Let’s skip past the obvious: RCL were not going to lose on Saturday. Facing 13 men, that much was clear. What was essential was that we would execute those areas of play that had troubled us this season: clean, fast rucking; consistently winning lineouts; tackling across the team; forming a tight defensive line; and good communication.
RCL started the match very well, highly motivated, focused on the game and very concentrated in defence and attack phases. However after 30 min played and while winning by 21-0, and knowing we were playing against 13 men, we started losing motivation and our concentration decreased.
In the first, RCL tended to reach about 4 phases of attacking play. Sadly, this dropped in the second half (for both teams), to about 2 phases of play.
On the whole, tackling was much improved and RCL tackled low in the main. Interestingly, some of the younger players sometimes tackle better than the seasoned ones. Tackling technique has to be looked at again – especially in how to get low when you have a 120 kilo prop running at you full-pelt! This is about strategy: do we stand and wait for a front-on collision, or are we better waiting for one of our teammates to hit them from the side?
A positive aspect of the game was the improvement in attacking rucks. Here, the different roles within the ruck were acted upon quickly and clearly: first man clearing away the first defender, second man protecting the ruck with one step over the player(s) lying on the ground, and nice presentation of the ball to the #9. This was accompanied by quick distribution by #9, so the rucking and recycling was, overall, faster than in previous matches.
Still, too much ball still gets lost in ruck situations. There are many street-wise players out there who steal ball so well from us in the rucks. Having said that, several of our players were really sharp in this respect, and did their own fair share of stealing. Strategy: RCL needs to focus more on the second defender (first man after the tackle is made) getting in there fast, staying on his feet, and going for the ball before their first support arrives to ruck.
Lineouts were again very effective and it is great to see how very consistent RCL are becoming, such that it is rare now to see RCL losing possession on our own throw. Moreover, we were successful winning against the head, which was impressive.
Scrums were surprisingly difficult, which needs to be discussed. While we are definitely a good scrimmaging team, we seem to consistently struggle against more experienced (French?) props.
In the defence, the lines movements were good. We were very aggressive in the 1st half, but lost momentum and aggression in the second due to the nature of the game.
We did not commit a huge amount of penalties in the rucks – an improvement on previous games. Still, the majority of the penalties were committed by stupid off-sides.
The backs enjoyed the game running through the spaces. Still, there was a lot of knock-ons for our side. Back moves are a work in progress. In all honesty, the first thing the backs need to do is go back to basics, which means catching and passing cleanly, accurately and without breaking stride in attack. Before players even ask: we will stop these drills when they’re done perfectly…
Even with two more players on our team, we were unable to convert this advantage into try-scoring after ten minutes or so in their twenty-two in the first minutes of the game. Still, to the backs’ credit, they themselves were unhappy about this – to the point where some said they didn’t enjoy the game at all, really.
So, a win by over a half-century, and a bonus point, but lots to work on. And it is great that players are taking responsibility to give the coaches a load of feedback about various issues. It is only with this thorough, honest feedback that we can possibly know what it is that we need to do with players over the coming months. Though this, we will develop a training plan for the next six months or so which can be followed consistently and accurately. More than anything it is about doing the basics right, and in order to keep interest alive the backs need to learn a new skill, or move, or idea, or drill at every training, so that this keeps them motivated and moving forward in terms of learning.