escape from a room. He is looking for the weak point in the defence. Meanwhile, the defenders are looking in at the ruck to find out when to get off the line.

As an attacker, your biggest weapon is your ability to decide where you want to go. The defence have to match you, you don’t need to match the defence. Simply moving either closer to or further away from the ruck can put you in plenty of space with a defence unable to react until you have received the ball. You can see how effective Van der Flier makes that look.

Track Star 

The modern winger is required to operate right the way across the pitch. The challenge which comes with that is knowing where you need to be. Sometimes you can get caught out when play suddenly switches. The key is to track play and get back to where you need to be.

Notice how Henry Arundell is off his wing when Alex Mitchell begins his run towards the sideline. He tracks Mitchell back towards the wing. He keeps his strides short to ensure he can stay behind Mitchell and not over commit. Most players would run a hard line here but Arundell lets play emerge and trusts Mitchell to make the right decision.

Improvisation Dear Watson 

The best teams in the World make rugby look very easy most of the time. But, they can also improvise when things don’t go right. Coaches will often focus on the perfect way to pass or kick or tackle. However, when things go wrong, what matters is making it work, not making it pretty. Remember to practice these moments in training. The more you practice, the more you can make it look like it was all planned.


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