5 Tips for Back Rows.
the positions of 6,7 and 8 probably require the widest skillset in rugby-you’re the universal soldier. You have to be one of the best tacklers and ball-carriers in the team; your breakdown skills have to be top notch and you must be comfortable playing in the wide channels or covering the back-field. All whilst paying taking care of the highly technical nuts and bolts of the set-piece: scrum, lineout and kick-off.
First and foremost, the demands of the modern game require that everyone on the field is in top physical condition and nowhere more so than in the back row.
From a young age it is important to build a strong base. This isn’t complicated at all but requires hard work and dedication and is often the difference between a good player and a great player.
When possible always favour running to other forms such as rowing or cycling and in terms of weights concentrate on big, compound lifts such as squats, deadlifts, bench press, dips and prone rows as these help massively in building size and functional strength.
Position specific skills
Aside from the obvious catch and pass skills that are important for all players to have there are a few extras that are necessary in the back row. For number 8s in particular, high ball catching is a must. Aerial skills are hugely important as back rowers will often drop back into coverage after a kick. It is also important for number 8s to work on their skills from the base of the scrum such as popping the ball to a 9, longer passes to a 10 off both hands and keeping the ball in a forward moving scrum to win a penalty.
Ways to improve: When the backs are practising their kicking, always try to get involved so you can take as many catches of as many different types of kick as possible. Grab a willing partner with a tackle shield and have him put pressure on you when you are in the air when catching high balls.
For scrum control, get in a scrummaging position with a ball at your feet and have a partner put his hands on your shoulders. Move forward slowly pushing against his hands while controlling the ball as your partner tries to destabilise you.
The speed of the ball in attack and defence is now probably the most important part of the game. It is essential that any back rower has the ability to slow down opposition ball and create quick ball for his own team.
There are two parts to improving this part of your game. Firstly, practice makes perfect. Keep practising to make sure you’re technically sound. Secondly and most importantly, it comes down to attitude, It’s easy to put your body on the line when you’re carrying the ball or making a tackle. It takes real toughness to take a beating when you know your work will likely go unseen.
Ways to improve: Work and work on your body height and shape and stability at the breakdown, in both attack and defence. Lay a tackle bag lengthways on the ground with a ball beside it and, approaching the bag from a few yards back, get into a jackal position. Have a partner (or two) with a tackle shield batter you as hard as he can while you try to remain strong over the ball.
The most important part of tackling is foot positioning. If you can get yourself in the right position it is a lot easier to make a dominant hit.
Ways to improve: Again, there is no magic formula. Grab a partner with a tackle shield (or without, if you’re feeling saucy) and get him to come towards you for a straight on hit. Concentrate on getting line speed towards him in the first few steps, then as he gets close shorten your stride so your feet are always beneath you and you can react to any footwork he puts on you. Stay big till the last moment, then when he is about a yard away from you quickly dip from the hips and drive through him, just below chest height, and work your legs through the tackle.
Move on to tackles where he is offset to the right and left, where the same principles apply but you will be pushing more off one foot than the other, and then let him chose which way he is going to go at the last minute so you have to react. Remember, keep your stride length short as you approach the tackle as this makes it harder to get stepped.
In attack, working on your side step, fend and offloading skills is very important and something you can do every day with a partner. Playing in the UK and Ireland, it is obviously important to practise offloading in the wet too!
Ways to improve: Simple offloading drills, where the focus is to use footwork on the defender and manipulate him so that you can get your hands free to make a pass, are a good starting point. This is where you should try different types of offload-left and right hand, out the back of the hand etc. Ultimately, some of your ability to offload comes down to genetics-if you have massive hands, you are more likely to be good at offloading! (Just watch Leone Nakarawa for Glasgow Warriors-he is absolutely incredible). So find what you are good at and works for you and perfect it. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes while practising offloads, or you will never get better at them!
It is then important to take your offloading skills into a training game, such as offloading touch or grip. This will allow you to develop your decision making as to when the offload is “on” and when it is better to form a ruck.