Rugby sevens, like touch, is primarily based on running with the ball and passing. However, in the former game kicking the ball forward is also permitted, which influences the tactics and strategy used in the game. When a stoppage occurs in rugby sevens, the game restarts with a set play. For example, if a handling error occurs, such as the ball being knocked to the ground or passed forward, a scrum is used to restart the play, with possession transferred to the non-offending team. The ball can also be kicked forward from within the defensive 25-metre zone into touch. If the ball lands in the field of play and then bounces out of bounds, play is restarted with a lineout at the spot where the ball crossed the sideline, with possession going to the team that did not kick the ball into touch. If the ball is kicked directly out of bounds, play is restarted with a lineout; however, this is now taken at the sideline in line with where the kick was initiated.
In rugby sevens, body contact is allowed in the form of tackling the opponent who has possession of the ball. Following a tackle, players from both sides may attempt to secure the ball in a maul, when the ball is held off the ground, or in a ruck, when the ball has come into contact with the ground.
Kicking tends to be a less significant skill in the game, but it can still be important. The game starts in each half with a drop kick from the centre. After each try, a drop kick is used to attempt to convert the try and add 2 extra points to the score. Kicking directly to touch can be used from possession in the defensive 22 metres. In attack, a deep kick from outside the defensive 22 that bounces into touch can be used to gain an attacking position. In general play, an attacking team sometimes uses a variety of kicks to overcome an aggressive defence.
Teachers and coaches can introduce the scrum and lineout in small practice situations, emphasising technique and the role of the individual player or group in the set piece. This can progress from simplified partner challenges, building up gradually by increasing numbers towards the more complex pressure in the game.
Players work in pairs to establish the correct body position. This is an ideal warm-up activity that can be expanded to a partner challenge once players have mastered good body position. Players position their feet wide apart to establish a solid base, flex their knees, flatten their back, and tuck their head under the shoulder of their partner. Both partners should hold on to each other’s trunks. One partner pushes against the other, sharply extending the knees and attempting to move the stationary partner back. The other partner resists by splaying the feet and locking the legs in position (figure 9.8).
Instructors can build up this technique using a 2v2 practice, in which players bind their inside arms around their partner’s trunk and their outside arms around an opponent.
The 3v3 practice is the scrum used in the game. The middle player is the hooker, who uses the right foot to push the ball back through the legs of the left-side player (loose-head prop). The right-side player (tight-head prop) supports and stabilises the scrum (figure 9.9).
Small-sided games of 4v4 or 5v5 can be played with only 2 players in the scrum (1v1), where the ball is fed into the left side by the halfback and the hooker uses the right hand to push the ball back between the legs. The halfback collects the ball and passes it to the backs, who attempt to get over the advantage line.
This is a simple extension of how the ball is played from the mark in touch, so it can be easily adapted into the progressions outlined in the previous section.
Each scrum can be enlarged from 2 to 3 forwards. With 3 forwards and 4 backs, you have a 7-a-side game. Initially, the game can be shaped so that the side putting the ball into the scrum is allowed to win it. Each side has six attempts to score. The scrum is used to restart play after a breakdown in play, such as a forward pass, a dropped ball, or an offside position.
Since there is little kicking in sevens, lineouts occur far less frequently than scrums. When the ball is kicked over the sidelines and into touch, the non-kicking team throws the ball between the opposition forwards, who line up at right angles to the place where the ball entered touch. They attempt to catch the ball and retain possession for their team.
Basic Lineout Practice Working in Grids
The ball is thrown by X1, who faces the jumper (X2) standing 5 metres away. X2 jumps, catches the ball, and passes to X3, who returns the ball to X1 (figure 9.10a). Players rotate roles frequently. A round ball could be used initially for the throw-in with a two-handed under-arm lob to ensure success, followed by a two-handed over-arm lob as in the soccer throw-in. Eventually, a rugby ball should be introduced.
This practice can be progressed further by adding an extra player (X4), who stands behind X2 and assists the jumper by grasping him around the waist and lifting. This is a novel aspect of the lineout. Players will learn to time and coordinate the jump with the throw. By adding another player, the halfback (X4) can then pass to a player running to the ball and practise the linking of forwards and backs. Both of these techniques can be introduced into the game using groups of 5v5, 6v6, or 7v7 (figure 9.10b).
In early games, sport educators should allow the side throwing in the ball to win possession so that the opposition lineout remains passive. As technique and understanding improve, the lineout can become competitive, with both sets of forwards attempting to win the ball. This should lead to the development of tactics by the team throwing in the ball in an attempt to win possession, such as moving forwards or backwards quickly to surprise the opposition.
Rugby sevens can be played enjoyably without tackling by simply using a two-handed touch on the hips of the ball carrier to replace the tackle. This simulates the correct body position and ensures that the ball is passed on immediately. Depending on the context, it may be appropriate to introduce tackling into the game. This can be undertaken using the following progressions.
Body contact can be introduced initially using small-sided games, such as end ball. In this game, teams are selected and matched for size. This can be done quickly by having the players pair up according to size and number themselves 1 or 2. All number 1s form one team and 2s form another, so that there is an even spread of sizes across the teams.
Two teams of 5 or 6 per side play with four or five balls on a small area with a scoring zone at each end. The equipment is placed in the centre of the area. The aim of the game is to secure a ball, carry it, and hold it in the score zone. Defenders can attempt to retrieve the rugby ball from the attackers by grabbing the ball from their hands and carrying it to their score zone. Conditions can be applied in this game in order to accommodate individual needs. For example, restrictions on the pace of the game and the type of contact can be applied according to the experience level of the group. The game can be allowed to proceed for 4 or 5 minutes, and the team who secures the most balls in their score area wins.
Walking rugby is another useful introduction to body contact using small-sided games of 3v3, 4v4, or 5v5 played in corridors as indicated previously in touch. Players walk and pass the ball in an attempt to score while defenders grab or hold the attackers. In these games attackers are given a number of attempts to gain ground or score before changing roles after the final attempt or when a try is scored. However, this is a very artificial game, and boys especially may find it difficult to restrict themselves to walking, especially if there is a chance to score! Because of this, short play-time intervals, a rotation of teams, and an emphasis on these games as lead-up trials only are recommended strategies to assist the groups in maintaining a walking pace.
The teacher or coach can observe the players to assess their involvement and confidence with physical contact and can then reorganise teams accordingly. As indicated earlier, they should also match players for size in the early stages of introducing body contact.
Safety is of utmost importance when teaching this technique. Factors such as matching players for size and playing on soft surfaces are both very important.
The tackler places the head behind the opponent’s hips, with his arms grasped firmly around the other’s legs between the knees and hips. The tackler’s legs are used to drive the weight forward through the movement. The body position needs to be low, with the eyes focused on the area of contact.
Practice 1: Introducing Tackling
Players should use tackle bags, if available, and work in small groups of 3 or 4. One player supports the bag while the others take turns tackling it. Starting from a squat position, the tackler drives with the legs into the bag, hitting it with the shoulder, holding the head to one side, and throwing the arms around the bag to knock it over. The group rotates so each player gets to tackle. This can be another warm-up activity.
Practice 2: Kneeling Tackling
Players work in pairs of similar size. Both assume a kneeling position within touching distance of one another, with the tackler to the side of and perpendicular to the partner. The tackler drives the leading shoulder into the partner’s hip and thigh area, placing his head behind the partner’s hips and his arms around the legs. In this way, he attempts to knock the partner over.
Practice 3: Walking Tackling
Players work in groups of 3, with the tackler in a kneeling position. The attacking player to be tackled walks in a straight line past the tackler, who attempts to tackle while driving from the knees. The attacker must not deviate from the path or resist the tackle and should be shown how to relax and fall to the ground. This can be progressed so that the attacker is carrying the ball, and after he is taken to ground in the tackle he learns to position the ball so that a supporting player can pick it up.
Practice 4: Walking and Tackling
Players can return to the small-sided game of 5v5 or 6v6 introduced earlier; however, in this game tackling is permitted. The attacking team attempts to score by walking and passing. The defenders can tackle, but the focus is on safety and correct tackling technique. Again this game will have to be carefully monitored and conditions applied to ensure the walking rule is observed.
The attacking players focus on the tactic of keeping the ball ‘available’ by passing it as the tackle is made or by placing it on the ground in the direction of their team, usually backwards, so that a support player can pick it up and continue the attack. Similar to the earlier game, the attackers are given a set number of attempts to move the ball forward before changing roles. This condition enables both teams more time and practice in the attacking and defending roles. In this game, any turnover or error by the attackers results in an additional loss of one play attempt with the ball (as used in touch).