Brumbies forward coach and allround rugby union legend Laurie Fisher this week answers our readers. We thank Laurie for doing this, especially considering how his bruised Ozzie heart must be feeling in the aftermath of….let me not go there. Anyways thanks Laurie we really appreciate it.
1) Jacques asks: It always seemed that Brumbies game revolved around the break down point, which takes defense into attack, how much do you as a coach spend on the area of the game? – And what can teams do today to break this hard core defensive systems of teams, off course we all want to see more running rugby in the game.
Hi Jacques, we adopted a philosophy and developed techniques and decision making around having two arriving players on their feet hard at the ball and the tackler reloading into the defensive line at all available opportunities. We addressed our decision making and practiced our techniques every week without fail sometimes in a stand alone drill or in a more open attack\defense activity. We wanted the opposition to know they would have to work for every possession they got. To combat this approach you must be prepared to commit numbers to the breakdown both aggressively and technically sound and structure your attack around this commitment of numbers. The early targeting of a side like the Chiefs at breakdown is one way of securing a reasonable flow of quick possession.
2) Brendon asks: The brumbies gave birth to the idea of a ‘mismatch on defense’ whereby a fast back runs at a fatty. Yet this hardly ever happens today. A result of better player conditioning or has defenses just become too organized?
Hi Brendon, I think all sides are still looking for the mismatches you speak of though they can be a little harder to find these does especially in the early phases. We would have a notion of trying to find the opposition front row reasonably early from a scrum when they make be a little disoriented. Definitely players are better conditioned and defense systems increasingly well organised but opportunities still exist to work a mismatch. We would take a lot of note in our analysis of where opposition props defend and look to put fast on slower. Perhaps it is less obvious when watching games but most patterns of play revolve around either outworking your opponent or working to secure a mismatch in speed, agility or size. Running a 120kg backrower at a 10 to get gainline and quick release is a mismatch.
3) Methos asks: Do you think the way to break down defenses these days is offloading in contact ? like Sonny Bill Williams? Why is that a skill that so little players seem to cultivate?
Hi Methos, I think offload is a way not the way to break defenses down. SBW is an outstanding athlete with an outstanding skill set. Very few sides have the luxury of a players of his talent. His contribution to the Roosters success this year is enormous. Highlanders were the most offloading side in Super Rugby this year and look where it got them. If you have players with the natural ability to offload you can certainly structure support and opportunity around that. I do see great benefit in developing the outside arm offload where you can take a player on an overs line and commit the next defender to you whilst releasing the ball with the non traditional outside hand flick. I also see great benefit in developing the capacity to fend and offload simultaneously but this again requires great skill, balance and timing. My preference would be not to coach the entire team in offlload (but certainly coach support lines) but to encourage those who do it naturally and well to work it and to educate the team in how to support the offload.
4) JT asks: The breakdown has become the most important phase for any rugby game at any level however the referees seem to do what they please ? how do you plan for this? Do you analyze different referees or do the players see what they can get away with and adapt?
Hi JT, you are right the breakdown is massive in the context of the current game. We certainly analyse each referee to get an understanding of their language, their hot penalties and the general trends in their games. Our basic plan nevertheless is to develop a system that is within the law and try to minimize the influence of the referee. We put a lot of pressure on referees this year to make decisions around tackle contest and I felt we were harshly penalized on many occasions. We had many conversations with the refereeing fraternity and in the end decided that we would stick with our system of pressure at tackle contest and accept decisions as they came, (right or wrong) rather than back out of the contest and allow the opposition to play a from cleaner, quicker breakdowns. Our evolution into next season is to maintain a philosophy of hard at the contest but we must improve technique and decision making. We will not be backing off just to make the referees job easier.
5) JT asks: My coaching mentor (Pierre Villpreux) told me that he hardly spends time on scrums and line-outs and focuses mainly on game situations and prepare players to spot opportunities and be able to take advantage of these ? do you agree and how much time do the Brumbies spend on Scrum/Line-out compared to game situations?
Hi JT, we spend very little time on scrum plays as statistics would tell you that very few clean opportunities come about each game. We would have a a couple of LHS RHS CF and C Zone options that we would spend very little time on. Lineouts are a different kettle of fish and we would try and develop more variation and have more patterns available form this platform. Villepreux is right though in suggesting that unstructured attack is the most available source of possession and is potentially where you can get the biggest bang for your buck. We would spend significantly more time on attack from turnover, kick receipt and a post 3 phases than we would on 1st phase attack from scrum and Lineout. We would spend a good amount of time in developing a basic structure to our unstructured game and the understanding of the opportunities that might present within that framework. We would support that with the development of catch pass skills, footwork and acceleration skills, evasion skills, mismatch skills creating and using numbers skills, support and recycle skills and so on.
6) Craven asks: Firstly congrats on great Brumbies season. My question has to do with feeder structures at the Brumbies. I am aware of the link with Canberra University and such, but what is you main focus at the Brumbies with regards to where you next tier and future players will come from? Are there junior structures in place that you can draw from or do you have to think more creatively?
Hi Craven, Canberra is a small rugby community with 7 teams in the senior 1st grade competition. Our recruitment pool is any player anywhere who is eligible to play for Australia but it is always preferable if you can recruit closer to home. Canberra teams have always had a history of punching above their weight and it is no different today. We have traditionally relied on having an excellent program that turns amateur players into Wallabies as the key recruitment platform, and whilst we have had a few flat years we are starting to regain that ground. We have been without and Academy for the past two seasons as the ARU went to a National model and cut funding to the provinces. This has now changed with Academies returning to the provinces for 2014. We are in the process of putting more resources into improving coaching and player pathways in our own region so that in the future we can rely less heavily on external recruitment. To answer you question we do not have feeder structures like U/19 to U/21 to Development team etc. We recruit to the Super Rugby team but acknowledge the need to provide a better pathway locally to our players.
7) Americano asks: Does Willie LeRoux remind you more of David Campese or Serge Blanco? If neither ? in your opinion ? who does he remind you of?
Hi Americano, yes very Campese like. Seems to have the ball on a string with both hand and foot. Again like Campo not a real fan of the contact component of the game but gets the job done. A truly gifted player with wonderful instincts and skills.
8) David asks: How did the Brumbies manage to overcome what can essentially be described as shortage of decent front row forwards to perform as well as they did this year? And – In SuperRugby this year essentially the Brumbies managed to win two consecutive games in play offs by virtue of out thinking rather than out playing South African opposition. Was Jake White a part of this?
Hi David, I would argue your contention that we have a shortage of decent front rowers, in fact I was very happy with our depth of front row. Palmer, Alexander, Sio, Murphy and Smith. I do think the major ingredient in our ability to be competitive in the scrum was the contribution of all 8 forwards to the scrum. All forwards were committed to scrumming aggressively and technically well until the ball was released from the scrum. We maintain a very simple philosophy around height, spines in line and speed and the capacity to maintain pressure over an extended time. I also think we were tactically clever in when we could exert pressure and in understanding the potential weak points in opposition scrumming. Unlike some Aussie teams of the past who relied significantly on tactics our first priority was to technical excellence, all 8 buy in, and a desire to dominate physically. Jake has had a valuable input into the mentality of the Brumbies team and what we value in the game and has done a lot to ensure our energies are focused in the appropriate areas. He has a clear understanding of what he wants his teams to do and provides the opportunity for assistant coaches to develop strategy and technique appropriate to the teams direction.
9) Out Wide asks: Great year for the Brumbies. Congrats to you and Jake. You are no doubt aware of the success of the inter-provincial competition called the Currie Cup played between the major provinces in SA. Before moving from Cape Town to Christchurch in NZ 10 years ago, I thought there was nothing in the world to rival it but find that the ITM Cup as the inter-provincial comp in NZ is now called, is even bigger and more exciting because of cross divisional matches and traditions such as the Ranfurly Shield, won for the first time in 57 years this last weekend by Otago. Australia does not have the advantage of competitions such as these feeding into their Superrugby sides and many feel that this leads to a lack of player depth.
Is this a correct view or is it more to do with competition for players from the 2 other codes played in Australia? And some have pointed to the success of trans-Tasman leagues between Aussie and Kiwi sides played in football (The A league), Basketball and Rugby League and the question has been whether this should be extended to rugby union. Would Aussie sides buy into this and would it benefit their S15 sides?
Hi Out Wide. You make some very good points.Indeed the ITM and Currie Cups are great tournaments for developing both depth and quality for the professional game. Because rugby union is the primary winter sport in NZ and SA these competitions are well supported and financially viable. Rugby as you know is far from being the best supported winter sport in Australia and the competition for athletes, spectators and the sponsorship dollar have made it extremely difficult to develop any sort of national competition. Whilst club rugby in the major centres does a good job as our 3rd tier competitions it falls short of being the quality competition to provide a seamless transition into the professional game. I would love to see Australian provincial teams invited to play in a trans Tasman style ITM Cup Competition post Super Rugby. I really think we will struggle to develop any sort of coherent national competition here, especially at the back end of the year in competition to AFL and RL finals series.
Thanks Laurie. we really look forward to hearing your response to our readers questions!