Accurate, early passing prevents the defence from dominating the attack. If you constantly move the point of the attack, the defence will find it impossible to become set. Teams that play like this need to be very fit, because attackers and defenders have little opportunity for rest. The ball is passed continually away from would-be tacklers, so the passing team needs many players running in support of the ball carrier. The main purpose of this strategy is to make the attack so overpowering that at some stage there will be more attackers in one area than there are defenders. With accurate passing and receiving, the attacking team can strike around the edge or through the defence to score.
The main types of rugby passes are the lateral pass, which travels sideways or backwards; the switch pass, which changes the direction of the play; and the loop pass, which helps to put a player either through a gap in the defensive line or into space around the far edge of the defence (overlap). Other passes in rugby (e.g., the gut pass and screen pass) are simply slightly different ways of making lateral passes.
Accuracy is the most important characteristic of an effective pass. The height at which the ball arrives is crucial. If it arrives below chest height, the receiver will have to look down to catch it. This means that the player will look away from the defence and may lose sight of an attacking opportunity. Passing too high has the same effect and will also expose the receiver’s ribs to a hard tackle. The ideal pass arrives at about chest height, with enough power (whether soft or hard) to allow the receiver to play to the best advantage of the team.
Sometimes you may be required to pass with power; and other times, softly. A soft pass may draw the receiver towards the ball. This may help keep the attack moving towards the goal line, the defence will be unable to drift across to the edge of your attack, and therefore space around the edges of the defence will be maintained for the next attempt at a score. A powerful pass may push the receiver away from the most effective running line, which is normally parallel to the touch line. Your receiver may be forced to run slightly sideways, which makes tackling by the defence easier and the attack less likely to penetrate or overlap the opposition because it lessens the space outside the edge of the defence.
Once you can control the power of your pass and understand when to use it, you will begin to send out passes that will allow other players to make the best use of the available attacking options.
Although there are few basic passes, there are various ways to pass the ball. All involve some movement of the arms, wrists and fingers. A short, punched lateral pass may require just a strong flick of the wrists and fingers. For long passes you may need to use the full swing of your arms and also the larger parts of your body, such as your shoulders, hips and legs.
There are no right or wrong ways to pass the ball. You may have already developed a style that allows you to send out accurate passes that you can easily vary in height, length and power. If not, then try various techniques during practice sessions. Any style that suits you is correct. Your main concern is to develop a technique that allows you to send accurate passes that vary in length, height, power and direction.
During play, attacking players will have many opportunities to create space for support players to run into. The task of the attackers nearest the space is to recognise it in advance or to create situations in which the attack outnumbers the defence: two attackers versus one defender or three attackers against two defenders, and so on. A key ingredient of success in these passing situations is to draw the defenders towards you—committing them to tackling you—to create space for another attacker to run through (see figures 1.7 and 1.8). The passing drills that appear later in this step will help you practise these skills. As you develop your passing game, you should seek to create and take advantage of these situations.
When practising passing and receiving skills, defensive players should initially use two-handed touch tackling (touching the ball carrier on the hips with both hands) instead of full-contact tackling. This technique allows players to refine passing skills under defensive pressure without exposing them to injury.