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Kick Offs and Drop Outs

There is no set piece in sevens that is more underrated than the kickoff. -- Emil Signes

There is probably no set piece in sevens that is more underrated than the kickoff. Given the fact that, on average, there are 5 tries in a sevens game, and that each half begins with a kickoff as well, we should be able to figure out that there is a kick-off approximately every 2 minutes: there are often more kickoffs than set scrums or lineouts, sometimes more than both combined. Given the importance of possession in sevens, we need to have a coherent plan at each kickoff to either try to win the ball ourselves, or to make sure that we effectively pressure the opponents if they win the ball.

The drop-out occurs far less frequently, but when it does, it is often at a critical point in the game. One team has just threatened to score, but has been stopped. For the defenders, gaining possession is critical. Similarly, for the attackers, the retention of possession means they'll be able to resume their attack on goal.

The Kickoff

Kicking off

With the exception of one kickoff per game, all our kickoffs occur just after the opponents have scored. If the wrong option is taken, or if the execution is poor, a kickoff can easily cost us another score and often the game.

It is therefore imperative that we practice the kickoff repeatedly and that the entire team get a good understanding of each member's role at the kickoff, including the answer to several "what if" scenarios.

We need to practice both short and long kicks, and we want to have a kicker that can put the ball exactly where we want it, every time. A good kicker in sevens is valued even more for kickoffs than for goals.

The ideal situation when we kick off is retention of possession. That means, of course, kicking short. The problem is that you may know that a) you don't have the kicker to put it where you want it, and/or b) you don't have the jumper(s) to win the ball, and/or c) the opponents are not leaving you any gap into which to put a short grub kick.

Although used to regain possession, the short kickoff often merely results in giving the opposition the ball, either free of pressure, if the kick is too long or low, or with the kicking team's defense in disarray (or both), resulting in a try for the receiving team. As reported later in this chapter, a statistical analysis of key international games has shown that the team kicking off wins only about 30% of its own kicks.

On the other hand, a long kick off, while gaining territory for us, gives the opponents the ball, at least momentarily without pressure, and can result directly in a try.

With almost no exceptions, there are only two general areas into which you should kick the ball: very short (or more precisely, no deeper than your forwards can run under, or in the case of a grub kick, no deeper than that spot to which your intended receivers can beat the opposition), or very long (to get the receivers under pressure before they can cross their 22, or to force a drop out). The only exception to this would be when the defenders have left the touch line unprotected and you are willing to settle for a lineout.

Any other kick will give the receiving team the ball in good position with little pressure and with a good chance of scoring directly from the kick.

The short kickoff

The traditional kickoff (high to your jumpers near the touchline) can be an excellent choice if you can guarantee winning possession the majority of the time, and play organized defense when you lose the ball.

In fact, even if you don't expect to win clean possession from this type of kick it might still be called for if you can put the receiving team under intense pressure at the point of reception. In fact, if winning our own ball at this situation is much less than a 50-50 proposition, going for pressure may well be the preferred option.

New Zealand, based on statistics I have gathered, have the best retention ratio at their own kickoff (about 50% in Hong Kong and Sydney finals), often win the ball only after the opposition have touched it first and then fail to clear pressure.

This kick needs to be practiced repeatedly, first unopposed, and then opposed. Unopposed, work on coordination between the kicker and the jumper(s), and between the jumper that's going for the ball and the supporting player(s).

Both jumpers together. If you line up both props near one touchline (the traditional option), they need to talk to each other -- both before the kick and while it's in the air -- to decide who's going for the ball and who's staying behind to support (and be in a position to receive a pass or a tap back).

A third player (usually the scrum half or the hooker) should be near to clear the ball away to the backs (or to take a break if they give it to us).

Dick Best describes the Harlequins' approach to kicking off, which combines contesting possession with pressuring in the case of a lost ball:

At the kickoff, I believe that the ball should be kicked short on almost every occasion: it gives you a fair chance of winning the ball back again. From there you can put maximum pressure on the opposition.

There's a certain formation to it that I use, where I have my two ball winners going up for it, and one back sweeping in behind. My next player then goes in beyond the ball, on towards their scrum half, and my next player then goes beyond him, on towards the fly half, basically cutting off all options.

This requires a great deal of skill with the kick: it has to land right on the 10 meter line. It also is dangerous because if the [opposition] bloke catches it in full flight, he can go the length of the field, which is why I have the one guy back sweeping.

We never grub the ball into holes, as I've found out over the years this simply gives their side the ball and works against you more times than it benefits you.

New Zealand coaches all concur that the short kickoff is their first choice. Bryce Rope adds:

From our side's dropout or kickoff, the most important thing is height: height, height, height, height, on that kick. Distance is not important, where it goes is not important, the important thing is height.

In the 15-a-side game, the important thing is to get the ball as close to the sideline as possible. But in 7-a-side, you don't want to get too near the sideline, just in case you kick out on the full, in which case, of course you can't regain possession, because you come to the center of the field for a scrum with the opponents putting the ball in.

So once again, I can't emphasize enough the importance of height.

Perhaps the best combination of height and length on any kick off that I've observed was a New Zealand kickoff in the 1986 Hong Kong finals against the French, caught by an All-Black on the run at the French 22 meter line! (and carried on for the try).

Once the short kick has been taken, communication between the jumpers becomes paramount. Peter Thorburn notes of the two jumpers running for the ball:

They pick it up in the air. The first man that can get it says "Mine," while the other man drops back to take the pressure off.

Note that failure to communicate in this situation can be disastrous, and two of the most disappointing losses in my coaching career can be at least partially attributed to this failure:

In the semi-finals of the 1986 Melrose Sevens, US Cougar prop Brian Vizard thought that fellow prop John Fowler was not going to get to Tommy Smith kickoff in time, so he went in himself. Fowler did get to the ball, and tapped back to where he thought Vizard was. The ball bounced, and before hooker Will Brewington could get to it, was picked up by a member of the Racing Club de France. A try was scored directly from the kickoff in what eventually turned into a close Cougar loss.

In 1989, against Hong Kong, props Mike Siano and Gary Lambert on three separate occasions went up for the same ball together. On one occasion it led directly to a Hong Kong try, and an Eagle loss ensued.

The players need to communicate not only which of them should take the ball, but whether in fact either of them should even try to win it. Rope again:

A quick decision has to be made by one of the two players, and this is communications again. And the decision has to be, can I take the ball before the opposition gets it? If there's any doubt, leave it alone. Let the opposition take it (if we happen to knock on, it once again becomes opposition ball with a scrum).

It is far better [in that situation] to let the opposition take that ball: immediately, through communication, one of our two players envelops that player, not attempting to get the ball at all, just holding that player, ball and all. And within a fraction of a second, once again through communication, our second player, running forward, drives straight in and wrests that ball from the opposition. The essential thing is that our jumper doesn't worry about the ball. He envelops the opponent, ball and all. It is the second man who comes in between them, tears that ball away, and thus possession is regained.

Eagle Charlie Wilkinson has come to the conclusion that in general, we're better off playing defense at the short kickoff:

The more I see the ball bouncing around and up for grabs at the kickoff -- basically out of control for both teams, the more I think that, when we kick off, we should be focusing on defense rather than winning the ball.

Splitting your props. A less traditional option is to split your props, one to each touchline, and kick to the area where you have the better match-up vis a vis the defender. This may be a good option if you have two good jumpers and the opposition only one, and either two kickers or a kicker that can kick to both sides equally well.

The Eagles won a clean kickoff using this ploy against the All-Blacks in the 1989 Sydney Sevens, one of our only bright spots in a 32-0 loss.

If the ball is lost, the rearmost player in the area of the kickoff has to look at the alignment of the attackers and make sure that all attackers are covered: this is the area where defensive breakdowns generally occur after losing kickoffs. It's critical to for players to "count down" at this situation.

When practicing opposed, teams should practice both winning the ball and losing the ball on their kickoff: if you win it, practice clearing it from pressure, if you lose it, practice containing the receiving team.

When spoiling intentionally, each player has a role; for example, if we are playing against a team that always taps from jumper to supporter, our second player's first option may be to a) get in the alley between jumper and supporter and picking off the pass or b) take "player and ball" as the support player receives the pass.

Grub kickoffs. Other positions that are often sites for ball-winning kicks are holes left by the opponents near the 10-meter line. Exploit these holes by grub kicking to them. Practice having one member of your team run up to the ball, bodily covering it (if necessary), and tapping back to another member of your team. Once again, both the player going for the ball and the support player must communicate: the player in back needs to tell the ball-winner exactly where support is, so that the ball can be put back in that area without fear.

Most coaches will avoid this ploy as being too dangerous, but the US has in fact won several kickoffs at the international level by executing it well.

When there is a hole directly in front of the kicker, the kicker may choose to follow up the kick, being supported as above, by a teammate.

Sometimes you can create a hole in the defensive front line by dummying to kick to an existing gap, luring the nearest receiver into it, and grubbing the ball to the area that has just been vacated.

If you line up most of your players to the forwards' side of the ball, and "hide" your wing at the opposite touchline, some teams will not mark that wing near the 10-meter line. This is a good opportunity to dummy a kick to the forwards, and have a second kicker put in a line-drive type of a kick (perhaps a couple of bounces) to the winger streaking down the touchline. This ploy requires a perfect kick, because it runs the risk of an opponents' try from an interception.

The long kickoff

Not too many people consider the long kickoff a primary option, but most recognize that there are times when it should be considered. Dick Best claims that the only time that I may kick long is in adverse weather conditions. In this case I might kick long, hopefully dead, so that we may restart to us.

Bill Freeman notes that if we've got wind assistance, we will kick the ball deep into the in-goal area, for them to bring it out, and for us to have the opportunity of winning that ball from inefficiency on their part.

Bob Dwyer of Australia:

If I had a very strong kicker, I might consider the option of kicking dead, although I wouldn't kick long unless I was 99% sure I could kick dead, and that's very difficult.

Peter Thorburn notes, however, that even kicking the ball dead is becoming a less attractive option:

We used to kick dead at times, but sides are now getting good at working out how to get out of it [with a drop kick to themselves].

The Eagles have used the long kick off as a primary strategy on several occasions, most notably against Canada at Hong Kong in 1988 and Wales in 1989. In the 1988 game, the strategy met with mixed success: we both won and lost the ball from ensuing dropouts.

In the game against Wales, we twice kicked off dead. On one occasion, we thwarted a short drop out and won the ensuing high kick to the forwards, and on the second, although Wales won the dropout we pushed them back into their own goal where we got a five yard scrum.

Placing the long kick. Having determined that we're going to kick long, we should decide where we want to kick the ball.

A long kick can be of several varieties. Probably the best option, if you have the kicker to do it, is to kick the ball dead and force the opponents to drop out. Beware, however, the fact that a kick directly over the dead ball line is the same as a kick straight to touch and will result in a mid-field scrum to the opponents.

A second option, if the receiving formation gives it to you, is to kick long for touch and regroup for a lineout. Bob Dwyer claims that he would be happy to get a lineout, even in the vicinity of the 22, on his own kickoff:

With good lineout jumpers, it gives us some scope to get the ball back, whereas if they can maintain possession from a long kick in the field of play it gives us very little scope.

You may also choose to kick high and deep to a corner, followed by vigorous pursuit to pin the defenders inside their 22 -- if you can play good defense. One option is to send one member of your team sprinting down the field to try to box the receivers into one corner of the field: this may get you a turnover near their line. This is, however, not a high percentage ploy and, as you're giving away possession, could easily come back to haunt you: if they break your trap, they will put pressure on you. Furthermore, if you come down with all seven players applying pressure, the kick and chase against you will be on.

Another reason you may want to kick long may be the game situation: if there's only a minute or so left in the game and you're ahead by more than a try, you don't want to give them, with a short kick, the chance to score an immediate try, so you kick long, play tough defense, and shorten the game by several seconds.

You need to practice all these options and see what you're comfortable with.

It's crucial that at all these situations, short or long kickoffs, you define defensive responsibilities of every player on the team, and how they are to react to the spectrum of possible situations that might arise.

Receiving the kickoff

The first thing you need to decide is what formation you will use to receive kickoffs. While you will obviously have to adjust your positioning to respond to the kickoff team's formation, it's probably best to have one favored formation on which your modifications are based. Some of these formations are discussed below.

4-3. Most coaches today seem to favor one of the 4-up versions (4-2-1, 4-1-2, or 4-3). Figure B4-1 shows an "all-purpose" 4-3 formation. The four front players are generally the three forwards and one back. The three deep players will be the best counter-attackers; normally the two corner players will be your speedsters, and the middle player the playmaker, able to support both long and short kicks.

3-2-2. There are some teams that you know will kick off short every single time, to their big prop(s) short at the touchline. If you are confident this is the case, you can rotate your formation to the 3-2-2 shown in Figure B4-2 with only a slight rearrangement. This is a common alignment in the Scottish Borders, where virtually all kick-offs are short and high to the jumpers.

5-2. Another formation that can be used to eliminate the grub kick, supply support to the short kick, and perhaps convince the opponents to choose to kick long, is the 5-2, with 5 defenders up near the 10-meter line.

Teams that I've coached have used this formation with success on numerous occasions.

Chris Bass calls the 5-2 formation the most audacious of all, and points out some of its pluses and minuses:

There are very real risks attached to receiving a kickoff with this kind of set-up, and it would be used on quite rare occasions. But the fact that such occasions do arise makes it worthy of consideration. The receiving side may know, for example, that the kicker favours a short tap to the 10-meter line, or that the weather is so bad that a long kick is virtually impossible. . . . The big danger for the receiving side is, if the kick-off does penetrate their front five, then although [one of the deep players] may get to the ball before the opposition, they are still going to be under immediate pressure and possibly without support. This pressure would be even greater if the kicking side have a pace advantage over the receivers.

I would not hesitate at using this formation much more frequently than the "quite rare occasions" that Bass describes.

This formation is shown in Figure B4-3. Note that the jumper on the side to which we expect the kick can stand

a) deep to run up or b) near the 10-meter area to box out (this is discussed in more detail below). At the other side of the field, the fifth player "cheats" back slightly as shown.

Obviously, if you do get a long kick at this situation, you'd better be prepared to get your support players back to support and counterattack.

Since the 4-3 formation shown in Figure B4-1 is more or less standard, it will be the basis of most of the discussion below.

The spacing of the four front receivers will depend on what the kickers do. Our jumpers will mark theirs, so if they line up one jumper at each side we'll do the same. The middle two receivers must position themselves so that no 10-meter grub kick, anywhere from touchline to touchline, can be won by the attackers. This implies each player asking, "Can I cover every inch of ground from half way between me and my teammate on my left, to half way between me and my teammate on my right?"

The touchline prop may choose to stand deep in order to run onto the ball (some props will even stand in touch, in order to have the proper angle of run, i.e. infield), or may stand at the 10-meter line itself, in order to "block" the prop from the kicking team (like a "box out" in basketball). Figure B4-1 shows the possible areas in which this player may stand.

The middle player of the back 3 in the 4-3 will shade either left or right depending on how the kickers line up, but be able to get quickly to support almost any received kick. The 2 corner players should guard the touchline, and play well behind their own 22.

Short kicks. For kicks put high near the touchline, the player in best position to receive the ball should take it: in cases where either of two players can take it, they need to communicate--in general, the deeper of the two will make the decision as to who takes it. It is preferable for a player going forward (in this case the deeper player) to receive a ball under pressure to one that is standing still and vulnerable; on the other hand, if the forward player can catch the ball cleanly before being hit, the ball can be cleared to the deeper player and gotten away from pressure.

If the clean catch and pass isn't possible, the receiver may still be able to tap the ball back to a support player who can then clear from pressure. Beware the possibility, however, of the defenders reading the tap and stepping in the passing lane to pick it off.

Peter Thorburn makes the following observation:

What a lot of sides do badly is they try to do the same thing all the time: one player taps it back to another. What you should do occasionally is have your jumper pull it down and hold it, because the other two guys often overrun it. . . .

In the case of a high kick to our props, the deep player nearest the touchline should be running up to support and, in the case of a ball caught without pressure, may be able to continue running and sprint onto a pass and be gone for a try down the blind side before the kicking team knows what has happened. As Peter Thorburn notes,

If a kick drops say 12 or 15 meters in and say 12 or 15 meters from touch, if the guy can pull it down and a player, say your halfback, can run up the sideline, quite often there's no depth at all: he's through and away.

Short grub kicks can be discouraged by proper positioning; if the kicking team chooses to employ one anyway, the two defenders nearest the ball need to communicate quickly regarding whose ball it is: if it doubt, it's better to have two players starting for the ball than to have two players looking at it as a member of the kicking team picks it up unopposed: in a critical situation in a 1989 US All-Star championship the Pacific Coast was trailing 12-10 following an East try, and kicker Tommy Smith put the ball directly between two East defenders who watched as the ball was recovered and the try scored.

"Medium" kicks. Any kicks in the "forbidden area" for kickers, the area near the 22-meter line (unless they're incredibly high), should be run right down the kicking team's throat: we should be able to get through before they can get their defense together.

Long kicks. Long kicks should be treated as counter-

attacking situations: if we can attack successfully and continue to go forward, we may be able to pierce the opponent's defense quickly. If they come up well and organized, but without a sweeper, we should look for the long kick back over the top to chase down. The worst option is probably to sit back and swivel, or otherwise play keep-away, in our own 22, as the defenders continue to mount their defensive pressure.

Kicks that are put in goal can be run out or touched down: with a team that has practiced dropping out to themselves on a regular basis, the touch down is probably the preferred option, especially against a good pressure defense team. We should be able to win the great majority of our own drop-outs, if we practice them enough and react quickly from the touchdown.

Some Statistics on Kickoffs

In 1986 I reported in Rugby that, in more than 15 sevens games at Sydney and Hong Kong that year, the kicking team gained possession only 28% of the time short kickoffs were attempted, with more than 10% or the kicks resulting directly in a try by the receiving team. The attacking team scored directly off their kick approximately 5% of the time.

I also reported that there were too few long kicks to come to any conclusions.

I updated these results by examining two more sets of data: a) 10 Eagle matches: all in Hong Kong in 1988 and 1989 and two 1989 Sydney matches, and b) all Hong Kong and Sydney championship matches (8) between 1986 and 1989.

Number of Kickoffs

110 kickoffs were recorded (because a few of the games were available only on highlight tapes, approximately 10 kickoffs were missed). Normalizing to 14-minute matches gives us an average of roughly 6 kickoffs per match.

Short Kickoffs.

I gave a plus, on short kickoffs, to a team for either winning the ball or getting the scrum or lineout following the kickoff.

In 46 short kickoffs in the Eagle matches, the kicking team controlled the ball 13 times, exactly the 28% found earlier (the split was: Eagles recovered 7 out of 20 for 35%, the opponents 6 for 26, or 23%).

There were only two grub kicks put in for possession in these matches, both by the US: one was won, and one was lost.

Of all the short kickoffs, only one was returned directly for a try, a short kick by the Dutch that Tony Ridnell caught in the air and ran in himself.

In the 8 Hong Kong and Sydney Cup championship matches there were 48 short kickoffs. Since New Zealand was involved in all eight matches, I split the statistics into kicks by New Zealand and kicks by its opponents.

New Zealand's opponents recovered only 8 of the 28 kicks they put in (29%). New Zealand, however, managed to recover fully 50% of the 20 kickoffs they put into play.

Observation seems to indicate this difference between New Zealand and their opponents is not that New Zealand wins the kickoff cleanly, but that they put so much pressure on their opponents -- at the ball and in the passing lanes behind the ball -- that, even if the receiving team get their hands on the ball first, the All-Blacks manage to pressure them out of it.

New Zealand scored directly off two of their kickoffs,and four of their opponents'. None of their opponents scored directly off a New Zealand kickoff.

Long Kickoffs

As compared to the 94 short kickoffs in the 18 matches charted, there were 16 long kicks (beyond the 22 meter line). Of those, 9 were kicked dead and resulted in drop outs (4 of which were won by the team that kicked off, and 5 by the team dropping out).

Of the other 7, 5 were successfully counter attacked by the receiving team (I defined successful counter attack as getting it beyond their own 22); on two occasions, the receiving team was stopped in their own 22.

One long kickoff was returned directly for a try (by New Zealand).

What can we conclude from all these numbers? First and foremost, that unless you're New Zealand, the odds are stacked against you when you kick off -- long or short. Do you try to increase your chances at wining the ball in the air? Do you concede them the first hand on the ball and try to win the ball with pressure? Do you kick long and try to contain the receiving team?

For Charlie Wilkinson, the choice is becoming clearer: whatever we do, play defense.

We can kick short, and come up 100% prepared to play organized defense, we can kick dead and defend the dropout, or we can even kick long and in play and pressure (which would be my last choice).

But whatever we do, our primary option when we kick off should be to play defense.

In the final analysis, the decision will probably be strongly influenced by the kicking, jumping, and defensive abilities of both your team and its opponents.

The Drop-Out

Dropping out

Mike Williams notes that the kicking side has the advantage at the drop out:

they have the whole width of the field to kick from and it only needs a tap over the line for the ball to be in play and instantly picked up, either by the kicker or the player standing in close support.

Virtually all the coaches interviewed called the quick tap drop-out their first preference. Bob Dwyer discussed some other options:

If I couldn't get away with a little tap, I'd kick to the forwards, unless the opposition lined up badly. I'd take a driving kick to touch if that area's not guarded. If they line up badly, a long driving kick's not too bad, but you need a guy that can drop kick about 60 meters or so.

These series of options pretty much cover the kicking team's options.

The following is the sequence I recommend after we have been awarded a drop-out:

When the ball has been kicked into our in-goal, once we have determined that there is someone there to touch it down, the remaining six players should sprint to their assigned locations on the field.

We may decide to send the props to the same side, to give the kicker the traditional option of a high kick to the props, or we may send the props to opposite touchlines, to force the receiving team to make decisions it may be unaccustomed to make. If it looks as though a quick drop out may be on, they can pick a spot as the situation dictates.

A "cut-off" player will go midway between the ball carrier and the 22, and the remainder of the players will get to the 22 ASAP in any one of a number of alignments we may have practiced and/or present themselves. The ball carrier forces the attackers to come close before touching down, while the ball carrier's teammates take their position, and at the appropriate time -- teammates in position, the opposition not in position -- the ball carrier fires it to the cut-off player who gets it to the 22 immediately.

At this point we look for one of two quick restart options:

  1. The quick drop out to ourselves. We may use several players as potential kickers (just make sure they all can execute the "three-inch" drop out: remember the ball must only cross the beginning of the white stripe). If the first player to receive the ball cannot win the quick dropout, then spread out along the 22 and pass the ball among the players, quickly trying to force a defensive breakdown. Behind the kickers are 1-2 support players to receive the tap back from the drop kick, and who can also become kickers themselves if they can find a hole to run into for a pass.

    If you practice the drop out to yourself regularly you should be able to do it successfully about 80% of the time. One of the key coaching points is to get your shoulders below that of your opponent and to take that opponent out with your shoulders as you grub the ball and push it back to support.

    In the 1988 Plate final at Hong Kong the Canadians spread out all seven players and moved the ball quickly back and forth among them. Since the US had one player back to cover a long kick they eventually got a 2 on 1, and won a quick tap kick off at that point.

  2. If we can get one or two speedsters to the 22, and the opponents don't have anyone deep, one option is to put a long kick in for them to run on to. This will almost certainly not present itself after a kick-off directly in-goal, but may well be open after a drop out is awarded when the attacking team has just threatened near the defenders' goal.

    This kick can go either to the center of the field or towards touch; in the latter case we may be more likely to give them the ball at the lineout, but we are also more likely to be able to box them in to the touch line if they get to the ball before we do.

  3. The traditional drop-out, long to one or both of the props, is also a possibility, but only if we have both an accurate kicker and a dominating prop to pull it off virtually every time.

Defending the Drop Out

Do what you have to do to force the ball carrier to touch down quickly, but don't commit too many players to the in-goal area, or one long football pass over their heads to the 22 will leave you badly outnumbered there.

Make sure at least one player is deep to cover the long kick; against a team we think is very likely to drop out long, we may want to put two players deep.

All the coaches with whom I spoke drop either one or two players back to cover the deep kick. Dick Best comments:

On their drop out, we play 5 up, 2 back -- one half way and one right the way back --, to cover the long kick.

The key to this is that if they kick long, we stress to our players that when they receive the ball, they do not stay in the middle of the field, they move to the nearest touchline, a) for safety, and b) it allows your own players time to get back in a defensive situation and realign so that you can attack again. If the players, for whatever reason, can't get back, then the player kicks the ball off the field.

I realize this is giving the ball away, in terms of them having the lineout, but it is a safety first mechanism should anybody kick long against you.

With regards to the short kick, i.e. somebody tapping it to himself, I teach my players -- sometimes not the most attractive move --, to thrash out wildly with their feet, should anybody present the ball anywhere near the line.

Against teams that are proficient at the short drop out, I prefer to keep six players at the line and one deep. With only five up, we're vulnerable against teams with lots of good kickers who move the ball well, as the Eagles' 1988 experience against Canada showed.

Once the deep player(s) is/are in position, the remaining players must cover the entire 22-meter line, marking players and areas. There are many possibilities, depending on what the kicking team does; one possible alignment is shown in Figure B4-4, which shows how the three players in the center of the field rotate as the ball is passed among 6, 5, and 7: receivers 6, 5, and 2 need to cover on the line at the ball carrier, and deeper, in the gap, away from the ball carrier. Note that the receivers have lined up to cover any conceivable kick from this formation; they should practice different alignments against different formations.

Good preparation defending the drop out can pay dividends against teams that are not comfortable with the quick drop out; this was shown in the 1989 US/Wales game where an experienced US team twice successfully pressured a Welsh team that did not seem to have a lot of experience at the seven-a-side drop out situation.

Given equal preparation, the drop out favors the team dropping out; our job in practicing the drop-out situation should be to take advantage of that situation when we're dropping out, and to take it away when we're defending.